In the view of Malaysia’s military the missing Boeing 777 made a U-turn near where it last made contact with civilian air traffic control and was then tracked for an hour by military radar near Pulau Perak, at the northern approach to the strait of Malacca.
The Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia’s west coast. The airline said on Saturday that the flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew last had contact off the east coast Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.
Local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysian air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud as saying radar at a military base had detected the airliner at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday 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. It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres (29,500 ft).
“The last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40am by the control tower before the signal was lost,” the paper quoted Rodzali as saying.
However, a spokesman for the Malaysian prime minister’s office shared that, according to the senior military officials, there was no evidence the plane recrossed the Malaysian peninsula, only that it may have tried to turn back.
“As far as they know, except for the air turn-back, there is no new development,” said the spokesman, Tengku Sariffuddin Tengku Ahmad.
Nevertheless, the disclosure raises key questions over the search for the plane, which had initially concentrated on the area where it was last plotted by civilian air traffic control. Civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said expanding the search area didn’t imply authorities believed the plane was off Malaysia’s western coast.
A huge international search team has been mostly focused on the shallow waters of the Gulf of Thailand off Malaysia’s east coast, although the Strait of Malacca has been included since Sunday.
Vietnam’s deputy military chief also said he had ordered a land search for the plane up to the border with Laos and Cambodia. He said that military units near the border with Laos and Cambodia had been instructed to search their regions also, says Fox News.
Malaysian police said Tuesday they had identified one of two men who boarded a missing Malaysian jet with fake passports as a 19-year-old Iranian believed to be seeking to emigrate to Germany.
“We believe he is not likely to be a member of any terror group and we believe he was trying to migrate to Germany,” said Malaysia’s national police chief Khalid Abu Bakar.
Asked if that meant he ruled out a hijack, Khalid said: “[We are giving] same weightage to all [possibilities] until we complete our investigations.”
The plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, on the western coast of Malaysia, early Saturday en route to Beijing. It flew overland across Malaysia and crossed the eastern coast into the Gulf of Thailand at 35,000 feet (11,000 meters).
There it disappeared from radar screens. The airline says the pilots did not send any distress signals, suggesting a sudden and possibly catastrophic incident.