Pilot deleted data from his own flight simulator
Malaysian captain's training equipment is sent to the FBI
THE pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet deleted data from his home flight simulator in the weeks before the aircraft disappeared, removing vital clues that may reveal whether he ever practised flying undetected.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's flight simulator was transferred yesterday to the headquarters of the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, where agents will try to determine if files stored on it shed any light on the disappearance.
The search for the plane and the 239 people on board has now spread across two flight corridors spanning 2.24 million square nautical miles.
Investigators have assessed that the plane is likely to be in the southernmost section of the search zone, somewhere in the far south of the Indian Ocean.
No wreckage has been found since the plane vanished 12 days ago.
"The working assumption is that (the plane) went south," a source said. "The further working assumption within that is that it would be at the southern end of that corridor."
Investigators believe that the plane was deliberately flown off course and that its communications system was disabled about 40 minutes after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.
The plane's transponder was shut off at 1.21am – two minutes after the co-pilot's final communication with air traffic controllers – but investigators still do not know precisely when a separate messaging system in the cockpit was turned off.
"It is highly probable that at the point the co-pilot said 'goodnight', something in the cockpit had already been switched off," the source said.
Police in Malaysia have been investigating Capt Zaharie, a 53-year-old father of three and flying enthusiast with no known links to extremism or psychological problems.
Khalid Abu Bakar, the country's inspector-general of police, said an examination of the flight simulator seized from Capt Zaharie's home revealed that the data logs were deleted on February 3.
The simulator was apparently used to play three games: 'Flight Simulator X', 'Flight Simulator 9' and 'X-Plane 10'.
"Some data had been deleted from the simulator and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing," said Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's acting transport minister.
Authorities in Malaysia said the deleted files may not be suspect and the pilots and passengers are still being treated as innocent.
Associates of Capt Zaharie said that he did not attempt to hide the simulator and frequently invited friends to use it.
The desperate wait for information led to chaotic scenes in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, as family members of the 154 Chinese nationals who were on board the airliner screamed "we can't stand it any more" during a protest inside a press briefing room.
Police dragged the protesters away as they cried "traitors" and yelled "find our relatives".
A mother of one of the passengers, who had tried to speak to journalists before being dragged away by police, was knocked down in the media scrum. She screamed: "We don't know how long we will be waiting.
"It's been 12 days, where's my son? Why aren't you giving me any answers," before being bundled into another room.
Another woman said: "We need to know the truth.
"We need to know where the plane is... The Malaysian government is a liar."
Mr Hishammuddin later said he "understands what they are going through" and the ordeal has been "heart-wrenching – even for me".
Malaysia has come under increasing criticism over its handling of the missing flight, particularly the slow release of information and the sometimes contradictory reports that have emerged from the government's daily briefings. (© Daily Telegraph, London)