Police hunt for motive as search for Malaysia Airlines jet spans hemispheres

Mar 16 2014, 18:25 IST
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Investigators believe Malaysia Airlines jet  was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its tracking systems. Investigators believe Malaysia Airlines jet was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its tracking systems.
SummaryInvestigators: Malaysia Airlines jet was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its tracking systems.

Malaysian investigators are trawling through the backgrounds of the pilots, crew and ground staff who worked on a missing jetliner for clues as to why someone on board flew it perhaps thousands of miles off course, the country's police chief said.

Background checks of passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 have drawn a blank, but not every country whose nationals were on board has responded to requests for information, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference on Sunday.

No trace of the Boeing 777-200ER has been found since it vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, but investigators believe it was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its communications and tracking systems.

Malaysia has appealed for international help in the search for the plane across two corridors stretching from the shores of Caspian Sea to the far south of the Indian Ocean.

"The search area has been significantly expanded," said Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein. "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."

The disappearance of the aircraft has baffled investigators, aviation experts and internet sleuths since it vanished from civilian air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

Malaysian authorities believe that as the plane crossed the country's northeast coast and flew across the Gulf of Thailand, someone on board shut off its communications systems and turned sharply to the west.

Electronic signals it continued to exchange periodically with satellites suggest it could have continued flying for nearly seven hours after flying out of range of Malaysian military radar off the country's northwest coast, heading towards India.

The plane had enough fuel to fly for about seven-and-a-half to eight hours, Malaysian Airlines' Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

PILOTS' HOMES SEARCHED

On Saturday, police special branch officers searched the homes of the captain, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, in middle-class suburbs of Kuala Lumpur close to the international airport.

An experienced pilot, Zaharie has been described by current and former co-workers as a flying enthusiast who spent his off days operating a life-sized flight simulator he had set up at home.

Police chief Khalid said investigators had taken the flight simulator for examination by experts.

Earlier, a senior police official said the flight simulator programmes were looked

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