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.
Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage hardened further after it was
confirmed the last radio message from the cockpit — an informal "all
right, good night" — was spoken after someone had begun disabling
one of the plane's automatic tracking systems.
But 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 the plane could be anywhere in either of two
vast corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north
from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan, the other south from Indonesia
into the 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."
Malaysia's transport ministry said in a statement on Monday it had
sent diplomatic notes 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 was also searching the southern
corridor, it said.
FOCUS ON CREW
The plane's disappearance has baffled investigators and aviation
experts. It disappeared from civilian air traffic control screens
off Malaysia's east coast less than an hour after taking off from
Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
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
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.
The last words from the cockpit of the missing plane were spoken as
it was leaving Malaysian-run airspace and being handed over to air
traffic controllers in Vietnam.
The sign-off came after one of the plane's data communication
systems, which would have enabled it to be tracked beyond radar
coverage, had been switched off, Malaysia's Acting Transport
Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said on Sunday.
"The answer to your question is yes, it was disabled before," he
told reporters when asked if the ACARS system — a maintenance
computer that relays data on the plane's status — had been shut down
before the "all right, good night" sign-off.
It is not known who on board spoke those words, which were first
revealed last week.
The informal hand-off went against standard radio procedures, which
would have called for the speaker to read back instructions for
contacting the next control centre and include the aircraft's call
sign, said Hugh Dibley, a former British Airways pilot and a Fellow
of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
Investigators are likely to examine the recording for any signs of
psychological stress and to determine the speaker's identity to
confirm whether the flight deck had been taken over by hijackers or
the pilot himself was involved, he said.
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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 pilots 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."
Background checks are also being made on the 227 passengers on the
flight, including aviation engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, a
29-year-old Malaysian who worked for a private jet charter company.
"The focus is on anyone else who might have had aviation skills on
that plane," the second police source told Reuters.
As an engineer specializing in executive jets, Khairul would not
necessarily have all the knowledge needed to divert and fly a large
NORTH OR SOUTH?
Electronic signals the plane continued to exchange periodically with
satellites suggest it could have continued flying for about six
hours after moving 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 a total of about
seven-and-a-half to eight hours, Malaysia Airlines' Chief Executive
Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said on Sunday.
Twenty-six countries are involved in the search, stretching from the
shores of the former Soviet republics of central Asia to the far
south of the Indian Ocean.
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 join the growing international search
and investigation team.
A source familiar with official U.S. assessments of satellite data
being used to try and 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.
Investigators were also looking at disused airfields in the region
with runways capable of handling a large passenger aircraft such as
the Boeing 777, the paper said.
The New Straits Times also said that the plane dropped to an
altitude of 5,000 ft or lower, using a low-flying technique known as
"terrain masking" to defeat civilian radar coverage after turning
back from its scheduled flight path.
The reports could not be immediately verified.
(Additional reporting by Niluksi Koswanage, Anshuman Daga, Al-Zaquan
Amer Hamzah, Stuart Grudgings and Anuradha Raghu in Kuala Lumpur,
Mark Hosenball in Washington, 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 Paul Tait)
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