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June 24, 2017

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Malaysia jet disappearance 'deliberate'

KUALA LUMPUR -- A missing Malaysian airliner was apparently deliberately diverted and flown for hours after vanishing from radar, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday, stopping short of confirming a hijack but taking the "excruciating" jet drama into uncharted new territory.

Najib said investigators believed "with a high degree of certainty" that systems relaying Malaysia Airlines flight 370's location to air traffic control were manually switched off before the jet veered westward in a fashion "consistent with deliberate action."

But a grave-looking Najib told a press conference watched around the globe that he could not confirm whether the plane had been forcibly taken over.

"Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path," he said.

He called it an "excruciating time for the families of those on board."

The new information appeared to cast aside a host of theories on the plane's disappearance, which has transfixed the world and left frustrated families of the 239 passengers and crew baying for scarce information.

Dauntingly Large Search Area

Previous scenarios included a sudden mid-air explosion, catastrophic equipment or structural failure, or a crash into the South China Sea.

But Najib's announcement opened a whole new avenue of speculation including an attempted 9/11-style attack.

The 9/11 hijackers had turned off the transponders of three of the four planes that were commandeered. Transponders transmit data on a plane's location to air traffic controllers.

MH370's transponder was manually shut off, Najib said.

Final satellite communication with the Boeing 777, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, came more than 6 1/2 hours after it vanished from civilian radar at 1:30 a.m. on March 8, said Najib.

That would equate with the time Malaysia Airlines has said the plane would have run out of fuel.

Investigators had concluded the plane was diverted west from its original flight path, and thus a search in the South China Sea would end, Najib said, but would continue in the Indian Ocean.

But the new search zone is now dauntingly large — Najib said the plane could be anywhere from Kazakhstan to the southern Indian Ocean.

Earlier, a senior Malaysian military official had told AFP investigators believed the plane was commandeered by a "skilled, competent and current pilot" who knew how to avoid radar, stopping short of speculating whether a hijacker or crew member was suspected.

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