TIME Flight MH370

Missing Airliner’s Route Reportedly Changed by Computer Entry

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Students walk past a giant mural featuring the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, on the grounds of their school in Manila's financial district of Makati on March 18, 2014 Ted Aljibe—AFP/Getty Images

A new report suggests the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 made its first off-course turn to the west after a heading change was entered into the aircraft's flight computer, a move that requires advanced knowledge of the plane's flight systems

The missing Malaysia Airlines airliner first deviated from its set flight path following an entry into its flight computer, according to a new report.

The New York Times, citing “senior American officials,” reports Flight MH370’s first unexpected turn to the west was made “through a computer system” in the aircraft’s cockpit. That revelation is significant because changing the aircraft’s route via the flight computer requires a more intimate understanding of the Boeing 777’s flight systems than manually manipulating the control yoke to change heading.

Commercial jets and other large aircraft typically travel the skies via a system of waypoints, each identified by a five-character code. Those waypoints are manually entered into an aircraft’s flight computer so the airplane’s autopilot system can fly the desired route. Pilots can insert new waypoints into an aircraft’s flight computer to change the aircraft’s course midflight if asked to do so by an air-traffic controller or for other reasons.

The Times report suggests that someone on board the aircraft did indeed enter a new waypoint into Flight MH370’s computer. However, it remains unclear whether the waypoint change was made before or after the flight began.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that data from the aircraft indicated “someone made a manual change in the plane’s direction.” That report, though, didn’t specify whether someone on board the plane had made a change in the aircraft’s flight computer or used the aircraft’s yoke to change its direction.

Flight MH370 has been missing since disappearing from radar screens on March 8, triggering a huge search operation that currently involves 26 nations. Many theories have been considered to explain why the plane would go so drastically off course in the absence of much solid evidence.

[The New York Times]

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