Pilots bear brunt of scrutiny
AFTER days of denial, investigations into the missing Malaysia Airlines plane have started to focus sharply on the role that the pilots may have played in the incident - and on what might have driven them to do so.
The last words heard from the cockpit of Flight 370 were "All right, good night", but it has now become clear that, even before that was uttered, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System that monitors the aircraft had already been switched off.
Someone from the cockpit then changed the flight path deliberately. The manoeuvre was not pre-programmed, officials said yesterday.
Signals from the plane were picked up seven hours later, indicating that it could have flown thousands of kilometres.
All this, combined with the disabling of the transponder, indicates intervention by "someone who knows the system on the airplane", said safety science professor Bill Waldock, who teaches accident investigations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. "That has to be the crew or someone who's intimately familiar with how a 777 operates," he said.
This has put the spotlight on the pilots, even as the search for the missing plane has been widened to enlist the help of 25 countries, as the flight could have been diverted either north or south.
The home of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, a self-professed flying buff, was searched yesterday and the flight simulator that he had assembled himself taken away.
The focus has also started centring on his political affiliations. There were reports yesterday that Mr Zaharie had been upset by the court ruling against Anwar Ibrahim, handed out a day before the flight went missing, in which the opposition leader was sentenced to five years' jail on sodomy charges.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat communications director Fahmi Fadzil responded to this by saying: "If there is any concrete data backing up an allegation, we will respond to it. If anyone aboard (the flight) chose to attend the Anwar trial, that is their right as it was in open court."
Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, had recently become engaged and planned to wed soon, the media reported. His father is said to be a high-ranking official.
Mr Fariq had a recent brush with fame when CNN reporter Richard Quest filmed him executing "the perfect Boeing 777-200 landing".
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein did, however, clarify that the pilots had not asked to fly together on the flight.
Meanwhile, a couple of other clues have been puzzling investigators. A Malaysian military radar showed that, at one point, the plane climbed to a height of 45,000 feet. This was above its service limit and experts say it could have been a deliberate attempt to render passengers unconscious.
Adding a touch of the bizarre, the daughter of a passenger on board the plane claimed she received a missed call from him a week after the plane went missing, but his phone was switched off when she tried calling back. AGENCIES