Missing Malaysia plane: Investigators study pilots' background

A Japanese Coast Guard officer looks out the window of a plane during the search for flight MH370 An extensive search - involving 14 countries - has so far proved fruitless

Malaysian police have searched the homes of the pilots of the Malaysia Airlines plane that vanished eight days ago with 239 people on board.

The police are also reportedly looking at the family life and psychological state of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.

This comes after the authorities said the communications systems of the plane had been deliberately disabled.

The Kuala Lumpur-Beijing flight is believed to have then changed course.

Analysis

The hijacking theory, previously largely discounted, has now climbed back up the list of possible explanations for flight MH370's disappearance. The aircraft's communications systems were deliberately switched off in mid-air, so either the flight crew did this willingly, or they were forced by someone else to do so.

This has refocused attention on the individuals on that flight, both passengers and crew. Investigators will want to know if any had a recent history of mental problems, family difficulties or extreme stress. Only four weeks ago an Ethiopian Airlines co-pilot hijacked his own plane to seek political asylum in Switzerland. The pilot of this Malaysian plane had a commendable record but the authorities have still raided his home.

When it comes to terrorism, there are no obvious suspects. The region's Jemaah Islamiah, once a powerful transnational terrorist group, is not thought to have the capability to carry out such a plan. Likewise there are doubts Chinese separatists could be behind it. There have also been no claims by any known group, though this does not rule out a possible criminal motive.

According to satellite evidence, the Boeing 777 could have continued flying for a further seven hours after its last radar contact, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said.

He added that the plane could be anywhere from Kazakhstan to the Indian Ocean.

Mr Razak stopped short of saying it was a hijacking, saying only that they were investigating "all possibilities".

In a separate development, India on Sunday suspended its search for the plane around the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands and also in the Bay of Bengal.

Delhi said it acted at the request of the Malaysian authorities.

China - which had 153 citizens on board flight MH370 - has urged Malaysia to continue providing it with "thorough and exact information" on the search.

'Elaborate suicide'

The Kuala Lumpur homes of Mr Zaharie and Mr Fariq were searched on Saturday, a senior police officer familiar with the investigation was quoted as saying by Reuters.

"We are not ruling out any sort of motivation at the moment," the official said.

The authorities have so far released no new details on the pilots' investigation.

However, nothing has been ruled in or out - so terrorism, piracy or even an elaborate suicide are all options now being considered, the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Kuala Lumpur reports.

Mr Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines more than 30 years ago, and was considered a very experienced pilot.

Mr Fariq recently graduated to the cockpit of a Boeing 777. It is believed that he was considering marriage.

Map
Map

It was also reported that Mr Fariq had drawn scrutiny after he and another unnamed pilot invited two female passengers to sit in the cockpit during a flight in 2011, according to the Associated Press.

'Two corridors'

The flight left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 00:40 local time (16:40 GMT) on 8 March and disappeared off air traffic controllers' screens at about 01:20.

Mr Razak told a news conference on Saturday that new satellite evidence shows "with a high degree of certainty" that the one of the aircraft's communications systems - the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System - was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia.

ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to "talk" to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems.

ACARS system

  • Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to "talk" to computers on the ground, relaying in-flight information about the health of its systems.
  • Messages are transmitted either by radio or digital signals via satellites, and can cover anything from the status of the plane's engines to a faulty toilet.
  • This provides ground crews with vital diagnostic information, allowing maintenance to be carried out more quickly.

Shortly afterwards, near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane's transponder - which emits an identifying signal - was switched off, he said.

According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction.

A satellite was able to pick up a signal from the plane until 08:11 local time - more than seven hours after it lost radar contact - although it was unable to give a precise location, Mr Razak said.

He went on to say that based on this new data, investigators "have determined the plane's last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible corridors":

  • a northern corridor stretching from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan through to northern Thailand
  • a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean

The BBC's Jonah Fisher in Kuala Lumpur says investigators will now focus on trying to obtain the radar data from any of the countries the Boeing 777 may have passed over.

This could include Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India and Pakistan.

Along with the Chinese passengers, there were 38 Malaysians and citizens of Iran, the US, Canada, Indonesia, Australia, India, France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, Taiwan and the Netherlands on board.

An extensive search - involving 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft - since the plane disappeared has proved fruitless.

More on This Story

MH370 mystery

More Asia stories

RSS

Features

  • A resin model of a sculpture illustrating the WW1 Christmas Truce football matchChristmas courage

    How France has forgotten the WW1 enemies who shook hands


  • Woman thinkingWho, What, Why

    The questions of 2014, answered succinctly


  • Banda Aceh in 2004 and 2014Then and now

    Images of transformation 10 years on from the Indian Ocean tsunami


  • U.S. soldiers from the 3rd Cavalry Regiment pose for a photograph while eating a Christmas day lunch at forward operating base Gamberi in the Laghman province of Afghanistan December 25, 2014In pictures

    How Christmas is being celebrated around the world


  • JACK O'Connell Big break

    Why Jack O'Connell is the talk of Hollywood


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.