|Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak holds a press conference on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, March 15, 2014. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that no conclusive evidence shows missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was hijacked. (Xinhua/Wang Shen)|
KUALA LUMPUR, March 15 -- Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday the disappearance of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet was deliberate, and the authorities have refocused their investigation into its crew and passengers. But he stopped short of confirming a hijack.
"Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system, or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia," he told a press conference near the capital's International Airport.
Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft's transponder, which communicates with civilian air traffic controllers, was switched off.
Citing Malaysian air force radar data, the prime minister said the missing flight did indeed turn back, then flew westward back over Peninsula Malaysia before turning northwest.
"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," he said.
He also said the last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time on March 8, about seven hours and 31 minutes after takeoff.
Based on the new data, the Malaysian authorities are now trying to trace the missing jet in one of the two possible corridors -- a northern one from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, and a southern one stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," the prime minister said. "Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path."
Earlier, media reports quoted some experts as saying that one of the pilots or someone else with flying experience hijacked the plane or committed suicide by plunging the jet into the sea.
Meanwhile, the prime minister said the search in the South China Sea would be ended, and the authorities are reassessing the redeployment of assets.
"Clearly, the search for MH 370 has entered a new phase," he said.
Upon Malaysia's decision to end operation in the South China Sea, Vietnam, which has joined the search mission from the first day the plane disappeared, has decided to end the hunt for the plane.
The Chinese government on Saturday urged Malaysia to continue providing more "thorough and correct information" about the missing jet, saying China will adjust its deployment of research in a timely manner.
Chinese vessels continued their search for the missing airliner on Saturday, with two of them heading for the Strait of Malacca.
Flight MH370, carrying 239 people on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, relayed no distress signal, indications of rough weather or other signs of trouble. Of the 227 passengers, 154 are Chinese.
Contact with the flight was lost along with its radar signal at 2:40 a.m. Beijing time on March 8 when it was flying over the Ho Chi Minh air traffic control area in Vietnam.
The current search involves 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft, with South Korea and Bangladesh being among the latest to join in.