New revelations about a missing Malaysia Airlines plane have left anguished relatives contemplating the prospect that those on board endured a terrifying high-altitude hijack ordeal that may have lasted nearly eight hours.
But while the disclosures led to increased speculation of a terror plot or pilot suicide, for some they offered a glimmer of hope -- that flight MH370, carrying 239 passengers and crew, may somehow have landed safely and that their loved ones may still be alive.
For relatives of Bob and Cathy Lawton, a missing Australian couple, the possibility of a terrifying drawn-out fate at thousands of feet reflected their deepest fears.
"That's one of the worst things I could have hoped for," Bob's brother David Lawton told News Limited newspapers.
"Even if they are alive, what did they have to put up with?"
Prime Minister Najib Razak declined to use the word hijack when he briefed the press yesterday, but said new data suggested a "deliberate action" to divert the plane.
The Boeing 777's communications appear to have been switched off manually before the jet veered westward and flew for hours.
What happened during that time remains a mystery. But one report of the plane fluctuating from low to high altitude fuelled fears the passengers may have been well aware they were in terrible danger.
The New York Times said the jet had reached 45,000 feet -- above its approved altitude limit -- before it "descended unevenly to 23,000 feet".
It cited Malaysian military radar signals, but the data has not been confirmed by the authorities.
"At 45,000 feet, it may result in pressurisation problems," said Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based independent aviation analyst.
"But we don't know how the fluctuation went, whether it was gentle or violent and sharp. If it was gentle, only a few sensitive passengers would notice."
For relatives in China, which had 153 citizens on the flight, the investigators' breakthrough just brought more distress and frustration.
"We are experiencing an ordeal. We are still waiting for (more information)," said one tearful man emerging from a meeting between Malaysia Airlines and relatives in Beijing on Sunday morning.
"We are extremely anxious. A long time has passed and they don't disclose (more) information," he said.
Another branded the meeting "a joke".