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Asia-pacific

FBI joins investigation into missing Malaysia Airlines jet

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-19

Malaysian authorities turned to the FBI on Wednesday for help recovering data deleted from a flight simulator built by the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, as relatives of the plane’s passengers vented their anger at the government.

Investigators uncovered the custom-built flight simulator in the home of Malaysia Airlines pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, earlier this week. A number of files containing records of flight simulations were apparently erased from the device on February 3, according to Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu.

The deleted files could shed light on whether or not Zaharie, 53, was involved in the Boeing 777’s disappearance and if the plane’s diversion was planned in advance. A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the investigation, said the FBI has been given electronic data to analyse.

The search for the Flight MH370, which first vanished March 8 en route to Beijing from Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur, has expanded to include the efforts of 26 countries and stretches from as far north as Kazakhstan to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean. While investigators have not ruled out any possibilities, they have increasingly focused their attention on the plane’s pilots, pointing out that the flight’s disappearance was likely orchestrated by someone who had experience in aviation.

Evidence so far has suggested that the flight was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. Although investigators are unsure what happened next, they have identified two giant arcs of territory spanning the possible positions of the plane about 7½ hours after takeoff, based on its last faint signal to a satellite – an hourly “handshake” signal that continues even when communications are switched off.

Police are considering the possibility of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board, and have asked for background checks from abroad on all foreign passengers.

Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said such checks have been received for all the foreigners except those from Ukraine and Russia – which account for three passengers.

“So far, no information of significance on any passengers has been found,” he said.

He also told a news conference that Zaharie is considered innocent until proven guilty. He said members of the pilot’s family are cooperating in the investigation.

Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flight experience. People who knew him have described him as sociable, humble, caring and dedicated to his job.

The crisis has exposed the lack of a failsafe way of tracking modern passenger planes on which data transmission systems and transponders – which make them visible to civilian radar – have been severed.

Anguished families

Meanwhile, relatives of the 227 passengers onboard Flight MH370 angrily criticised how Malaysia’s government has handled the crisis at a briefing Wednesday near the airport in Kuala Lumpur. Two Chinese women were removed from the room after unfurling a banner accusing officials of “hiding the truth”.

“I want you to help me to find my son! I want to see my son!” one of the two unidentified women said. “We have been here for 10 days.”

Relatives of passengers on the missing airliner – two-thirds of whom were from China – have grown increasingly upset over the lack of progress in the search, with planes sweeping vast expanses of the Indian Ocean and satellites peering on Central Asia turning up no new clues.

The father of passenger Pushpanathan Subramaniam said in an interview that the wait was “really too much.”

“I don’t know why it is taking so long for so many people to find the plane. It’s 12 days,” said 60-year-old Subaramaniam Gurusamy from his home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. His 34-year-old son, Pushpanathan, was on the flight to Beijing for a work trip.

“He’s the one son I have,” Subaramaniam said.

Hishamuddin said a delegation of Malaysian government officials, diplomats, air force and civil aviation officials will head to Beijing – where many of the passengers’ relatives are gathered – to brief the next of kin on the status of the search.

Aircraft from Australia, the US and New Zealand searched an area stretching across 305,000 square kilometers (117,000 square miles) of the Indian Ocean, about 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles) southwest of Perth, on Australia’s west coast. Merchant ships were also asked to look for any trace of the plane.

China has said it was reviewing radar data and deployed 21 satellites to search the northern corridor, although it is considered less likely that the plane could have taken that route without being detected by military radar systems of the countries in that region.

Indonesian Defense Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said Indonesia military radar didn’t pick up any signs of Flight 370 on the day the plane went missing. He said Malaysia had asked Indonesia to intensify the search in its assigned zone in the Indian Ocean west of Sumatra, but said his air force was strained in the task.

“We will do our utmost. We will do our best. But you do have to understand our limitations,” Purnomo said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP)

Date created : 2014-03-19

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