A new report indicates that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was diverted from its scheduled path due to programming through the aircraft's computer system rather than a manual control.
Quoting senior American officials, The New York Times reinforced the belief that someone in the cockpit was responsible for the plane's disappearance 11 days ago.
It said the the person who altered the flight path "typed seven or eight keystrokes into a computer on a knee-high pedestal between the captain and the first officer".
The Flight Management System directs the plane from point to point as noted in the flight plan, which is submitted before a flight.
According to the Malaysian Insider, it is not known if the plane's path was reprogrammed before or after takeoff.
This new report has strengthened the investigators' conviction that the plane was deliberately diverted and that there was foul play in MH370's disappearance, the New York Times said.
Investigators had also trained their sights on the plane's pilot and co-pilot following this discovery.
Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announced on Saturday that investigators believed the plane had been deliberately diverted after it was discovered that its transponder and other communication tools were manually turned off, just minutes apart.
The Flight Management System had reported the flight's status to Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which then sent the information to a maintenance base, the official told The New York Times.
This showed that the ACARS had only stopped working after the reprogramming happened.
The ACARS stopped functioning around the same time that radio contact stopped, along with the plane's transponder, fuelling suspicions of foul play.
"Whoever changed the plane’s course would have had to be familiar with Boeing aircraft, though not necessarily the 777 – the type of plane that disappeared," reported The New York Times
Officials and experts believe the possibility a passenger could have re-programmed the flight system is "far-fetched".
Why didn't passengers make calls?
After 11 days and more than 200 hours of searching, investigators are still baffled by the absence of distress calls from the mobile phones of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
According to The New York Times, a new report says this is in contrast to the behaviour of passengers when hijackers took over four planes during the September 11 attacks in 2001. In that instance, passengers and crew members scrambled to make phone calls to their loved ones and authorities.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahaya has confirmed that there is no evidence "of any number they’re (passengers and crew) trying to contact, but anyway they (investigators) are still checking and there are millions of records for them to process".
The seeming absence of communications from the 239 people on board the missing Boeing 777-200 has sparked debate between pilots, telecommunications specialists and others, The New York Times reported.
"Most of the people aboard the plane were from Malaysia or China, two countries where mobile phone use is extremely prevalent, especially among affluent citizens who take international flights," it said.
Some experts believe that the passenger jet had been flying too high for personal electronic devices to be functioning.
A military radar showed that the plane had flown "extremely high" after turning back on the South China Sea, which reportedly flew nearly 2000 feet higher than the certified maximum altitude for the Boeing aircraft.
However, the plane later descended to a point as low as 23,000 feet before ascending and maintaining an altitude around 30,000 feet.
An expert in wireless communications told The New York Times that the altitude could have hindered mobile phones belonging to passengers from connection to base stations on the ground.
Vincent Lau, an electronics professor specialising in wireless communications at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said that in the case of September 11, the hijacked planes were travelling on a very low altitude when passengers and crew made calls from these aircraft.
He said that mobile phones in a plane at high altitude would receive little, if any, signal as base station signals are spread out significantly over distance.
CNN editor Richard Quest met with one of the pilots of missing flight MH370 last month, and described him as still "learning the ropes" of flying a Boeing 777.
The aviation expert was filming a training session on board a Malaysian Airlines flight one month ago on which one of the pilots was on board.
Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid came under the spotlight after it was revealed he was the last person to radio before the Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared on March 9.
Described in one report as a "pilot playboy", Quest said his impression of Hamid was one of experience.
"My impression of Fariq was one that he absolutely adored flying," Quest told Sunrise
"Young, relatively experienced based on other aircraft but was now sort of moving into the big league going from the narrow-bodied 737s to the big 777s."
Quest also said that he didn't believe Hamid was anything but professional.
'There was nothing in what we saw that would give any indication [he was a pilot cowboy]," he said.
Officials question timeline
Officials revealed a new timeline Monday suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled, adding more uncertainty about who aboard might have been to blame.
The search for Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, has now been expanded deep into the northern and southern hemispheres. Australian vessels scoured the southern Indian Ocean and China offered 21 of its satellites to help Malaysia in the unprecedented hunt.
With no wreckage found in one of the most puzzling aviation mysteries of all time, relatives of those on the Boeing 777 have been left in an agonizing limbo.
Investigators say the plane was deliberately diverted during its overnight flight and flew off-course for hours. They haven't ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and they are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.
Malaysia's Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Australia and Indonesia were leading the search from the west of Sumatra to the south of the Indian Ocean.
