The mysterious turn that diverted the missing Malaysia Airlines flight off of its scheduled route to Beijing was programmed into a computer system on board, the New York Times reported Monday, meaning it was not executed manually by one of the pilots at the controls.
The revelation lends more credence to a theory by investigators searching for the jet that the Boeing 777 was deliberately diverted. The Times reports it is unclear if the change in course was reprogrammed before or after the plane took off, but the change was likely made by someone in the cockpit with knowledge of airplane systems.
The search for Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, has now been expanded deep into the northern and southern hemispheres. Australian vessels scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 of its satellites to help Malaysia in the unprecedented hunt, but no trace of the plane has been found.
Investigators say the jet flew off-course for hours. They haven't ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members -- as well as the ground crew -- for personal problems, psychological issues or links to terrorists.
China's state news agency reported Tuesday that background checks on all its nationals on board the missing Malaysian jetliner uncovered no links to terrorism. Xinhua said the Chinese ambassador to Malaysia made the announcement to media in Kuala Lumpur.
There has been some speculation that Uighur separatists in far western Xinjiang province might have been involved with the flight's disappearance. The statement will lessen that speculation.
Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out that it might be discovered intact.
"The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope," Hishammuddin said at a news conference.
Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the last words ground controllers heard from the plane -- "All right, good night" -- were spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. A voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have been clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.
Malaysian officials said earlier that those words came after one of the jetliner's data communications systems -- the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System -- had been switched off, suggesting the voice from the cockpit may have been trying to deceive ground controllers.
However, Ahmad said that while the last data transmission from ACARS -- which gives plane performance and maintenance information -- came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off, making any implications of the timing murkier.
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