LONDON: Downed Malaysia Airlines jet veered off its recently used course as its pilots hoped to avoid thunderstorms brewing in the south of Ukraine, a media report has claimed.
When it was shot down, the doomed jet was many miles north of the flight paths it had used on previous days to Kuala Lumpur from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport, The Observer reported.
Nico Voorbach, a pilot who flew the same journey earlier this summer for KLM, and who is president of the European Cockpit Association, was quoted by the daily as saying poor weather might have been the reason why flight MH17 found itself in the sights of a surface-to-air missile launcher.
The Boeing 777 with 298 people on board was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur as it was downed between Krasni Luch in Luhansk region and Shakhtarsk in the neighbouring region of Donetsk. All 298 people were killed. It is believed that flight MH17 crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel-held area.
"I heard that they were diverting from some showers. I think there were thunderclouds. You would ask air traffic control to divert left or right, and they would give you the permission," Voorbach said.
It has also emerged that flight MH17 had initially filed a flight plan requesting to fly at 35,000 ft above Ukrainian territory.
On entering Ukrainian airspace, however, the plane's pilots were instructed to fly at 33,000ft by the local air traffic control due to other traffic. Malaysia Airlines said the pilots had to follow the lead of the local authorities.
However, Malaysia's transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, told a press conference yesterday, "MH17's flight path was a busy major airway, like a highway in the sky. It followed a route which was set out by the international aviation authorities, approved by Eurocontrol, and used by hundreds of other aircraft."
"MH17 flew at an altitude that was set and deemed safe by local air traffic control, and it never strayed into restricted airspace. The flight and its operators followed the rules. But on the ground, the rules of war were broken," he said.
In response to claims that weather led to MH17 changing its flight plan, Malaysia Airlines director of operations Izham Ismail said it had no reports from the pilot to suggest that this was the case.