The diversion that missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took, away from its scheduled path to Beijing, was programmed through the aircraft's computer system rather than a manual control, reinforcing the belief that someone in the cockpit had been responsible for the plane's disappearance 11 days ago, The New York Times reported.
Quoting senior American officials, it said that the person who altered the flight path had "typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer".
The tool, known as the Flight Management System, directs the plane from point to point as noted in the flight plan which is submitted before a flight.
However, it is not known if the plane's path was reprogrammed before or after takeoff.
This has strengthened the investigators' conviction that the plane was deliberately diverted and that there was foul play in MH370's disappearance, the daily said.
Investigators, it was reported previously, had also trained their sights on the plane's pilot and co-pilot following this discovery.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on Saturday that Malaysian investigators believed that the plane had been deliberately diverted as its transponder and other communication tools were manually turned off, just minutes apart.
The Flight Management System had reported the flight's status to Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which then sent the information to a maintenance base, the official told The New York Times.
This showed that the ACARS had only stopped working after the reprogramming happened. The ACARS stopped functioning around the same time that radio contact stopped, along with the plane's transponder, fuelling suspicions of foul play.
The daily reported that investigators were looking through radar tapes from the plane's departure from Kuala Lumpur because they believed it would show that it passed through "pre-established waypoints" – which are said to be like virtual mile markers on air.
This would indicate that a knowledgeable pilot would have to be at the helm of the aircraft as it would have been unlikely to pass through the waypoints without using a computer.
Waypoints, in this case, appeared to have been added to the planned flight path, investigators say.
Pilots do that in the course of flying if they are told by air traffic controllers to take a different route in order to avoid weather or traffic.
"But in this case, the waypoint was far off the path to Beijing," the report said. "Whoever changed the plane’s course would have had to be familiar with Boeing aircraft, though not necessarily the 777 – the type of plane that disappeared."
It would be "far-fetched" to believe a passenger could have reprogrammed the flight system, American officials and experts believe.
On Sunday, ABC News reported that investigators were led to believe that the aircraft is being controlled by the pilot or hijackers because of the programmed turn.
John Cox, a former airline union safety official, was quoted to have said "someone taking such pains to divert the plane does not fit the pattern of past cases when pilots intentionally crashed and killed everyone on board."
He had been comparing MH370's disappearance with two murder-suicides – an EgyptAir flight off Nantucket Island in 1999 and a SilkAir jet in Indonesia in 1997.
The pilot of those planes had simply "pushed the nose of the plane down and flew into the water".
Malaysian police special branch officers had searched the homes of the captain, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid.
Among the items taken for examination was a flight simulator Zaharie had built in his home.
A senior police official familiar with the investigation said the flight simulator programmes were closely examined, adding that they appeared to be normal ones that allow users to practise flying and landing in different conditions.
A second senior police official with knowledge of the investigation said they had found no evidence of a link between the pilot and any militant group. – March 18, 2014.