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Malaysia says missing plane was taken off course deliberately, does not rule out hijack

Kuala Lumpur, Mar 15 (PTI) : Malaysia said on Saturday the movement of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 with 239 people on board was “consistent with deliberate action by someone on plane”, and did not rule out hijacking.

Prime Minister Najib Razak said authorities are now trying to trace the plane across two possible corridors -- in the north to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

“Based on new satellite communication we can say with a high degree of certainty that the aircraft communication addressing system was disabled just before the aircraft reached the east coast of Malaysia,” Najib told reporters here at a press conference.

There has been no trace of the plane or any sign of wreckage despite a search by the navies and military aircraft of 14 countries across Southeast Asia involving 43 ships and 58 aircraft. The plane, with 239 people on board, disappeared off Malaysia's east coast on March 8 less than an hour after taking off on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Najib said the aircraft's transponder was switched off shortly afterwards when the plane was between the border of Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control.

“Radar data showed that from this point onwards a plane believed to be MH370 did turn back, and turned back in a westerly direction before turning north west.

“These were deliberate actions of someone on plane,” he said, but stopped short of saying the aircraft had been hijacked.

“The last satellite communication was at 8.11am (local time) on March 8,” he said, suggesting that the plane was in the air for 7.5 hours after it lost the control.

The plane had left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:41am and lost contact with civilian radar and hour later.

“Despite the media of reports hijacking, I am very clear we are still looking into all possibilities,” he said.

The Prime Minister said that based on the raw satellite radar it could be confirmed that the aircraft that was spotted an hour after it vanished from the civilian radar and seen on the military's primary radar was indeed the missing Malaysian plane Boeing 777 Flight MH370.

Najib said investigators would check out the crew and passengers again.

“Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase,” he said. “We hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.”

He said, “We are ending our operation in the South China Sea and reassessing the deployment of our assets.”

Meanwhile, Bangladesh on Saturday joined international search operations to trace the missing Malaysian plane by deploying frigates and aircraft in its exclusive economic zone in the Bay of Bengal.

In line with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's directive, two patrol aircraft and two navy frigates - BNS Omar Faruque and BNS Bangabandhu - have joined the search, primarily to look for the aircraft in Bangladesh's exclusive economic zone, a defence ministry spokesman told PTI.

Bangladesh decided to join the search for the missing Flight MH370 with 14 other countries in view of emerging possibilities that the plane could be tracked down in the Bay of Bengal, he said.