A missing Malaysian airliner was apparently deliberately diverted and flown for hours after vanishing from radar, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday, stopping short of confirming a hijack but taking the excruciating search for the jet into uncharted new territory.
Najib said investigators believed "with a high degree of certainty" that systems relaying Malaysia Airlines flight 370's location to air traffic control were manually switched off before the jet veered westward in a fashion "consistent with deliberate action".
But a grave-looking Najib told a press conference watched around the globe that he could not confirm whether the plane had been forcibly taken over.
"Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path," he said.
He called it an "excruciating time for the families of those on board".
The new information appeared to cast aside a host of theories on the plane's disappearance, which has transfixed the world and left frustrated families of the 239 passengers and crew baying for scarce information.
Malaysia has not been the target of any notable terror attacks, but analysts say it is home to several individuals alleged to be operatives of militant Islamic groups such as the Al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiyah.