The search zone for the missing Malaysia Airlines 777-200 that was operating MH370 between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing early on Saturday morning has now been extended because of the ‘possibility of an air turn back’.
Put into the context of other comments made today by Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein concerning four suspicious passengers and more knowledge as to its flight path, speculations that this tragedy may have been caused by an attempted hijacking or other criminal behaviour are strengthened.
A detailed early account of Hishammuddin Hussein’s press conference has been posted here by Mavis Toh.
These suspicions were strengthened by earlier US reports confirming FBI involvement in investigating various aspects of the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200, which was carrying 239 people including six Australians.
Other factors supporting the theory that a criminal act lead to the crash including revised timings for the last radar and radio contacts with MH370 and claims in Asia media that there is evidence of a sudden drop of 200 metres or nearly 700 feet from an established cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and a significant change of direction shortly before all contact was lost.
The exact location of the wreckage of the jet remains unknown well into day two of the search, and Vietnamese vessels which have arrived at the location of oil slicks at a point close to the last known position of MH370 have not on early reports found anything to link them to a plane crash.
These are some of the factuals established at this stage of the search effort.
MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on Saturday morning local time at 12.40 am and was due to arrive after a five hours 50 minutes flight at 6.30 am.
It quickly rose to a cruise altitude of 35,000 feet and the last confirmed radar fix on the flight was at 1.22 am local time.
(This is different from the initial airline claims that contact was lost at 2.40 am, which now appears to be the time the airline was in fact informed by Malaysia air traffic control that the flight was missing. An earlier post dealing with these changes and the detective work done by Aviation Herald can be read here.)
However after the radar return was lost Malaysia control asked another aircraft that was about 30 minutes flight time ahead of MH370 to contact it using the emergency radio frequency.
Contact was made as reported in the New Straits Times, but then lost by 1.30 am, meaning that there was eight minutes between MH370 being last identified on radar and being last heard on radio, with reception said to be affected by static. If MH370 was by then flying away from the intermediary jet rather than following it, reception might have been compromised.
All of these speculations, despite being supported by the information provided by official sources, could prove to be incomplete or erroneous. Early speculations on air crash causes are always by their nature incomplete, and often wrong.