With evidence showing a missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Boeing 777-200ER could still be intact, US officials have not ruled out that flight MH370 was flown to a secret site so that it could be used at a later date.
There has been no trace or debris field on land or sea that is linked to the plane carrying 239 people, which vanished while on a red-eye flight to Beijing last Saturday.
"I am keenly interested in resolving this mystery so we can discard the possibility, however remote, that the airplane can be used for nefarious purposes against us in the future," ABC News quoted a US official as saying.
The official added that "all our intelligence assets" are being used to try to figure this out.
Investigators searching for the missing MAS passenger jet said that they could not rule out hijacking and are looking at whether one of the plane's pilots or crew could have been involved.
Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein made clear yesterday that investigators do not know what happened to the jetliner despite a week of intense searching.
US officials who have been briefed on the investigation have determined that the plane continued to "ping" a satellite long after its transponder stopped sending out signals and disappeared from radar.
The officials told ABC News that two of the plane's communications systems were shut down separately, and that it appeared to have been done manually.
“There are four or five possibilities which we are exploring," Hishammuddin told a presss conference at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang yesterday.
"It could have been done intentionally. It could be done under duress. It could have been done because of an explosion. That’s why I don’t want to go into the realm of speculation. We are looking at the all the possibilities,” he said.
When asked whether investigators were looking at whether one of the plane's two pilots or cabin crew could have been involved in whatever happened to the plane, he replied. “We are looking at that possibility.”
“The investigation into the pilots is ongoing,” he said to a question, but said they have not yet searched their homes.
MAS chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya added to the speculation that the plane's disappearance was the result of a plot rather than a catastrophic failure of the airplane's systems.
“We cannot confirm whether there is no hijacking.
"Like I said from the start, and I’ve been very consistent, we are looking at all possibilities,” he said.
The 11-year-old jet vanished early Saturday about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It disappeared from radar at 1.30am local time.
After searching intently east of peninsular Malaysia in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, much of the attention has shifted hundreds of miles west in the Strait of Malacca and the Indian Ocean.
Officials believe it may have flown west because Malaysian military radar picked up a signal after the jetliner disappeared, and they believe it may have been flight MH370.
“I will be the happiest person if we can confirm that (the military radar blip) is MH370 because then we could move all our assets to the Strait of Malacca.
"But at this time we cannot do that,” Hishammuddin said yesterday.
Investigators are trying to retrieve data from the satellites that had been pinged by the missing airliner in the hopes that those contacts might aid in plotting the plane's final position.
Vietnamese officials added some details to the plane's mystery yesterday by telling ABC News that when flight MH370 left Malaysian airspace and failed to make contact with Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the Vietnamese asked another plane in the area that was heading to Japan to contact MH370.
The Japan-bound plane reported back to the Vietnamese controllers that when it reached MH370 only a “buzz signal” came back, but no voices. And then the signal went dead.
The Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not say what time that contact was made.
Sources told Reuters yesterday that the investigation was focusing more on a suspicion the flight was deliberately diverted, as evidence suggests it was last headed out over the Andaman Islands.
In a far more detailed description of military radar plotting than has been publicly revealed, two sources told Reuters that an unidentified aircraft – that investigators suspect was missing flight MH370 – appeared to be following a commonly used navigational route when it was last spotted early on Saturday, northwest of Malaysia.
That course – headed into the Andaman Sea and towards the Bay of Bengal – could only have been set deliberately, either by flying the Boeing 777-200ER jet manually or by programming the auto-pilot.
A third investigative source said inquiries were focusing more on the theory that someone who knew how to fly a plane deliberately diverted the flight hundreds of miles off its course from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
"What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," said the source, a senior Malaysian police official.
The latest radar evidence is consistent with the expansion of the search for the aircraft to the west of Malaysia, possibly as far as the Indian Ocean.
"It's my understanding that based on some new information that's not necessarily conclusive – but new information – an additional search area may be opened in the Indian Ocean," said White House spokesman Jay Carney (pic, left), but did not specify the nature of the new information.
Satellites picked up faint electronic pulses from the aircraft after it went missing on Saturday, but the signals gave no immediate information about where the jet was heading and little else about its fate, two sources close to the investigation said on Thursday.
US experts are still examining the data to see if any information about its last location could be extracted, a source close to the investigation told Reuters.
The "pings" indicated its maintenance troubleshooting systems were switched on and ready to communicate with satellites, showing the aircraft was at least capable of communicating after losing touch with air traffic controllers.
The system transmits such pings about once an hour, according to the sources, who said five or six were heard. However, the pings alone are not proof that the plane was in the air or on the ground, they said.
Malaysia's air force chief, General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud, said on Wednesday that an aircraft that could have been the missing plane was plotted on military radar at 2.15 am, 320 km northwest of Penang Island off Malaysia's west coast.
This position marks the limit of Malaysia's military radar in that part of the country, a fourth source familiar with the investigation told Reuters.
Malaysia says it has asked neighbouring countries for their radar data, but has not confirmed receiving the information. Indonesian and Thai authorities said on Friday they had not received an official request for such data from Malaysia.
The fact that the plane – if it was MH370 – had lost contact with air traffic control and was invisible to civilian radar, suggested someone on board had turned off its communication systems, the first two sources said.
They also gave new details on the direction in which the unidentified aircraft was heading – following aviation corridors identified on maps used by pilots as N571 and P628 – routes taken by commercial planes flying from Southeast Asia to the Middle East or Europe.
Malaysian police have said they were investigating whether any passengers or crew on the plane had personal or psychological problems that might shed light on the mystery, along with the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or mechanical failure.
As ships and aircraft combed a vast area covering both sides of the Malaysian peninsula and the Andaman Sea, the US Navy was sending an advanced P-8A Poseidon plane to help search the Strait of Malacca, a busy sea-lane separating the Malaysian peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. It had already deployed a Navy P-3 Orion aircraft to those waters.
US defence officials told Reuters that the US Navy guided-missile destroyer, USS Kidd, was heading to the Strait of Malacca, answering a request from the Malaysian government. The Kidd had been searching the areas south of the Gulf of Thailand, along with the destroyer USS Pinckney.
India had deployed ships, planes and helicopters from the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands, at the juncture of the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, an Indian military spokesman Harmeet Singh said on Friday.
Two Dornier aircraft were searching the land mass of the Andaman and Nicobar islands, a total area of 720 km by 52 km, Singh said.
China, which had more than 150 citizens on board the missing plane, has deployed four warships, four coastguard vessels, eight aircraft, and trained 10 satellites on a wide search area. Chinese media have described the ship deployment as the largest Chinese rescue fleet ever assembled.
The Boeing 777 has one of the best safety records of any commercial aircraft in service. Its only previous fatal crash came on July 6 last year when Asiana Airlines flight 214 struck a seawall with its undercarriage on landing in San Francisco. Three people died in the incident. - March 15, 2014.