An investigation has been launched by aviation officials in Kuala Lumpur and Auckland after a Malaysian Airlines pilot contacted air traffic control requesting information about the route he was meant to be flying.
The Airbus A330 had taken off on Christmas Day bound for Kuala Lumpur, but the plane’s captain flew north east toward Melbourne Australia. He reportedly contacted air traffic control eight minutes into the flight, to ask about his flight plan.
He then turned flight MH132 northwest across the Tasman Sea towards the Malaysian capital.
According to the New Zealand Herald, passengers on board the flight, which took off at 2.23am on Christmas morning, were not made aware of the discussions between the flight deck and air traffic controllers.
A spokeswoman with Airways, the New Zealand aviation administration, told the Herald that a safety team will be investigating how and why the plane’s flight plan was changed without the pilot’s knowledge.
Planes sometimes travel across the south of Australia on the way to their destination to avoid head-winds, New Zealand aviation commentator Peter Clark told the Herald.
“The pilot has done a very good job by noticing it, querying it and not just blindly flying off and ending up in the Southern Ocean,” he said.
Malaysian Airlines has not responded to a request for comment. The Malaysian national carrier is currently recovering from a disastrous 2014 in which the airline lost two planes, with all passengers on-board killed.
Flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. Wreckage from the Boeing 777 has since been discovered in the southern Indian Ocean.
Flight MH17 was downed over war-torn eastern Ukraine on July 17 2014 by a BUK surface-to-air missile, killing all 298 onboard, air crash investigators said last October.
Western nations and Ukraine say the missile was fired from pro-Russian separatist-held territory, but Moscow denies the claim, pointing the finger instead at the Ukrainian military.
Investigations into the loss of both planes remain ongoing.
Malaysian Airlines this month signed a code-share agreement with Emirates Airline, giving it access to Emirates’ global flight network via Dubai, while cutting many of its international routes in a bid to save money.