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The information about Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 seems to become more unusual every day. And the news reported today seems to indicate that whatever happened on that plane must have been chaotic and terrifying. According to the latest reports, radar data collected by the Malaysian military, and analyzed by the United States, indicates that around the same time the plane's transponder was turned off, the aircraft climbed past 45,000 feet, above the plane’s service limit of 43,100 feet. Flight 370 then turned west and descended to 23,000 feet before changing course again, flying northwest over the Strait of Malacca in the direction of the Indian Ocean.

Within the last few hour, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters the plane was deliberately diverted and was still communicating with satellites until 8:11 a.m. local time on March 8th — seven and a half hours after takeoff. Also surprising about the Prime Minister's remarks was his indication the search for the plane extends as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia.

In recent days, Malaysian officials have come under increasing criticism, especially from the Chinese, for their handling of this situation. China’s state news agency Xinhua has published a commentary complaining about the "silence" from Malaysian officials.

From the Washington Post: Missing airliner may have flown on for 7 hours

epa04125937 Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak speaks during a press conference at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 15 March 2014. The missing Malaysian aircraft's communication system was likely disabled while still in the country's airspace, Prime Minister Najib Razak said. Razak also said it appears that someone on the plane deliberately changed its flight path westward. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 with 239 people on board went missing early 08 March 2014 while on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.  EPA/SHAMSHAHRIN SHAMSUDIN
Najib said the investigation had “refocused” to look at the crew and passengers. A Malaysia Airlines representative, speaking to relatives of passengers in Beijing, said the Malaysian government had opened a criminal investigation into the plane’s disappearance.

The plane’s whereabouts remain unknown one week after it disappeared from civilian radar shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur. But Najib, citing newly analyzed satellite data, said the plane could have flown along two paths: one stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border, the other stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

Though previously U.S. officials believed the flight could have remained in the air for several extra hours, Najib said Saturday that the flight was still communicating with satellites until 8:11 a.m. — seven and a half hours after takeoff. There was no further communication with the plane after that time, Najib said. If the plane was still in the air, it would have been nearing its fuel limit.

“Due to the type of satellite data,” Najib said, “we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite.”

Shortly before Najib's announcement, an unnamed Malaysian official spoke to the AP and said "it is conclusive" the plane was hijacked. The AP's source stated that the conclusion was based on the belief that the plane's communication equipment was deliberately tampered with, the radar data showing multiple course changes, and indications the plane was flown in a way that attempted to avoid radar.

According to both NPR and the Wall Street Journal, turning off a Boeing 777's communication equipment would require some knowledge of the system. Disabling the transponder can be done with a flick of a switch, but the cockpit radios and a text-based system known as aircraft communications addressing and reporting system, or ACARS, which can be used to send information about the plane, would be another more difficult story.

From the New York Times: Radar Suggests Jet Shifted Path More Than Once
The radar track, which the Malaysian government has not released but says it has provided to the United States and China, showed that the plane descended unevenly to 23,000 feet, below normal cruising levels, as it approached the densely populated island of Penang ... The Malaysian military radar data, which local authorities have declined to provide to the public, added significant information about the flight immediately after ground controllers lost contact with it. The combination of altitude changes and at least two significant course corrections could have a variety of explanations, including that a pilot or a hijacker diverted the plane, or that it flew unevenly without a pilot after the crew became disabled.

The erratic movements of the aircraft after it diverted course and flew over Malaysia also raise questions about why the military did not respond to the flight emergency. Malaysian officials have acknowledged that military radar may have detected the plane, but have said they took no action because it did not appear hostile.

A week after the jet’s disappearance, the Malaysian authorities have shared few details with American investigators, frustrating senior officials in Washington. “They’re keeping us at a distance,” one of the officials said. But investigators in Malaysia and the United States recently began receiving additional data about the plane and anticipate more over the weekend, according to a senior American official. “It’s gotten better and better every day,” the official said, referring to information from the plane’s manufacturer, satellites and military radar. “It should provide more clarity to the flight path. It’s not a given, but it’s a hope.”

An Asia-based pilot of a Boeing 777-200, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said an ascent above the plane’s service limit of 43,100 feet, along with a depressurized cabin, could have rendered the passengers and crew unconscious, and could be a deliberate maneuver by a pilot or a hijacker.

