Nightly News   |  March 18, 2014

Evidence Malaysia Plane’s U-Turn Was Premeditated

Critical information about when some of the plane’s critical turns were programmed into the flight computer may reveal who did it.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> good evening. a number of new theorys have emerged about what might have happened to that missing jumbo jet , missing for 11 days. there's no accounting for the 239 souls on board the aircraft. while a lot of the debate is about electronics and radar signatures and altitudes and flight paths, there remains an awful lot of area to be searched and a massive aircraft has so far managed to disappear without a trace for over a week now. we get the very latest on the investigation including some new details tonight on the crucial turn in the flight from nbc 's tom costello in our d.c. newsroom, tom, good evening.

>> we knew that whoever played the u -turn in the plane, did so with the help of the on board computer. we learned when the turn was programmed in, at least 12 minutes before the co pilot calmly said good night to air traffic controllers , that would further indicate the u -turn was planned and executed in the cockpit before the controllers lost contact.

>> nbc news has learned that flight 370s u -turn, manually programmed into the computer in the cockpit, that means the u -turn was premeditated, executed only the last radio call and after the transponders went dead. if the pilot entered that turn, why?

>> some pilots will program in an alternate flight plan in the event of an emergency. we don't know what the reason was, to go back do cual lal lumpur or take it away from beiji beijing.

>> reporter: a retired captain helped re-create in a 737 what we know, someone turned off the transponder with the flip of a switch.

>> you can see i can push the button and that would bring it up. they switched off and then disabled the acars data system possibly by pulling the circuit breaker .

>> it would be on one of these back panels behind the pilots.

>> easy steps for a pilot. total time, 80 seconds, then making a u -turn back to kuala lumpur .

>> all i have to do is spin this nobody around and the aircraft will turn around.

>> sources tell nbc news that whoever turned the plane programmed the flight management system and knew what they were doing.

>> this would be a very elaborate scheme. they would have had very, very extensive training to pull this off.

>> meanwhile, the most intense search remains focused on the rough waters of the southern indian ocean . 1500 miles southwest of perth where a massive 370,000 square mile area is being scanned. simply too big for an underwater sonar search. the flight simulator turns up nothing suspicious. tonight with the flight crew under the micro scope, the family of the captain released these images showing the man they love. and there's this, thailand today said its radar did pick up a plane that might have been flight 370 early in the morning on march 8th , that's not surprising, since the strait borders thailand. when asked why they didn't provide the information sooner they simply said, because they weren't asked.

>> continues to be a remarkable mystery. tom, thanks. again tonight we saw him in our setup piece, we turn to greg fife. he's senior air safety director, a veteran pilot himself. greg , this left turn had to be manually punched in in the cockpit, knowing what we know about you pilots, it's in your blood, whether you fly a single engine or a wide body to always know where you go in case of trouble, sometimes it's behind you, below you, out in front of you. always cognizant in case of trouble, why wouldn't this be consistent with a captain who had trouble on board?

>> it could be, brian. we just don't have enough information, it's possible that they had programmed in their alternate plan, that is, if they had taken off, had a problem, all they would have to to do is pull up that stand by flight plan , put it in the active window, hit execute to come back to kuala lumpur , or they could have put in a stand by flight plan to take the airplane well away from beijing and kuala lumpur and put in a phantom waypoint all the way down into the south indian ocean and continue to let the plane fly that direction.

>> thank you. we'll have more from greg , tom, our team of journalists covering this investigation, they're updated work on our website tonight, it will remain there at