Oh boy. This morning Malaysian authorities have confirmed that they have information that indicates that Flight 370 appears to have been purposely diverted.
Things are still a little confused because every news agency in the world is jumping on every scrap of information and not always reporting things accurately. But what I've been able to get from the various reports is as follows:
(1) About 20 minutes before the last transponder report the Aircraft Communications and Reporting System (ACARS) was shut down.
(2) The transponders were shut down (there are apparently two on a Boeing 777).
Note that "shut down" could also mean "stopped working" but the 20 minute gap is highly suspicious.
(3) Malaysian military radar detected a plane, that could have Flight 370, proceeding westward across the Malay peninsula.
(4) Inmarsat has reported that its satellites, which ping for subscribers in the area, received automated return pings from the Malaysian jet for six to seven hours after it went missing. The statement from Inmarsat is very terse. It said simply that automated signals were received and the information was provided to SITA (Societe Internationale de Telecommunications Aeronautics) which has provided it to Malaysian airlines.
(5) ACARS apparently kept sending signals. This one confuses me because if it was shut off, how was it sending signals? It's unclear if these are the same ping responses alluded to by Inmarsat. There are also some reports that the Rolls-Royce engines kept sending automated data.
Like I said this is still a little confusing. One article says ACARS was shut off but another says it kept sending automated signals for hours after contact was lost with the plane. ACARS isn't a monolithic thing but has various levels of service so perhaps the higher layers of service were shut down but the lowest layers continued to operate?
I suppose the details only really matter to detail oriented guys like me. The key point is they now seem to think that the plane was probably "purposely diverted." But by whom, and why, is still very much up in the air.
Note the "probably" above. Given the total chaos surrounding this disaster it wouldn't surprise me if tomorrow they said "forget all that," we now think it's in the South China Sea.