A Malaysian passenger jet missing for more than a week had its communications deliberately disabled and its last signal came about seven-and-a-half hours after takeoff, meaning it could have ended up as far as Kazakhstan or deep in the southern Indian Ocean, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday
Najib's statement Saturday gave further credence to mounting speculation that the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 people on board was not accidental.
It also underlines the massive task for searchers who, having already scoured vast areas of ocean, will now call off the massive search operation focused strictly on South China Sea. The current search there involved 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft.
"In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Najib said, stressing they are still investigating all possibilities as to why the plane deviated so drastically from its original flight path.
"Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase," Najib told a televised news conference.
Minutes after the Malaysian press conference ended, police began searching the house of the missing aircraft's 53-year-old captain for any evidence that he could have been involved in foul play, Reuters reported.
But to date, no details have emerged of any passengers or crew members having any links to terrorist groups, nor any evidence of psychological problems that may explain a motive for diverting or deliberately crashing the flight. And Malaysia Airlines officials have said they do not believe that the experienced pilot would have sabotaged the plane.
Despite the major new twist in the investigation, however, the prime minister still urged caution in jumping to conclusions.
"Despite media reports the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear, we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate," Najib said.