Hunt for missing jet widens to 11 nations, pilot's role probed

Hunt for missing jet widens to 11 nations, pilot's role probed

Hunt for missing jet widens to 11 nations, pilot's role probed

Malaysian investigators today examined a flight simulator found at the home of the pilot of the missing jetliner while probing hijacking, sabotage and terrorism angles as search operations expanded to large tracts of land and sea covering 11 countries, including India.

The mystery of the missing Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing since March 8 continued to baffle aviation and security authorities who have not succeeded in tracking the aircraft despite deploying hi-tech radar and other gadgets.

Malaysian police said they are refocusing the probe on the crew, passengers and ground staff based on "new leads" that the aircraft was deliberately disabled and its transponder switched off before the plane veered from its path.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said they have dismantled the simulator found at pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's residence and reassembled it in their office to examine it. "Investigations include possibility of hijack, sabotage and terrorism," he added.

Defence and acting Transport Minister Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said, "The search area has been significantly expanded. The nature of the search has changed. From focusing mainly on shallow sea we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries, as well as deep and remote oceans."

Malaysia got in touch with countries along the northern and southern corridors about the flight. These countries include: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and France.

He said that the search operation, which entered the ninth day today, was already "highly complex".

The minister said that the number of countries involved in the search and rescue operation has increased from 14 to 25, which brings new challenges of coordination and diplomacy to the search effort.

"The investigation is refocusing on the backgrounds of the passengers, pilots and even ground staff. The families of the pilot and co-pilot have been interviewed," Hishammuddin said.

He said the search has entered a new phase. "The information released yesterday has produced new leads and given new directions to the search process" to trace the Boeing 777-200 aircraft.

Bakar said they are seeking background checks on all passengers from foreign counterparts but "there are still a few countries yet to respond to our requests". He said few foreign intelligence agencies, however, have cleared all the passengers.

Officials said police are verifying the personal, political and religious backgrounds of pilots and crew.

Malaysian Premier Najib Razak today spoke to his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh who assured him of "all assistance" by Indian authorities in tracing the jet.

Singh gave this assurance to Najib when the Malaysian premier called and sought India's "technical assistance" in corroborating possible pathways the plane may have taken. Najib also spoke to leaders of Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to discuss the matter.
Officers spoke to family members of the 53-year-old pilot, who has 18,365 flight hours under his belt and is also a flight instructor. They also searched the home of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.

Authorities said no groups have made any demands over the missing aircraft which was not carrying additional fuel. The aircraft had fuel to fly up to 8 hours and there was no hazardous material in the cargo.

Hishammuddin declined to comment on speculation that it could be a 9/11-style attack, saying that "it is difficult to determine if it is hijack or terrorism". A team of experts from global satellite network operator Inmarsat has arrived here to assist the investigation.

"We are asking countries that have satellite assets, including the US, China and France amongst others, to provide further satellite data. And we are contacting additional countries who may be able to contribute specific assets relevant to the search and rescue operation.

Surveillance aircraft are required, and maritime vessels are needed, particularly for the southern corridor," he said.