Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak faced the media Saturday to say authorities are sure enough about the track of their search for Flight MH370 to pull resources away from the South China Sea.
The Malaysia Airlines flight, which disappeared a week ago, is now being looked for in two corridors: the northern corridor runs from the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border to northern Thailand, while the southern corridor passes over Indonesia and heads into the Indian Ocean.
Razak stopped short of calling it a hijacking, but essentially confirmed reports that ruled out a catastrophic mechanical failure. “We are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path,” he said, but have “refocused” the probe on the crew and passengers. Soon after the leader said this, police reportedly finally searched the home of the pilot.
“We have put our national security second in the search for the missing plane,” the prime minister said before confirming that military radar detected MH370 crossing back over the Malaysian peninsula on its westward path.
Razak said countries located in the flight corridors that are now the focus of the search have been contacted so they can share radar data and “all relevant information” with the investigative teams, which include the Federal Aviation Administration and National Transportation Safety Board.
That northern corridor runs through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Burma.
“Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” Razak said. “Over the last seven days we have followed every lead…we hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.”
As of the press conference, 14 countries have been involved in the search with a total of 43 ships and 58 aircraft.
Malaysia has come under criticism, including from relatives of the missing, for its handling of the case and has been accused of withholding information. Razak was late to the press conference as he met with family members of some of the plane’s passengers.
“We realize this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board,” he said. “No words can describe the pain they must be going through.”
His lengthy statement then proceeded to address the rumors, laying out the facts as they now recognize them. “At every stage we acted on the basis of verified information and we followed every credible lead,” Razak said. “Sometimes these leads have led nowhere.”
“…We have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated and our primary motivation has always been to find the plane.”
The last known position of the plane, he confirmed, was the South China Sea before the transponder was deliberately turned off. The plane then doubled back over the peninsula and was caught on radar “proceeding on a path north of the Strait of Malacca.”
Given that “credible information,” the search was expanded to the Andaman Sea.
“Based on new satellite communication we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communication addressing and reporting system for aircraft was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast” of the Malaysian peninsula, he said. The jet “left primary radar coverage” when it was headed northwest.
“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” Razak said.