The Malaysian military believes an airliner missing for almost four days with 239 people on board flew for more than an hour after vanishing from air traffic control screens, changing course and traveling west over the Strait of Malacca, a senior military source said.
Malaysian authorities have previously said flight MH370 disappeared about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for the Chinese capital Beijing.
At the time it was roughly midway between Malaysia's east coast town of Kota Bharu and the southern tip of Vietnam, flying at 10,670 metres.
"It changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait," the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters. The Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia's west coast.
The revelation provides a new lead in the search for the missing plane. Malaysia has now extended the massive search operation for the plane to the Malacca Strait after initially focusing on the South China Sea.
Earlier on Tuesday, Malaysia's Berita Harian newspaper quoted air force chief Rodzali Daud as saying the Malaysia Airlines plane was last detected by military radar at 2:40 A.M. on Saturday, near the island of Pulau Perak at the northern end of the Strait of Malacca. It was flying at a height of about 9,000 metres, he was quoted as saying.
"The last time the flight was detected close to Pulau Perak, in the Melaka Straits, at 2.40 A.M. by the control tower before the signal was lost," the paper quoted Rodzali as saying.
A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was being checked.
"This report is being investigated by the DCA (Department of Civil Aviation) and the search and rescue team," the source said. "There are a lot of such reports."
The time given by Rodzali was an hour and 10 minutes after the plane vanished from air traffic control screens over Igari waypoint, midway between Malaysia and Vietnam.
There was no word on what happened to the plane thereafter.
If the reports from the military are verified, it would mean the plane was able to maintain a cruising altitude and flew for about 500 km with its transponder and other tracking systems apparently switched off.
'Not a terror attack'
The international police agency Interpol does not believe the plane's disappearance was the result of a terrorist attack, its head said on Tuesday.
Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble also suggested that two men who boarded using stolen passports and had aroused suspicion may have been smuggled by traffickers.
"The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident," Noble said.
Two Iranian passport holders aged 18 and 29, who started their trip in Doha, had swapped their passports in Kuala Lumpur and used stolen Italian and Austrian passports to board the airliner, he told reporters at Interpol's headquarters in Lyon.
"We know that once these individuals arrived in Kuala Lumpur on the 28th of February they boarded flight 370 using different identities, a stolen Austrian and a stolen Italian passport," he said.
Neither of the Iranian passports were reported stolen or lost.
Interpol is working with member countries to follow all leads including "terrorism, organised crime, illegal movement of people, whether in the form of human trafficking or smuggling," Noble said.
Making public the names of the two individuals listed on the Iranian passports - Pouri Nourmohammadi and Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza - might compel family and friends to offer tips that could allow authorities to exclude terrorism theories, Noble said.
"By doing this, eventually, with more and more evidence, we'll able to exclude they were involved in conduct that might have involved the plane to disappear and focus on eliminating the human trafficking ring that allowed them to travel."
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