No trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard. The direction of the investigation has changed and now focused on the pilots, as speculation arose over whether one of the men flying the plane could have hijacked it.
It has been discovered that the last words – “All right, good night” – from the cockpit of the missing plane were spoken already after the communications system on the Malaysian Airlines jet was deliberately disabled. The last words were recorded as it was leaving Malaysian-run airspace and being handed over to air traffic controllers in Vietnam, authorities said Sunday.
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. Shortly afterwards the plane disappeared from civilian radar, but Malaysia has since confirmed that the air force tracked it for hours on military radar – without taking action.
“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.
Investigators also were examining a flight simulator confiscated from the home of one of the pilots and dug through the background of all 239 people on board, as well as the ground crew that serviced the plane. The US intelligence’ efforts were also focusing on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, according to chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Michael McMaul.
It turned out that the 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was an “obsessive” supporter of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who was sentenced to five years in prison on a charge of sodomy just hours before the Malaysia Airlines plane took off. The Malaysian authorities fear that Zaharie, who was at Ibrahim’s trial, may have been upset enough by Ibrahim’s imprisonment to hijack his own aircraft as a form of political protest.
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 militant group.
“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.”
Malaysia briefed envoys from nearly two dozen nations and appealed for international help in the search for the plane along two arcs stretching from the shores of the Caspian Sea to the far south of the Indian Ocean.
“The search area has been significantly expanded,” Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. “From focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries, as well as deep and remote oceans.”