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Flight MH370: Pilots under scrutiny

See the latest developments here

UPDATE / March 16: US intelligence officials are leaning toward the theory that "those in the cockpit" - the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 - were responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the commercial jetliner, a US official with direct knowledge of the latest thinking told CNN on Saturday (Sunday NZ time).

The US official's comments came just hours after a statement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who said someone deliberately diverted  Flight 370 and shut down communications with the ground as the jetliner continued flying for six hours

The PM's announcement shifted the focus of the investigation to the crew and passengers on the plane, which has now been missing for more than a week.

Mr Najib's statement also meant the flight path of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to Beijing could have strayed as far as the southern Indian Ocean or northwest to Kazakhstan, complicating the work of search crews who already have been scouring vast stretches of ocean seeking the plane's 12-person crew and 227 passengers.

This new phase of the investigation has brought new scrutiny to the lives of two people who certainly had those skills: the pilot and first officer, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53) and Fariq Abdul Hamid (27)  both Malaysian citizens — although neither has been declared a suspect in the plane’s disappearance. Investigators are also apparently searching the passenger list for anyone else with similar skills who might have rerouted the plane, willfully or under coercion.

Malaysian police raided Mr Shah's home on Saturday, according to a statement placed on the Prime Minister's Facebook page. A flight simulator was removed from the pilot's home.

Meanwhile, Britain's Mail on Sunday has reported that Mr Shah was an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. And that hours before the doomed flight left Kuala Lumpur it is understood 53-year-old Shah attended a controversial trial in which Ibrahim was jailed for five years - sparking speculation he could have hijacked the plane himself as a political protest.

The paper also quotes un-named FBI investigators saying the disappearance of MH370 may have been ‘an act of piracy’ and that the possibility that its hundreds of passengers are being held at an unknown location has not been ruled out.

According to Malaysia Airlines, the pilots did not ask to fly together.

Flight MH370: Radar suggests jet shifted path more than once, climbed above limit - report

UPDATE / March 15:  Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control, and altered its course more than once as if still under the command of a pilot, American officials and others familiar with the investigation said Friday, according to a New York Times report.

Radar signals recorded by the Malaysian military appeared to show that the missing airliner climbed to 45,000 feet - above the approved altitude limit for a Boeing 777-200 - soon after it disappeared from civilian radar and turned sharply to the west, according to a preliminary assessment by a person familiar with the data, the Times says.

The radar track, which the Malaysian government has not released but says it has provided to the United States and China, showed that the plane then descended unevenly to 23,000 feet, below normal cruising levels, as it approached the densely populated island of Penang.

Why the bizarre flight patterns? Piracy and pilot suicide are among the scenarios under study by investigators, an AP report says.

Searchers looking for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 have moved their new target areas hundreds of miles west of the plane's original course.

This follows revelations – denied by Malaysian authorities – that the Boeing 777-200 transmitted its location repeatedly to satellites over the course of five hours after it disappeared from radar.

Sources have told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported the revelations based on engine data transmitted after the last official contact, that satellites also received speed and altitude information about the plane from its intermittent "pings."

These sources say the final ping was sent from over water at what was called a normal cruising altitude. They added it was unclear why the pings stopped.

One of the sources, an industry official, said it was possible the system sending them had been disabled by someone on board.

US military involved in the search plan to move surveillance planes into an area of the Indian Ocean 1000 miles or more west of the Malay peninsula where the plane took off, a US Seventh Fleet spokesman is quoted as saying.

He says the destroyer USS Kidd will move through the Strait of Malacca, on Malaysia's west coast, and stay at its northwest entrance.

Malaysia, which is overseeing the search effort, has directed Indian forces to a specific set of coordinates in the Andaman Sea, northwest of the Malay peninsula, an Indian official said.

"There was no specified rationale behind looking in those areas, but a detailed list was provided late Wednesday evening," he confirmed.

The automatic pings, or attempts to link up with satellites operated by Inmarsat, occurred a number of times after Flight MH370's last verified position, indicating that at least through those five hours,

The B777 carrying 239 people remained intact and hadn't been destroyed in a crash, act of sabotage or explosion, the Journal sources said.

Malaysia Airlines says it hadn't received any such data. According to Boeing, the airline didn't purchase a package through Boeing to monitor its airplanes' data through the satellite system.

The uncertainty about where the plane was headed, and why it apparently continued flying so long without working transponders and other communication links, has raised theories among investigators that the aircraft may have been commandeered for reasons that remain unclear to US authorities.

Earlier reports:
The baffling mystery of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is in its sixth day and has deepened with speculation it may have flown on for hours beyond its last reported sighting.

This is the latest twist to conflicting details and misinformation in the 12-nation search that now cover 35,800 square miles of ocean on both sides of the Malay peninsuar.

As Malaysia and Vietnam sent aircraft  to an area of the South China Sea where China said satellite photos showed possible wreckage, the Wall Street Journal reported the Boeing 777-200 plane had still been automatically sending data back to Boeing well after the time that authorities have said it dropped off radar screens.

The last definitive sighting of the aircraft on civilian radar came shortly before 1.30am on Saturday, less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, as it flew north-east across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand bound for Beijing.

The Wall Street Journal, citing two people in the US familiar with the details, said US investigators suspected the Boeing 777 actually stayed in the air for about four hours past that time.

The startling assessment was based on data automatically sent by the plane to Boeing’s engine department as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program, the Journal said.

The report adds to a pile of speculation and confused accounts of the plane’s last movements.

It raises the possibility the plane, and the 239 people on board, could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky. Authorities remain uncertain about which ocean to search.

The theory is based on data downloaded in real time straight from the Boeing's engines, which are manufactured by British company Rolls-Royce.

Engine data report denied
Malaysian search officials have denied the speculation.

"We have contacted both the possible sources of data – Rolls-Royce and Boeing – and both have said they did not receive data beyond 1.07am," Malaysia Airlines chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahyain, said. "The last transmission at 1.07am ]on Saturday] stated that everything was operating normally."

The data retrieval system is said to be standard procedure for maintaining and monitoring the engines and is loaded with information regarding the jet's performance, altitude and speed, which is then "compiled and transmitted in 30-minute increments", according to the Journal.

A New Scientist report on the Boeing engine data retrieval system also indicated Rolls-Royce received two data summaries from MH370 — one when it was taking off from Kuala Lumpur, the second as it was climbing towards Beijing.

Suspect satellite sighting
Planes continued searching for three possible floating objects that appeared in Chinese satellite images not far from the plane’s original flightpath.

Beijing urged caution, emphasising that it might amount to nothing. Vietnamese military officials said they had already searched the area earlier and turned up nothing but had sent an aircraft back anyway.

“It is true that the satellite was launched and detected some smoke and what were suspected metal shreds about 37km south-west of Ho Chi Minh City,” said China’s civil aviation chief, Li Jiaxing. “But after some review we cannot confirm that they belong to the missing plane.”