U.S. Official Suggests Missing Jetliner May Have Been "Act of Piracy"

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 14 2014 3:36 PM

The Latest Working Theory: Missing Jetliner Was "Act of Piracy"

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Pilots on board a Vietnamese Air Force Russian-made AN-27 aircraft search Vietnam's southern sea for missing Malaysia Airlines' flight MH370 on March 14, 2014

Photo by Hoang Dinh Nam/AFP/Getty Images

As the search for MH370 inched toward its second week on Friday (our time), U.S. officials appeared increasingly convinced that the missing 777 was a deliberate act of someone on board with aviation skills—and that the jetliner's disappearance may have been, in the words of one unnamed U.S. official who spoke to the Associated Press, "an act of piracy":

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and spoke only if not identified. While other theories are still being examined, the official says key evidence for "human intervention" in the plane's disappearance is that contact with its transponder stopped about a dozen minutes before a messaging system quit. This official says that it's also possible the plane may have landed somewhere.
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The AP report comes on the heels of this morning's scoop by Reuters, which reported that new evidence suggests that the flight was deliberately taken off course by whoever was at the controls: "What we can say is we are looking at sabotage, with hijack still on the cards," that source, a senior Malaysian police official, told the news agency. A U.S. official who spoke to the Washington Post this afternoon offered a similar assessment. "The facts are all over the place," the official said. "It’s looking less and less like an accident. It’s looking more like a criminal event." (Given the joys of anonymous sourcing we can't say whether or not it was the same U.S. official who spoke with both the AP and the Post.)

Malaysian authorities—nor their American counterparts to be fair—have said no such thing on the record, but that is doing little to quell the speculation, particularly given officials who have been briefing the media on the ground seem to either be keeping much of the information they do have under wraps or are otherwise a step behind what is going on behind the scenes. They initially denied Wall Street Journal report yesterday that suggested that the plane continued to transmit data for roughly four hours after it vanished from civilian radar—the report that first suggested the plane possibly traveled as many as 2,200 nautical miles without being noticed—before later admitting that the search was expanding to include the Indian Ocean.

At a press conference earlier today (before the AP and WaPo reports but after the one from Reuters), Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that his team is currently pursuing all possible leads but can't yet say for certain that the radar data that has suggested the plane went off-course and flew westward across the Malaysian peninsula and toward the Indian Ocean is accurate. "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.

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