No trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been found since
it vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard. Investigators are
increasingly convinced it was diverted perhaps thousands of miles
off course by someone with deep knowledge of the Boeing 777-200ER
and commercial navigation.
A search unprecedented in its scale is now under way for the plane,
covering a area stretching from the shores of the Caspian Sea in the
north to deep in the southern Indian Ocean.
Airline chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also told a news
conference that it was unclear exactly when one of the plane's
automatic tracking systems had been disabled, appearing to
contradict the weekend comments of government ministers.
Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage had hardened further when
officials said on Sunday that the last radio message from the plane — an informal "all right, good night" — was spoken after the system,
known as "ACARS", was shut down.
"Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically
spoke the last time it was recorded on tape," Ahmad Jauhari said on
Monday, when asked who it was believed had spoken those words.
That was a sign-off to air traffic controllers at 1.19 a.m., as the
Beijing-bound plane left Malaysian airspace.
The last transmission from the ACARS system — a maintenance computer
that relays data on the plane's status — had been received at 1.07
a.m., as the plane crossed Malaysia's northeast coast and headed out
over the Gulf of Thailand.
"We don't know when the ACARS was switched off after that," Ahmad
Jauhari said. "It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from there,
but that transmission did not come through."
VAST SEARCH CORRIDORS
Police and a multi-national investigation team may never know for
sure what happened in the cockpit unless they find the plane, and
that in itself is a daunting challenge.
Satellite data suggests it could be anywhere in either of two vast
corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north from
Laos to the Caspian, the other south from west of the Indonesian
island of Sumatra into the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.
China, which has been vocal in its impatience with Malaysian efforts
to find the plane, called on its smaller neighbor to "immediately"
expand and clarify the scope of the search. About two-thirds of the
passengers aboard MH370 were Chinese.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to
Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak by telephone, and had offered more
surveillance resources in addition to the two P-3C Orion aircraft
his country has already committed.
"He asked that Australia take responsibility for the search in the
southern vector, which the Malaysian authorities now think was one
possible flight path for this ill-fated aircraft," Abbott told
parliament. "I agreed that we would do so."
Malaysian Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said
diplomatic notes had been sent to all countries along the northern
and southern search corridors, requesting radar and satellite
information as well as land, sea and air search operations.
The Malaysian navy and air force were also searching the southern
corridor, he said, and U.S. P-8A Poseidon surveillance aircraft were
being sent to Perth, in Western Australia, to help scour the ocean.
FOCUS ON CREW
The plane's disappearance has baffled investigators and aviation
experts. It vanished from civilian air traffic control screens off
Malaysia's east coast less than an hour after taking off from Kuala
Malaysian authorities believe that, as the plane crossed the
northeast coast and flew across the Gulf of Thailand, someone on
board shut off its communications systems and turned sharply to the
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That has focused attention on the crew. Malaysian police are
trawling through the backgrounds of the pilots, flight and ground
staff for any clues to a possible motive in what they say is now
being treated as a criminal investigation.
Asked if pilot or co-pilot suicide was a line of inquiry,
Hishammuddin said: "We are looking at it." But he added it was only
one of the possibilities under investigation.
Police special branch officers searched the homes of the captain,
53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq
Abdul Hamid, in middle-class suburbs of Kuala Lumpur close to the
international airport on Saturday.
Among the items taken for examination was a flight simulator Zaharie
had built in his home.
A senior police official familiar with the investigation said the
flight simulator programs were closely examined, adding they
appeared to be normal ones that allow users to practice flying and
landing in different conditions.
A second senior police official with knowledge of the investigation
said they had found no evidence of a link between the pilot and any
"Based on what we have so far, we cannot see the terrorism link
here," he said. "We looked at known terror or extremist groups in
Southeast Asia. The links are not there."
NORTH OR SOUTH?
Electronic signals between the plane and satellites continued to be
exchanged for nearly six hours after MH370 flew out of range of
Malaysian military radar off the northwest coast, following a
commercial aviation route across the Andaman Sea towards India.
The plane had enough fuel to fly for about 30 minutes after that
last satellite communication, Ahmad Jauhari said.
Twenty-six countries are involved in the search, stretching across
much of Asia.
Three French civil aviation experts who were involved in the search
for an Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic in 2009 arrived
in Kuala Lumpur on Monday to help.
A source familiar with official U.S. assessments of satellite data
being used to try to find the plane said it was believed most likely
it turned south sometime after the last sighting by Malaysian
military radar, and may have run out of fuel over the Indian Ocean.
The Malaysian government-controlled New Straits Times on Monday
quoted sources close to the investigation as saying data collected
was pointing instead towards the northern corridor.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi
Koswanage, Al-Zaquan Amer Hamzah, Stuart Grudgings and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala
Lumpur, Mark Hosenball in Washington, Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in
Beijing and Sanjib Kumar Roy and Nita Bhalla in Port Blair, India, Sruthi
Gottipati in Visakhapatnam, India, Frank Jack Daniel and Douglas Busvine in New
Delhi; writing by Alex Richardson; editing by Nick Macfie)
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