Missing flight MH370: Focus turns to pilots as hunt for jet widens

Pilot Zaharie, who was know to be an aviation enthusiast, had set up an elaborate flight simulator at home.

najib Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, center, delivers a statement to the media regarding the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370, Saturday, March 15, 2014 (AP photo).
Kuala Lumpur | Published on:March 16, 2014 1:23 pm

Malaysian authorities Sunday were investigating the pilots of the missing jetliner after it was established that whoever flew off with the Boeing 777 had intimate knowledge of the cockpit and knew how to avoid detection when navigating around Asia.

Satellite data suggested the plane flew for at least 7 hours, more than six hours after the last radio contact, and that it could have reached as far northwest as Kazakhstan or deep into the southern Indian Ocean, making the hunt by 12 nations involving more than 100 planes and ships one of the largest in aviation history. Given that the northern route would take the plane over several countries, experts thought a southern path over one of the most remote stretches of water much more likely.

In the first detailed findings on what happened to the plane, Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday someone severed communications with the ground and deliberately diverted Flight 370 back over the Malay Peninsula after it departed Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early on March 8th.

The revelations raised questions over possible lapses by Malaysian authorities, including why the air force wasn’t aware that a jetliner was flying over the country. It also triggered speculation over who on the plane was involved and what motive they might have for flying away with a plane carrying a 12-person crew and 227 passengers.

If the pilots were involved in the disappearance, were they working together or alone, or with one or more of the passengers or crew? Did they fly the plane under duress or of their own volition? Did one or more of the passengers manage to break into the cockpit, or use threat of violence to gain entry and then pilot the plane?

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possibility, and the answers to those questions will have to wait until the flight data recorders are recovered, assuming the plane is ever found.

Police are investigating all those on board, especially the pilots and anyone else on the manifest with possible aviation experience. That could include past contact with each other, physiological, mental or financial issues or ties to extremist organizations.

Malaysian officials and aviation experts said that whoever disabled the plane’s communication systems and then flew the jet must have had a high degree of technical knowledge and flying experience, putting the pilots at the top of the possible suspects list.

“In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board,” Najib told reporters, reading from a written statement but not taking any questions.

Police on Saturday went to the Kuala Lumpur homes of both the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. They have released no details on their investigation so far.

Zaharie, who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than …continued »

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