Military radar evidence suggests the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner was deliberately flown west toward the Indian Ocean’s Andaman Islands, sources told Reuters on Friday as mounting evidence pointed to a criminal inquiry into Flight MH370.
Two sources told Reuters that an unidentified aircraft – believed by investigators to be the missing Boeing 777 - was following a route between navigational way-points, indicating it was being flown by someone with aviation training when it was last plotted on military radar off the country's northwest coast.
It echoes earlier reports – based on information from U.S. officials - that the jet ‘pinged’ signals to a satellite for up to four hours after it disappeared from civilian radar screens - an indication that it was likely still flying for hundreds of miles or more.
There were also growing signs of a rift Friday between Malaysian investigators and U.S. officials over the progress of the hunt for MH370 – and a question of whether information about satellite data had been shared with local officials.
Royal Malaysian Navy via AP
A Royal Malaysian Navy helicopter involved in the search efforts for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s transport minister refused to respond to the reports, which he dismissed as “unsourced.”
“I need to know who is saying these things,” he told reporters.
A statement from his department echoed that frustration, saying information about data from the plane would not be released “until it has been properly verified and corroborated.”
“Any new evidence should be passed to the investigation team in Malaysia in order to assist the investigation,” the statement said.
There was another possible lead Friday when Chinese scientists said a “seismic event” consistent with an airplane crash was detected on the sea floor close to where the missing jet disappeared from civilian radar screens.
The signal detected by two stations in Malaysia appeared to indicate that a small tremor occurred on the floor of the sea at 2:55 a.m. about 95 miles south of Vietnam, the scientists said in a statement posted on the website of the University of Science and Technology of China.
Late Thursday, White House spokesman Jay Carney indicated that the focus of the sea search may shift further west toward 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," he said.
The Reuters report appeared to reinforce the theory – floated by ex-NTSB crash investigator Greg Feith to NBC News on Wednesday – that the airliner was deliberately flown hundreds of miles off its course by someone who knew how to disable the transponders that indicate its position.
"What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," a senior Malaysia police source told Reuters.
The last plot on the military radar's tracking suggested the plane was flying toward India's Andaman Islands, a chain of isles between the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, sources told Reuters.
Way-points are geographic coordinates that help pilots navigate along established air corridors. The last confirmed position of MH370 on civilian radar was at 35,000 feet about 90 miles off the east coast of Malaysia, heading toward Vietnam, near a navigational way-point called "Igari" at 1:21 a.m. local time.
Reuters said the military radar data seen by its sources suggests the plane then turned sharply westwards, heading toward a way-point called "Vampi," northeast of Indonesia's Aceh province and a navigational point used for planes following route N571 to the Middle East. From there, the plot indicates the plane flew toward a way-point called "Gival", south of the Thai island of Phuket, and was last plotted heading northwest toward another way-point called "Igrex", on route P628 that would take it over the Andaman Islands and which carriers use to fly toward Europe.
The time was then 2:15 a.m. local time. That's the same time given by the air force chief on Wednesday, who gave no information on that plane's possible direction.
Eric Baculinao, Wendy Min, Bo Gu and Reuters contributed to this report.
First published March 14 2014, 3:47 AM