Was missing jetliner hundreds of miles off scheduled route?

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Conflicting reports about the actual flight path of a Malaysian airliner before it vanished Saturday added to the mystery and confusion about its disappearance Tuesday as authorities widened the search for the missing jumbo jet.

Malaysian officials said the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, changed course and had reached the Strait of Malacca before it disappeared.

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The strait is hundreds of miles west of the plane’s takeoff point and far from its scheduled route.

Malaysian authorities widened the search area for the plane to include the Strait of Malacca. The airliner, which was carrying 239 people, vanished without a trace at an altitude of 35,000 feet. An international search crew is scouring 12,500 square miles of ocean.

According to the Kuala Lumpur newspaper Berita Harian, air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud said radar had tracked the jetliner as it changed course early Saturday — then, hours later the general denied making the comments.

This combination of images released by Interpol and displayed by Malaysian police during a news conference in Sepang, Malaysia, on Tuesday, March 11, 2014, shows an Iranian identified by Interpol as Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, who Malaysian authorities say is 19, although Interpol's information indicated an age of 18, left, and 29-year-old Iranian Delavar Seyedmohammaderza. The men boarded the now missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 with stolen passports. (AP Photo/Interpol)

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This combination of images released by Interpol and displayed by Malaysian police ... more >

In the original report, Gen. Daud said radar indicated the plane was approaching the strait at an altitude of about 29,500 feet.

The developments suggest confusion at the highest level over where the plane might be.

A military official who was briefed on the search told the Reuters news agency that the plane changed course after passing the Malaysian city of Kota Bharu, where local media also have reported sightings of a low-flying aircraft.

“It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca strait,” the official told Reuters.

Meanwhile, officials said that two passengers traveling with stolen passports on the missing plane were Iranian men who were believed to be trying to migrate to Europe.

That revelation eased terrorism fears, with Malaysian authorities now focusing on other leads, including pilot or crew suicide, a hijacking or sabotage.

“Other than mechanical problems, these are the main areas of concern,” Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar of the Royal Malaysian Police said Tuesday.

He added that Malaysian police are examining video footage taken at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, where the doomed plane took off, and studying the behavioral patterns of all the passengers.

“Maybe somebody on the flight has bought a huge sum of insurance, who wants the family to gain from it or somebody who has owed somebody so much money, you know, we are looking at all possibilities,” Inspector Abu Bakar said.

Malaysian Civil Aviation Chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that expanding the search area doesn’t imply that authorities believe the plane was off the western coast.

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About the Author
Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell

Kelly Riddell covers national security for The Washington Times.

Before joining The Times, Kelly was a Washington-based reporter for Bloomberg News for six years, covering the intersection between business and politics through a variety of industry-based beats. She most recently covered technology, where her reports ranged from cybersecurity to congressional policymakers.

Before joining Bloomberg, she was a management consultant and ...

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