The mystery of Flight 370 continues today, with new information that has intensified the focus on the two pilots in charge of the Boeing 777. Sources within the US investigation tell the New York Times that the hard left turn taken by the flight when it broke contact had been programmed into the computer, and not manually executed by the pilots. That strongly suggests that the pilots intended to take the airplane and its passengers, says the NYT, although it’s not known whether the programming was changed in flight or on the ground before take-off:
The first turn to the west that diverted the missing Malaysia Airlines plane from its planned flight path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing was carried out through a computer system that was most likely programmed by someone in the plane’s cockpit who was knowledgeable about airplane systems, according to senior American officials.
Instead of manually operating the plane’s controls, whoever altered Flight 370’s path typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer, according to officials. The Flight Management System, as the computer is known, directs the plane from point to point specified in the flight plan submitted before a flight. It is not clear whether the plane’s path was reprogrammed before or after it took off.
The fact that the turn away from Beijing was programmed into the computer has reinforced the belief of investigators — first voiced by Malaysian officials — that the plane was deliberately diverted and that foul play was involved. It has also increased their focus on the plane’s captain and first officer.
Anyone who did this would have to be familiar with Boeing systems, although not necessarily the 777. This would have another implication — it would probably have delayed alerting passengers to the seizure. Using the computer to accomplish the diversion would allow the plane to change course gently enough not to alarm passengers, keeping them in the dark for at least a while. However, the altitude changes that later took place had to have alerted them at some point.
CNN interviewed one of the reporters, Michael S. Schmidt, on the implications of this discovery:
The two possible tracks for Flight 370 take it northwest and southwest. Thailand’s discovery of the anomaly suggests, at least for the moment, that the flight took the northwest track. That would lead it toward India and the Central Asian republics at the end of its fuel range.
NBC’s Today had more today as well:
The Malaysian authorities haven’t covered themselves in glory thus far, so no one still really knows what went on. All we know is that the plane appears to have been taken on purpose, that no one knows exactly what that purpose was, and no one is credibly claiming responsibility for the hijacking. And we may never know more than that.