Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says the movements of a missing plane were consistent with a deliberate act by someone who turned the jet back across Malaysia and onwards to the west. Sarah Toms reports.
CONFIRMATION a missing Malaysian airliner was deliberately diverted has sharpened scrutiny of the passengers and cockpit crew, with police reportedly searching the pilot’s home.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Saturday satellite and radar data clearly indicated the plane’s automated communications were disabled and it turned away from its intended path and flew on for hours.
“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” he said, adding that investigators had consequently “refocused their investigation into crew and passengers”.
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There were reports late yesterday police had gone again to the home of the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
Shah lived in a gated community in the town of Shah Alam, outside of Kuala Lumpur, reports CNN.
It was not clear if police have yet searched the homes of the other crew on Flight MH370, including that of co-pilot Fariq Ab Hamid, 27. His record and personal life have already come under scrutiny.
An Australian television report broadcast an interview with a young South African woman who said Fariq and another pilot colleague invited them into the cockpit of a flight from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.
Malaysia Airlines said it was “shocked” by the report but could not verify the claims.
The son of a high-ranking official in the public works department of a Malaysian state, Fariq joined Malaysia Airlines when he was 20.
He is a mild-mannered “good boy” who regularly visited his neighbourhood mosque outside Kuala Lumpur, said the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader.
The far more seasoned Zaharie joined MAS in 1981 and had logged 18,365 hours of flying time.
Malaysian media reports quoted colleagues calling Zaharie a “superb pilot”, who also served as an examiner, authorised by the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department, to conduct simulator tests for pilots.
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Based on the latest chilling developments in the search for MH370 it seems that at the time someone told air traffic control “all right, good night”, evil was already lurking in the plane and had turned off its Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, known as ACARS.
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The Malaysian prime minister’s announcement opened a whole new avenue of speculation including an attempted 9/11-style attack, AFP reported.
The 9/11 hijackers had turned off the transponders of three of the four planes that were commandeered. Transponders transmit data on a plane’s location to air traffic controllers.
MH370’s transponder was manually shut off, Najib said.
Final satellite communication with the Boeing 777, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, came more than six-and-a-half hours after it vanished from civilian radar at 1:30am on March 8.
That would equate with the time Malaysia Airlines has said the plane would have run out of fuel.
The whole passenger manifest is likely to be re-examined in the light of the new revelations.
If hijackers are suspected, then the glare of suspicion will fall again on two passengers who boarded with EU passports stolen in Thailand.
Interpol had identified the two men as Iranians: Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, who used a stolen Italian passport, and Pouria Nourmohammadi, who used an Austrian one.
Interpol chief Ronald Noble said last Tuesday the men were thought to be illegal immigrants who had travelled from Doha to Kuala Lumpur in a round-about bid to reach Europe.
There has been no indication yet of any possible terrorist involvement.
Mr Najib’s grave statement ruled out previous scenarios included a sudden mid-air explosion, catastrophic equipment or structural failure, or a crash into the South China Sea.
Malaysia Airlines last night issued a new statement.
“Further to the statement by the Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak earlier today into the ongoing search for Flight MH370, Malaysia Airlines has shared all available information with the relevant authorities since the moment we learned that the aircraft had disappeared, in the early hours of Saturday 8th March. This includes the very first indications that MH370 may have remained airborne for several hours after contact was lost, which the Prime Minister referred to today.
“This is truly an unprecedented situation, for Malaysia Airlines and for the entire aviation industry. There has never been a case in which information gleaned from satellite signals alone could potentially be used to identify the location of a missing commercial airliner. Given the nature of the situation and its extreme sensitivity, it was critical that the raw satellite signals were verified and analysed by the relevant authorities so that their significance could be properly understood. This naturally took some time, during which we were unable to publicly confirm their existence.
“We were well aware of the ongoing media speculation during this period, and its effect on the families of those on board. Their anguish and distress increases with each passing day, with each fresh rumour, and with each false or misleading media report. Our absolute priority at all times has been to support the authorities leading the multinational search for MH370, so that we can finally provide the answers which the families and the wider community are waiting for.
“We remain absolutely committed to sharing confirmed information with family members and the wider public in a fully open and transparent manner. However given the nature of the situation, the importance of validating new information before it is released into the public domain is paramount.
“Our thoughts and prayers remain with the families of the 227 passengers and our 12 Malaysia Airlines colleagues and friends on board flight MH370. They will remain at the centre of every action we take as a company, as they have been since MH370 first disappeared.”
Distraught families of passengers aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane ask whether they could have been given information earlier after watch a briefing by the Malaysian prime minister from a Beijing hotel. Sarah Toms reports.