Monday, Oct 20, 2014

Probe zeroes in on pilots, hunt widens to land

Journalists outside co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s house near Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. AP Journalists outside co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s house near Kuala Lumpur on Sunday. (AP)
Associated Press | Kuala Lumpur | Posted: March 17, 2014 2:53 am | Updated: March 17, 2014 7:24 am

The final words from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s cockpit gave no indication anything was wrong even though one of the plane’s communications systems had already been disabled, officials said Sunday, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance. 

As authorities examined a flight simulator that was confiscated from the home of one of the pilots and dug through the background of all 239 people on board and the ground crew that serviced the plane, they were also grappling with the enormity of the search ahead of them.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off from Kuala Lumpur at around 12.40 am on March 8, headed to Beijing. On Saturday, Malaysia’s government confirmed that the plane was deliberately diverted and may have flown as far north as Central Asia, or south into the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Authorities have said someone on board the plane first disabled one of its communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS — at 1.07 a.m. Around 14 minutes later, the transponder, which identifies the plane to commercial radar systems, was also shut down. The fact that they went dark separately is strong evidence that the plane’s disappearance was deliberate.

On Sunday, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a news conference that that the final, reassuring words from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — were spoken to air traffic controllers after ACARS was shut down. Whoever spoke did not mention any trouble on board, seemingly misleading ground control.

Air force Maj Gen Affendi Buang told reporters he did not know whether it was the pilot or co-pilot who spoke to air traffic controllers.

Given the expanse of land and water that might need to be searched, the plane might take months — or longer — to find, or might never be located. The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over, with the number of countries involved in the operation increasing from 14 to 25.

The search effort initially focused on the relatively shallow waters of the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca, where the plane was first thought to be. On Sunday, Malaysia briefed envoys from nearly two dozen nations and appealed for help in the search along two arcs stretching from the shores of Caspian Sea to the far south of the Indian Ocean. “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,” Hishammuddin said.

In the United States, Dan Pfeiffer, senior adviser to President Barack Obama, told NBC’s Meet the Press that the FBI was supporting the criminal probe.

Investigators are trying to answer these questions: If the two pilots were involved in the continued…

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