'Deliberate Action' Took Malaysian Airliner Off Its Route

Malaysia's prime minister said Saturday that the missing airline left its planned route as the result of deliberate action by someone aboard. Reporter Anthony Kuhn gives NPR's Jacki Lyden the latest.

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JACKI LYDEN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden. A startling announcement today from Malaysia's prime minister. He said that the missing Malaysia Airline's flight was intentionally diverted and its communication systems were switched off. The plane vanished a week ago en route from Malaysia to China carrying 239 passengers and crew. Today's announcement is the first official word that the plane's disappearance isn't an accident.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is covering the story from Beijing and joins us now. Anthony, so Malaysia's prime minister said the plane was diverted, he didn't say that it was hijacked. Can you make sense of this for us, please?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: OK, Jacki. Prime Minister Najib Razak said at a press conference that they believe the plane veered westward off its prescribed route and they believe that this was the result of deliberate action taken by someone on that plane. Let's hear him speak at the press conference.

PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK: Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear. We are still investigating all possibilities.

KUHN: So based on that revelation, Jacki, the prime minister says that a new phase of the search for the missing plane is now beginning.

LYDEN: Do we know where the plane went after it was diverted?

KUHN: Well, satellite and other transmissions have not shown exactly the flight's path or its location. It continued to fly for about six and a half hours after the last contact and they believe it could headed northwest, which would put it somewhere between mainland Southeast Asia and Central Asia. Or, if it went southwest, it would be somewhere between Indonesia and the South Indian Ocean, which is a large patch of water.

LYDEN: Anthony, I believe Malaysia's prime minister said that the case is now focusing attention on the passengers and crew. What does that mean?

KUHN: Well, I think most importantly, there have been reports in the Malaysian media that police have searched the home of the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah to see if there's any evidence of anything irregular there.

LYDEN: Anthony, Malaysian authorities earlier denied that the plane flew on for several hours after last contact. Looking at the investigation so far, is there a sense that Malaysia is withholding information?

KUHN: Both the passengers' families and also the Chinese government have been very critical, saying that the information is come out in a slow, contradictory and chaotic fashion, which means that either the government is being negligent or it's not willing to release the information in a timely fashion. However, passengers' families that I spoke to say that at least today's revelation perhaps brings them a little closer to finding the answer to this mystery.

LYDEN: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Beijing. Thanks very much.

KUHN: You're welcome, Jacki.

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