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Saturday 30 August 2014

Missing Malaysia plane: Net widens as pilots investigated and 9/11-style terror allegation resurface

Published 16/03/2014 | 15:51

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A woman leaves messages of support and hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in central Kuala Lumpur March 16, 2014.  Police are combing through the personal, political and religious backgrounds of pilots and crew of the missing Malaysian jetliner, a senior officer said on Sunday, trying to work out why someone aboard flew the plane hundreds of miles off course. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj  (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT)
A woman leaves messages of support and hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 in central Kuala Lumpur
A Malaysian Army paratrooper stands between banners with messages expressing well wishes for passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, at the viewing gallery of the departure hall at Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 16, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su  (MALAYSIA - Tags: DISASTER TRANSPORT MILITARY)
A Malaysian Army paratrooper stands between banners with messages expressing well wishes for passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, at the viewing gallery of the departure hall at Kuala Lumpur International Airport
A Malaysian military soldier patrols the viewing gallery of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where dedication boards with well wishes and messages for people involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 is displayed, Sunday, March 16, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Malaysian authorities Sunday were investigating the pilots of the missing jetliner after it was established that whoever flew off with the Boeing 777 had intimate knowledge of the cockpit and knew how to avoid detection when navigating around Asia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
A Malaysian military soldier patrols the viewing gallery of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where dedication boards with well wishes and messages for people involved with the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 is displayed

The search for the missing Malaysia airlines flight MH370 has been significantly expanded, with officials admitting they are now scouring land as well as the sea for the stricken jetliner.

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Malaysian officials said today they have sought extra help from other countries to try and cover a vast search area which stretches from central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.

The number of countries now looking for the plane has increased from 14 to 25.

An official has said the aircraft could have been on the ground when it sent its satellite signals.

The pilots and the engineers have also become the focus of a criminal investigation into the plane’s disappearance, as police revealed they are now looking into the backgrounds of the plane’s passengers and crew.

At a press conference today, Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the search had entered a new phase: "Every day brings new angles, especially as we are focusing and expanding the search area. "The search was already a highly complex, multi-national effort. It has now become more difficult," he said.

"The search area has been significantly expanded, and the search area has changed. We are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.

Malaysian police have searched the homes of both Captain Zaharie Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Hamid, 27, with a focus on uncovering any personal, political or religious background information that could help the investigation

Hussein said police had just searched the home of co-pilot Hamid, and that Shah and Hamid had not requested to fly together.

Malaysian police are also examining a three-screen flight simulator found in Captain Shah’s home. The police have dismantled and reassembled the simulator as part of their investigation.

Captain Shah was known for his enthusiasm for flying and was a member of a forum for fans of flight simulation. Reports have also emerged of Hamid having once invited two women to spend an entire flight with him in the cockpit.

It was claimed yesterday that Captain Shah was a supporter of Anwar Ibrahim, the controversial opposition leader of Malaysia who had been jailed for sodomy the day before Flight MH370 disappeared and that the pilot may have hijacked the plane in a form of political protest.

But the Malaysian coalition Pakaten Rakyat dismissed the reports that Shah was a “political fanatic”, calling the report “wild speculation”.

A Malaysia Airlines pilot who is close to Shah also told Reuters. "Is it wrong for anyone to have an opinion about politics?"

"Please, let them find the aircraft first. Zaharie is not suicidal, not a political fanatic."

The investigation is now covering ground staff as well as the 239 passengers and on-board crew, and the engineers that had come into contact with the plane before it took off.  Police said the results of background checks on the passengers have yet to be received.

The number of countries involved in the flight has now risen from 14 to 25, despite India having been told to pause their search yesterday. The Malaysian authorities are now looking at areas of land in 11 countries.

The Malaysian government has asked France, China and the USA to provide further satellite data, while the search corridor for the plane has been widened to countries as far as Kazakhstan and Indonesia.

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

Independent News Service

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