The exact route taken after the plane was diverted is now being debated among the media and their sources. The Malaysian Prime Minister's remarks that the plane could have traveled as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia is a bit surprising. As pointed out by the Times, the northern arc described by Mr. Najib passes through some of the most militarized areas on the planet. The corridor would be close to northern Iran, through Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and through northern India and the Himalayan mountains and Myanmar. An aircraft flying on that arc would have to pass through both the Indian and Pakistani air defense networks, as well as through the United States' air defense grid in Afghanistan.
Early yesterday, Reuters reported the plane's radar track was consistent with it flying towards India's Andaman Islands, with there being speculation that the plane may have landed somewhere in the island chain on a makeshift runway (ala the Dawson's Field Hijackings). However, there's more than a few hitches with this scenario. A 777-200 needs a runway between a mile to two miles long to land and you would. Also, given the Indian military presence in the area, a 777 would be risking detection if it approached Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Bloomberg cited a person familiar with the analysis of the satellite "pings," and claimed it indicated the Flight 370 was last detected around 1,000 miles west of Perth, Australia. And CNN reported that a "classified analysis" indicated Flight 370 likely crashed in the Bay of Bengal or somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

The analysis conducted by the United States and Malaysian governments may have narrowed the search area for the jetliner that vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, leaving little trace of where it went or why.
The analysis used radar data and satellite pings to calculate that the plane diverted to the west, across the Malayan peninsula, and then either flew in a northwest direction toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest into the Indian Ocean.

The theory builds on earlier revelations by U.S. officials that an automated reporting system on the airliner was pinging satellites for up to five hours after its last reported contact with air traffic controllers. Inmarsat, a satellite communications company, confirmed to CNN that automated signals were registered on its network.

Taken together, the data point toward speculation of a dark scenario in which someone took control of the plane for some unknown purpose, perhaps terrorism. That theory is buoyed by word from a senior U.S. official familiar with the investigation that the Malaysia Airlines plane made several significant altitude changes and altered its course more than once after losing contact with flight towers.

If the plane was deliberately diverted, and diverted by someone with knowledge of how to fly a plane, there are two possibilities.

One is that a passenger or group of passengers somehow gained access to the cockpit, and commandeered the plane. If it was done on behalf of a terrorist group, why has there been no claim of responsibility? Why didn't whomever took control of the plane contact air traffic control to make demands or a statement? If the plane was going to be used against a target, then what was the target? Even if it was a screwed-up plan, where they either wanted to use the plane as a makeshift guided missile 9-11 style, or barter the passengers as hostages and something went wrong, the destruction of the plane in and of itself could conceivably be spun by some jag-off group of terrorist assholes out there as a "victory." So why haven't they?

The second option is that one or more members of the flight crew were involved, either in a planned hijacking with others, or in a deliberate attempt to crash the plane. There have been more than a few cases of pilots who've been alleged of deliberately using their airplanes to commit murder/suicide.

  • The first officer of Egyptair Flight 990, Gameel Al-Batouti, had been caught sexually harassing female employees at the hotel at which he and the other Egyptair crew and management had been staying. According to National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigators, Egyptair had decided to demote the first officer before Flight 990, and in revenge he crashed the plane on purpose killing himself and 216 other people. However, Egyptian officials have denied the NTSB's findings, and claim the crash was the result of mechanical failures in the Boeing 767.
  • With SilkAir Flight 185, again there were conflicting reports issued by the American NTSB and the Indonesian National Transportation Safety Committee (NTSC). The NTSB concluded that most likely Captain Tsu Way Ming deliberately crashed the plane, killing himself and 103 other people. However, the Indonesian NTSC claims the crash was the result of a defect in the Boeing 737.
  • In the case of FedEx Flight 705, a 42-year-old Federal Express Flight Engineer named Auburn Calloway faced termination over irregularities in the reporting of flight hours. Calloway decided to hijack a flight by smuggling aboard two claw hammers, two sledge hammers, and a speargun, with the intention of crashing the plane so his family could collect his life insurance policy. The plan was unsuccessful, but Calloway severely injured the crew of Flight 705 before being subdued.

However, if it was a situation where one of the pilots/crew was disturbed or disgruntled and decided to crash the plane like the examples above, why would they fly the 777 out to the Indian Ocean another four to seven hours if their plan was to commit suicide? Why even bother turning the transponder off, and just crash the plane off the coast of Malaysia?

9:14 AM PT: From The Guardian: Malaysian police search home of pilot as new theory emerges

Malaysian police have begun searching the home of the pilot at the helm of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, after the country's prime minister confirmed that the Boeing 777's communications were deliberately disabled by "someone on the plane".

Police officers arrived at 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur shortly after the PM, Najib Razak, finished his dramatic press conference, during which he told reporters new satellite data indicated that MH370 last made contact roughly seven hours after it vanished from civilian radar one week ago ... It is unclear if police had also begun searching the homes of the other 11 Malaysian crew on board, including co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, who is known to have entertained passengers on board a previous flight in the cockpit during a Phuket-Kuala Lumpur flight in 2011.

Captain Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and was known as an avid flight buff who had clocked in 18,365 flight hours. He had a penchant for toying around with miniature planes on weekends and, as a certified flight simulator test examiner, had built himself a flight simulator at home.

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