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Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 dropped to altitudes as low as 1524 metres (5000 feet) using a dangerous flying technique called “terrain masking” to avoid radar in at least three countries, investigators believe.
The plane with 239 people on board also kept to commercial airline routes as it flew for more than seven hours after turning back from its scheduled flight path over the South China Sea, they believe.
Members on a Search and Rescue ship look at a map of the Straits of Malacca as they hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Photo: Reuters
As the focus of police investigators has swung back to the pilots, authorities have revealed that whoever spoke to Kuala Lumpur air traffic control minutes after the plane’s main communication system was disabled gave no clue that anything was wrong.
“All right, good night,” some-one in the cockpit had said calmly, seemingly to mislead ground control that anything was wrong.
Investigators believe that by following commercial routes the plane did not raise the suspicion of people monitoring radar of the countries it overflew.
Terrain masking is used by military pilots for stealth flights. Based on the estimated time in the air, authorities believe MH370 would have passed over two additional countries besides Malaysia, although it's not clear which ones.
Experts say flying a Boeing 777 in such a way would be dangerous, putting pressure on the 250 tonnes air frame and possibly causing those on board to be air sick.
The New Straits Times newspaper in Kuala Lumpur is quoting investigators as saying the “person who had control over the aircraft has a solid knowledge of avionics and navigation and left a clean track.”
It quotes investigation sources as confirming the plane flew low over Kelantan in peninsular Malaysia
The number of countries involved in the search for the plane has increased from 14 to 22 after new information revealed the plane’s last confirmed position was in one of two corridors, one stretching from the border of Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern ocean.
Authorities in Kuala Lumpur insist they are giving no greater priority to either corridor and have appealed for countries to deploy more ships and planes to a vast expanse of water in the Indian Ocean west of Australia, where there is no land mass for thousands of square kilometres.
But it is understood investigators say it is more likely the plane is in the northern corridor where there are unstable gove
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