KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The missing Malaysian jetliner may have attempted to turn back before it vanished from radar, but there is no evidence it reached the Strait of Malacca, the country’s air force chief said Wednesday, denying reported remarks he said otherwise.
The development added confusion and mystery into one of most puzzling aviation incidents of recent time, and it has raised questions about why the Malaysia Airlines flight apparently was not transmitting signals detectable by civilian radar, why its crew was silent about the course change and why no distress calls were sent after it turned back.
Many experts have been working on the assumption there was a catastrophic event on the flight – such as an explosion, engine failure, terrorist attack, extreme turbulence, pilot error or even suicide.
The director of the CIA said in Washington that he still would not rule out terrorism.
Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. Saturday, bound for Beijing. Authorities initially said its last contact with ground controllers was less than an hour into the flight at a height of 35,000 feet, when the plane was somewhere between the east coast of Malaysia and Vietnam.
But local newspaper Berita Harian quoted Malaysia’s air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, as saying that radar at a military base had tracked the jet as it changed its course, with the final signal at 2:40 a.m. showing the plane to be near Pulau Perak at the northern approach to the Strait of Malacca, a busy waterway that separates the western coast of Malaysia and Indonesia’s Sumatra island. It was flying slightly lower, at 29,528 feet, he said. He later denied this statement.
“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” he was quoted as saying.
A high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to disclose sensitive information.
Authorities had said earlier the plane may have tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, but they expressed surprise it would do so without informing ground control.
Earlier Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines said in a statement that search-and-rescue teams had expanded their scope to the Strait of Malacca.