Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said today that Flight MH370 was lost in the southern Indian Ocean more than two weeks ago. The announcement was based on “new” satellite data that showed the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 went into the sea more than 1,500 miles off the western coast of Australia, dashing hopes that any passengers might have survived–and tamping down speculation the jet might have been hijacked and flown to Pakistan or Iran.
From the Washington Post:
Reading from a prepared statement, Najib said new information from satellite data showed that the plane’s last location was “in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth,” a city on Australia’s west coast.
“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Najib said solemnly. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
He said the families of those on board have been informed of this “heartbreaking” news about the ill-fated Boeing 777 that vanished March 8 with 239 passengers and crew on board. He did not take questions from reporters after delivering his remarks.
Mr. Najib’s statement came after an Australian search plane sighted debris in the 42,500-square mile search area that has become the focal point in the hunt for the missing jet. Sunday’s visual sighting came after French, Australian and Chinese satellites sighted large pieces of debris off the Australian coast. While none of the wreckage has been tied to Flight 370, some of the items were of the right size and shape to have come from the lost aircraft. Additional ships have been dispatched to the area, though it make take another day (or longer) for them to locate and recover the wreckage.
At today’s press conference, the Prime Minister also reported that the British satellite communications firm Immarsat (working with that country’s Air Accident Investigation Board) concluded that MH370 took a southerly route, after deviating from its planned flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Previously, Immarsat stated that the 777 could have flown in either direction after dropping off air traffic control radar screens on 7 March. That created a vast search area that extended from the Indian Ocean to the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.
If the wreckage is recovered–and tied to the missing jet, it would tend to suggest a “suicide-by-pilot” scenario, similar to EgyptAir Flight 990 (which crashed off Massachusetts in 1999) and SilkAir Flight 185, which went down in Indonesia two years earlier. In both cases, U.S. investigators believed the planes were deliberately crashed by pilots, though other experts dispute those findings.
The most recent sightings may ultimately refute claims that the Malaysia flight was hijacked and flown to the Middle East, possibly for use in a future terrorist operation. Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney has repeatedly stated that the jet wound up in Pakistan, citing sources at Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, and the LIGNET intelligence group.
At this point, we should caution that McInerney’s theory has not been disproved, either. Clearly, the most recent sightings tend to place Flight 370 in the Indian Ocean, but until the wreckage is recovered, examined and confirmed as part of the missing jet, the notion that it landed somewhere else cannot be completely discounted.