Reports: Malaysia Airlines jet altered course by hundreds of miles

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Military radar data shows the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared last week changed course and flew hundreds of miles from where civilian systems last recorded the plane's location, an official told a Malaysian newspaper.

The Malaysian military radar indicates Flight 370 made it at least as far as the Malacca Strait, air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud told Berita Harian. The strait lies between western Malaysia and Indonesia's Sumatra Island.

"After that, the signal from the plane was lost," he told the newspaper. The primary focus of the search previously had been off the eastern coast of Malaysia and Vietnam based on where air controllers lost track of the Boeing 777.

The Associated Press said a high-ranking military official involved in the investigation confirmed the report, adding that the plane was believed to be flying low. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

The news broke as authorities indicated that Iranian passengers who used stolen passports on the jet have no known links to terrorism, although that investigation was continuing. Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble said the two men traveled to Malaysia on their Iranian passports, then apparently switched to their stolen Austrian and Italian documents.

He said speculation of terrorism appeared to be dying down "as the belief becomes more certain that these two individuals were probably not terrorists." But he asked the public for more information about both men.

Police in Malaysia said they believe Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, was intending to migrate to Germany and is not suspected of having links to terrorism groups.

Gen. Khalid Abu Bakar, Malaysia's police chief inspector, said police had spoken to the man's mother, who knew her son was using a stolen passport on his attempted journey, via Beijing, to join her in Frankfurt.

Interpol identified the second man as Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, 29. He entered and left Malaysia at the same time and date as Mehrdad. Southeast Asia is widely regarded as a hub for illegal migration.

Bakar said authorities had "no prior intelligence on activities of terrorists" in connection with the flight, but that did not mean they were ruling out terrorism. He said the police investigation into the missing flight was focused on four areas: hijacking, sabotage, personal problems among crew and passengers, and psychological problems among crew or passengers.

As an example of relevant psychological or personal problems, Bakar suggested police would investigate "if somebody on the flight had bought huge sums of insurance," so their family could gain, or were in severe debt. "We are looking into every possibility," he said.

Bakar denied earlier reports, sourced by local media from Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, that five passengers had checked in to Flight 370 but not boarded the plane. "Everybody who booked the flight boarded the flight," he said. Police are studying video footage from the airport, he said, and gathering photographs and profiles of all the passengers from authorities in the 14 countries of which they were citizens.

Those pictures and profiles are still coming in, said Bakar, but China, whose state-run press has been critical of the speed of the Malaysian response, has delivered photos and profiles for all 153 of its citizens on board the flight, he said. Bakar met a delegation from China's Ministry of Public Security on Tuesday.

Immigration Department Director-General Datuk Aloyah Mamat said that the two passengers now known to have used stolen passports arrived at Kuala Lumpur airport on Feb. 28. Immigration officers matched the passport bearers and the images in their passports and issued both a 90-day "social visit pass" visa, she said.

While Malaysian immigration requires visitors to give their fingerprints, it appears these biometric details are not checked against an international database.

Investigators, having failed to find any debris from the missing jetliner in the waters off Vietnam, widened the scope of their search Tuesday, focusing for the first time on Malaysia's western coast.

That brings the focus of the hunt beyond the flight path, and to the opposite side of the country from where the flight was reported.

Malaysia Airlines said in a statement Tuesday that the search-and-rescue mission has now expanded to the "West Peninsular of Malaysia at the Straits of Malacca."

The airline reiterated its position that it is continuing to consider a wide range of possibilities.

"The authorities are looking at a possibility of an attempt made by MH370 to turn back to Subang. All angles are being looked at. We are not ruling out any possibilities," Malaysia Airlines said in the statement.

The Boeing 777 with 239 people on board disappeared Saturday over the South China Sea less than an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on its way to Beijing. A search effort involves dozens of aircraft and ships from several countries.

Hjelmgaard reported from London. Contributing: John Bacon in McLean, Va.; Associated Press


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