x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Malaysian military radar shows missing plane changed course

No trace of the plane, which was carrying 239 people, has been found by more than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations searching the area.

A Malaysian policewoman holds up pictures of the two men who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 with stolen passports during a press conference on March 11, 2014, in Sepang, Malaysia. Wong Maye-E / AP Photo
A Malaysian policewoman holds up pictures of the two men who boarded the missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 with stolen passports during a press conference on March 11, 2014, in Sepang, Malaysia. Wong Maye-E / AP Photo

KUALA LUMPUR // The Beijing-bound Malaysian Airlines aircraft missing since Saturday changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait, hundreds of kilometres from the last position recorded by civilian authorities, military radar data shows.

The development injects more mystery into the investigation of the disappearance of the Boeing 777 on Saturday, and raises questions about why the aircraft was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar.

The Malaysian air force chief, Gen Rodzali Daud, said radar at a military base had detected the airliner at 2.40am near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the strait, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” he was quoted as saying by the local newspaper Berita Harian.

A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report and also said the plane was believed to be flying low.

Authorities had earlier said the plane, which took off from Kuala Lumpur on the western coast of Malaysia at 12.40am on Saturday, may have attempted to turn back, but they expressed surprise that it would do so without informing ground control.

The search for the plane was initially focused on waters between the eastern coast of Malaysia and Vietnam, the position where aviation authorities last tracked it.

No trace of the plane, which was carrying 239 people, has been found by more than 40 planes and ships from at least 10 nations searching the area.

Malaysia Airlines said earlier on Tuesday that search and rescue teams had expanded their scope to the Malacca Strait. An earlier statement said the western coast of Malaysia was “now the focus”, but the airline subsequently said that phrase was an oversight. It did not elaborate. Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search remained “on both sides” of the country.

Also on Tuesday, authorities said two people who boarded the flight using stolen passports were Iranians who had purchased tickets to Europe. Their use of stolen documents had raised speculation of a possible terrorist link.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said investigators had determined one was a 19-year-old Iranian, Pouria Nourmohammadi Mehrdad, and that it seemed likely he was planning to migrate to Germany.

“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group,” Mr Khalid said.

Interpol identified the second man as Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, 29, and released an image of the two boarding a plane at the same time. Interpol’s secretary general, Ronald K Noble, said the two men travelled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to their stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

He said speculation of terrorism appeared to be dying down “as the belief becomes more certain that these two individuals were probably not terrorists”. He appealed to the public for more information about them.

Mr Noble said neither of the men had a criminal record.

Malaysia Airlines, meanwhile, said it was investigating an Australian television report that the co-pilot on the missing plane had invited two women into the cockpit during a flight two years ago.

Jonti Roos described the encounter on Australia’s A Current Affair. The airline said it would not comment until its investigation was complete.

Ms Roos said she and her friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight on December 14, 2011, from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur. She said the arrangement did not seem unusual to the plane’s crew.

“Throughout the entire flight, they were talking to us and they were actually smoking throughout the flight,” Ms Roos said.

* Associated Press