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Vanished jet's wild turn adds to mystery

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By The Washington Post
Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 8:48 p.m.
 

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — As the search pressed on Tuesday for a missing Malaysian airliner, military officials said radar data showed it inexplicably turned and headed toward the Malacca Strait, hundreds of miles off its scheduled flight path.

Gen. Rodzali Daud, Malaysia's air force chief, was quoted by Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian as saying that the Boeing 777 jet was detected by military radar at 2:40 a.m. Saturday near Pulau Perak at the northern end of the strait, which separates the western side of the Malaysian peninsula from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” he said.

Search teams from 10 nations initially focused their efforts east of the peninsula along the path that the red-eye flight was on when it disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. en route to Beijing, where it was supposed to land at 6:30 a.m.

The reports that the plane veered so far off course added a bizarre and confusing element to a case that has baffled investigators.

Three days after the plane carrying 227 passengers vanished, investigators admitted they were mystified by what happened on board. Malaysian authorities said they continued to look for signs of sabotage or hijacking but were considering the possibility of psychological or personal problems among the passengers or crew.

They played down any connection between the plane's fate and two Iranian passengers who had boarded the aircraft with fake Austrian and Italian passports.

“The more information we get, the more we are inclined to conclude it is not a terrorist incident,” Ronald Noble, secretary general of the international police agency Interpol, said.

But in Washington, CIA Director John Brennan said terrorism could not be ruled out.

Reuters news agency, citing an unidentified Malaysian military source, said military radar picked up the plane as it crossed the Malaysian peninsula in what were apparently its final minutes of flight. Malaysian media reported that some residents spotted a plane flying low, near the city of Kota Bharu.

If the reports were correct, it was unclear why many authorities didn't appear aware of the information earlier in the investigation. Authorities have consistently said that Flight MH370's transponder signal — which communicates with civil aviation radar — abruptly stopped at the time the plane was supposed to be entering Vietnamese air space.

But military radar could have continued to track the aircraft.

The discovery of two passengers with fake documents had raised alarm that a terrorist attack might have brought down the plane. But authorities said that the two Iranians carrying phony passports — Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29 — did not appear to be linked to any violent group. Both arrived in Malaysia the same day, Feb. 28, officials said.

At a news conference in Kuala Lumpur, Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector general of Malaysia's police, said that the 19-year-old was trying to migrate to Germany: His mother had been waiting for him in Frankfurt, then called Malaysian authorities when he did not show up.

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