Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
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
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
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 briefed envoys from nearly two dozen nations and
appealed for international help in the search for the plane
along two arcs 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
The plane's disappearance has baffled investigators and
aviation experts. 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
The plane had enough fuel to fly for about seven-and-a-half
to eight hours, Malaysian Airlines' Chief Executive Ahmad
Jauhari Yahya said.
Malaysian officials briefed ambassadors from 22 countries on
the progress of the investigation and appealed for
international cooperation, diplomats said on Sunday.
Although countries have been coordinating individually, the
broad formal request marked a new diplomatic phase in a
search operation thought increasingly likely to rely on the
sharing of sensitive material such as military radar data.
"The meeting was for us to know exactly what is happening and
what sort of help they need. It is more for them to tell us,
'please put in all your resources'," T.S. Tirumurti, India's
high commissioner to Malaysia, told Reuters.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also telephoned his
Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to ask for Indian help
corroborating possible paths taken by the jet, an Indian
Foreign Ministry spokesman 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 closely examined, adding they appeared to be
normal ones that allow players to practice flying and landing
in different conditions.
Police sources said they were looking at the personal,
political and religious backgrounds of both pilots and the
other crew members. Khalid said ground support staff who
might have worked on the plane were also being investigated.
A second senior police official told Reuters investigators
had found no links between Zaharie, a father of three
grown-up children and a grandfather, and any militant group.
Postings on his Facebook page suggest the pilot was a
politically active opponent of the coalition that has ruled
Malaysia for the 57 years since independence.
A day before the plane vanished, opposition leader Anwar
Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to five years
in prison, in a ruling his supporters and international human
rights groups say was politically influenced.
Asked if Zaharie's background as an opposition supporter was
being examined, the first senior police officer would say
only: "We need to cover all our bases."
Malaysia Airlines has said it did not believe Zaharie would
have sabotaged the plane, and colleagues were incredulous.
"Please, let them find the aircraft first. Zaharie is not
suicidal, not a political fanatic as some foreign media are
saying," a Malaysia Airlines pilot who is close to Zaharie
told Reuters. "Is it wrong for anyone to have an opinion
Co-pilot Fariq was religious and serious about his career,
family and friends said.
The two pilots had not made any request to fly together.
EXPERTS DOUBT MILITANT GROUPS INVOLVED
With no clear motive established as to why someone diverted
the plane, Khalid said all possibilities - hijack, sabotage,
or personal or psychological problems of someone on board -
were being investigated. Transport Minister Hishammuddin said
authorities had not received any ransom or other demand.
Southeast Asia's homegrown Islamist militant groups, such as
Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which carried out the Bali bombings in
2002, have been quiet in recent years after security forces
either arrested or shot dead numerous members.
Experts said they doubted the remaining militants had the
skills or capabilities to carry out a complex hijacking.
"JI has not been involved with violence in the region since
2007," said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based
Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
"The other groups that are active in Indonesia, in trying to
make terrorist plots, are all not very competent. I would be
extremely surprised if any group from Indonesia, the
Philippines or Malaysia itself would be directly involved."
Analysis of satellite data showed the last signal from the
missing plane was at 8:11 a.m., almost seven hours after it
turned back over the Gulf of Thailand and re-crossed the
Experts could determine only that the plane could have been
anywhere along either of two arcs: one stretching from
northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and
Turkmenistan, or a southern arc heading from Indonesia to the
vast southern Indian Ocean.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia had requested further satellite
data from several countries, including the United States,
China and France, to help with the search.
A source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it was
thought most likely the plane had headed south into the
Indian Ocean, where it would presumably have run out of fuel
and crashed. Air space to the north is much busier, and the
plane would likely have been detected.
A Republican politician involved in intelligence expressed
frustration on Sunday that U.S. experts from agencies such as
the FBI were not more involved in the investigation.
"The fact is the FBI was not asked in. And you know these
pilots they should have been - pilot and co-pilot - should
have been the focus from the start," U.S. Representative
Peter King, chairman of the House Counterterrorism and
Intelligence Subcommittee, told the ABC programme "This
Countries contacted by Malaysia to assist in the search range
from the former Soviet central Asian republics in the north
to Australia in the south, along with France, which
administers a scattering of islands deep in the southern
Indian Ocean, uninhabited except for a handful of
France, which had four of its citizens on the plane, said on
Sunday it had agreed to send three special aviation
investigators to Kuala Lumpur.
The Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places in the
world and also one of the deepest, posing enormous challenges
for efforts to find any wreckage or the flight voice and data
recorders that would be key to solving the puzzle.