China and Kazakhstan are searching in the northern corridor from Laos to the Caspian Sea.
“I can confirm that search and rescue operations in the northern and southern corridors have already begun,” Hussein said.
“Countries including Malaysia, Australia, China, Indonesia and Kazakhstan have already initiated search and rescue operations.”
Hishammuddin said Australia sent a P-3 Orion aircraft to search in the region of the Cocos Islands and Christmas Island, while Malaysia deployed two ships and a Super Lynx helicopter
Australia is to dispatch two more P-3 Orion aircraft and a C-130 Hercules, while a US P-8 Poseidon aircraft is expected in Perth to join search, he said.
Hussein said finding the plane was still the main focus, and he did not rule out that it might be discovered intact.
"The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope," Hishammuddin said at a news conference.
Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said an initial investigation indicated that the last words heard from the plane by ground controllers — "All right, good night" — were spoken by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid. Had it been a voice other than that of Fariq or the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit before the flight went off-course.
Clarification that the voice was most likely that of First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid came during a press conference at which Malaysian officials hit back at "irresponsible" suggestions that they had misled the public -- and passenger's relatives -- over what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid have become a primary focus of the investigation, with one of the key questions being who was in control of the aircraft when it veered off course about an hour into its flight to Beijing.
The nonchalant-sounding last message from the cockpit -- "All right, good night" -- came around the time that two of the plane's crucial signalling systems were manually disabled.
"Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically spoke," said Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.
The last signal from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was received 12 minutes before the co-pilot's final words.
The plane's transponder -- which relays the plane's location -- was switched off just two minutes after he spoke, and a few minutes later the aircraft turned back on its flight path.
Yahya said it was not clear precisely when the ACARS system, which sends a signal every 30 minutes, was disabled. Officials had previously maintained it was manually turned off before the final cockpit message.
The new information opened the possibility that both ACARS and the plane's transponders, which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers, were turned off at about the same time. It also suggests that the message delivered from the cockpit could have preceded any of the severed communications.
The Malaysian authorities have stressed that the backgrounds of all the passengers and crew were being checked, as well as engineers who may have worked on the plane before take-off.
But Michael McCaul, chair of the US House Homeland Security Committee, said US intelligence briefings had seemed to lead "towards the cockpit, with the pilot himself, and co-pilot".
The plane went missing early on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard, spawning a massive international search across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean that has turned up no trace of wreckage.
China's damning assessments of Malaysia's crisis management continued Monday.
Premier Li Keqiang in a phone call asked his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak to provide more detailed data and information about the missing flight "in a timely, accurate and comprehensive manner", state news agency Xinhua reported.
The state-controlled China Daily said the "contradictory and piecemeal information Malaysia Airlines and its government have provided has made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious".
Relatives of the Chinese passengers also voiced anger and frustration after a meeting with airline officials in Beijing.
"Only the Malaysia government knows the truth. They've been talking nonsense since the beginning," said Wen Wancheng, whose son was on Flight 370.
At Monday's press briefing, Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein reacted angrily when a foreign journalist suggested Malaysia should apologise for its handling of the crisis.
"I think it is very irresponsible of you to say that," he shot back.
Twenty-six countries are now involved in searching for the jet after satellite and military radar data projected two dauntingly large corridors the plane might have flown through.
The northern corridor stretches in an arc over south and central Asia, while the other swoops deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia.
Satellite and radar data from countries in the northern corridor should allow investigators to confirm within "two or three days" whether it crashed in that area, a foreign member of the investigative team told AFP.
Malaysia announced that it was deploying its navy and air force to the southern corridor, where Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said his country would take the lead in searching a vast area off its west coast.
Three officials from France's civil aviation accident investigation agency arrived in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to share their experiences of the search for Air France Flight 447, which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.
The "black boxes" from that crash were eventually recovered nearly two years later from a depth of more than 3,800 meters (12,500 feet).
Malaysian police have searched both pilots' homes and are examining a flight simulator that Captain Zaharie, 53, had assembled at his home.
Associates say Zaharie was an active supporter of Malaysia's political opposition headed by veteran politician Anwar Ibrahim.
In a highly controversial case, Anwar was convicted of sodomy -- illegal in Muslim Malaysia -- just hours before MH370 took off.
But friends said Zaharie exhibited no extreme views.
Fariq, meanwhile, was accused in an Australian television report of allowing two young South African women into the cockpit of a plane he piloted in 2011, breaching security rules imposed after the 9/11 attacks in the United States.
But acquaintances have attested to his good character, and reports said he planned to wed his flight-school sweetheart.