Malaysian officials said today that they have radar evidence showing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 switched course and reached the Malacca Strait, a busy shipping channel on Malaysia's west coast, hundreds of miles away from where authorities originally thought it may have disappeared.
Local paper Berita Harian reported that air force chief Rodzali Daud said that military radar last detected MH730 at 2:40 a.m. on Saturday, near the island of Pulau Perak at the end of the Strait of Malacca, and that it was flying about 1,000 feet lower than before.
(Update, 9:48 p.m.: Daud is now denying that he ever made those statements to Berita Harian. But both Reuters and the AP have additional anonymous sources confirming that a radar at a military base tracked Flight 370 to the Pulau Perak/Strait of Malacca area.)
This would mean that the plane was significantly off course:
An unnamed official also told Reuters that the plane was flying low, saying "[the plane] changed course after Kota Bharu and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait."
Reuters explains the implications of this development:
[The new information] would appear to rule out sudden catastrophic mechanical failure, as it would mean the plane flew around 500 km (350 miles) at least after its last contact with air traffic control, although its transponder and other tracking systems were off. A non-military source familiar with the investigations said the report was one of several theories and was being checked.
The military used primary radar, which civilian trackers can't see, to update its estimate of the plane's last location. The international search and rescue mission has been searching the Malacca Strait since Sunday, but has not focused the search in that area.
As the search drags on, at least one satellite imaging company has asked for help analyzing images of the area, attempting to crowdsource traces of the missing flight.
In another development, Malaysian Airlines is looking into reports that the co-pilot of MH370 had invited women into the cockpit during a flight in 2011. According to the Associated Press, the women stayed in the cockpit for the duration of the flight:
[Jonti] Roos said she and her friend were allowed to stay in the cockpit during the entire one-hour flight on Dec. 14, 2011, from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur. She said the arrangement did not seem unusual to the plane’s crew. ‘‘Throughout the entire flight, they were talking to us and they were actually smoking throughout the flight,’’ Roos said.
The airline won't comment on the alleged incident until the investigation is complete.