Missing plane: Piracy theory gains more credence

By By The Associated Press

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Piracy and

pilot suicide are among the scenarios under study as investigators grow

increasingly

certain the missing Malaysian Airlines jet reversed course and

headed west after its last radio contact with air traffic controllers.

The latest evidence suggests the plane

didn't experience a catastrophic incident over the South China Sea as

was initially

suspected. Some experts theorize that one of the pilots, or

someone else with flying experience, hijacked the plane or committed

suicide by plunging the jet into the sea.

A U.S. official said Friday in Washington

that investigators are examining the possibility of "human intervention"

in the

plane's disappearance, adding it may have been "an act of piracy."

The official, who wasn't authorized to talk to the media

and spoke on condition of anonymity, said it also was possible the

plane may have landed somewhere.

While other theories are still being

examined, the official said key evidence suggesting human intervention

is that contact

with the Boeing 777's transponder stopped about a dozen minutes

before a messaging system on the jet quit. Such a gap would

be unlikely in the case of an in-flight catastrophe.

A Malaysian official, who also declined to

be identified because he is not authorized to brief the media, said only

a skilled

aviator could navigate the plane the way it was flown after its

last confirmed location over the South China Sea. The official

said it had been established with a "more than 50 percent" degree

of certainty that military radar had picked up the missing

plane after it dropped off civilian radar.

Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said the country had yet to determine what happened to the plane

after it ceased communicating with ground control around 40 minutes into the flight to Beijing on March 8 with 239 people

aboard.

He said investigators were still trying to establish with certainty that military radar records of a blip moving west across

the Malay Peninsula into the Strait of Malacca showed Flight MH370.

"I will be the most happiest person if we

can actually confirm that it is the MH370, then we can move all (search)

assets

from the South China Sea to the Strait of Malacca," he told

reporters. Until then, he said, the international search effort

would continue expanding east and west from the plane's last

confirmed location.

On Thursday, a U.S. official said the plane remained airborne after losing contact with air traffic control, sending a signal

to establish contact with a satellite.

Boeing offers a satellite service that can

receive a stream of data on how an aircraft is functioning in flight and

relay

the information to the plane's home base. Malaysia Airlines didn't

subscribe to that service, but the plane still had the

capability to connect with the satellite and was automatically

sending signals, or pings, said the U.S. official, who spoke

on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss

the situation by name.

Scores of aircraft and ships from 12 countries are involved in the search, which reaches into the eastern stretches of the

South China Sea and on the western side of the Malay Peninsula, northwest into the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean.

India said it was using heat sensors on

flights over hundreds of Andaman Sea islands Friday and would expand the

search for

the missing jet farther west into the Bay of Bengal, more than

1,600 kilometers (about 1,000 miles) to the west of the plane's

last known position.

A team of five U.S. officials with air

traffic control and radar expertise — three from the U.S. National

Transportation Safety

Board and two from the Federal Aviation Administration — has been

in Kuala Lumpur since Monday to assist with the investigation.

White House spokesman Jay Carney sidestepped

questions Friday about the possibility of human intervention in the

plane disappearance,

saying only that U.S. officials were assisting in the

investigation.

"I don't have conclusive answers and I don't think anyone does," Carney said.

Malaysia has faced accusations it isn't sharing all its information or suspicions about the plane's final movements. It insists

it is being open, and says it would be irresponsible to narrow the focus of the search until there is undeniable evidence

of the plane's flight path.

At this point, there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of the two pilots, though Malaysian police have said they

are looking at their psychological background, their family life and connections.

Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, have both been described as respectable, community-minded men.

Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and

had more than 18,000 hours of experience. His Facebook page showed an

aviation

enthusiast who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures

of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine

helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.

Fariq was contemplating marriage after

having just graduated to the cockpit of a Boeing 777. He has drawn the

greatest scrutiny

after the revelation that in 2011, he and another pilot invited

two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for

a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur.

Mike Glynn, a committee member of the

Australian and International Pilots Association, said he considers pilot

suicide to

be the most likely explanation for the disappearance, as was

suspected in a SilkAir crash during a flight from Singapore to

Jakarta in 1997 and an EgyptAir flight in 1999.

"A pilot rather than a hijacker is more likely to be able to switch off the communications equipment," Glynn said. "The last

thing that I, as a pilot, want is suspicion to fall on the crew, but it's happened twice before."

Glynn said a pilot may have sought to fly the plane into the Indian Ocean to reduce the chances of recovering data recorders,

and to conceal the cause of the disaster.