By Rachel Huggins and Peter Schroeder - 03/15/14 05:54 PM EDT
Malaysia’s prime minister said Saturday that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was deliberately diverted by someone onboard after its communications systems were intentionally disabled.
"Clearly the search for (Flight) MH370 has entered a new phase," Najib said at a televised news conference, according to The Associated Press. He added that the investigation has now shifted to focus on pilots and passengers, and could not confirm whether the plane’s disappearance was a hijacking.
"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," he said, according to Reuters.
Najib said that the latest communication received from the plane, based on new data, came nearly seven hours after it first diverted from its planned course and flew back across the Malaysian peninsula. The last data received also placed the plane either traveling along a stretch spanning from northern Thailand towards the borders of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or south towards Indonesia and into the Indian Ocean.
Flight 370 vanished March 7 with 239 people on board, including three American citizens. Roughly two-thirds of the flight's passengers were Chinese, and the nation's Xinhua state new agency called the new statement from Malaysia "painfully belated."
Investigators initially believed the Malaysia Airlines flight had likely crashed into the water in the Gulf of Thailand. But a comprehensive search of the surrounding area by more than a dozen nations turned up no sign of debris or wreckage. That search effort has been called off as the investigation now shifts into a probe of possible criminal wrongdoing.
—This story was posted at 8:00 a.m. and updated at 5:55 p.m.