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Malaysia focuses probe on pilots of MH370 after clearing passengers of involvement

Published on Apr 2, 2014 1:28 PM

KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS / AFP) – Malaysia is focusing its criminal investigation on the cabin crew and pilots of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, after clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, the country’s police chief was reported as saying on Wednesday.

National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the passengers had been cleared of possible involvement in hijacking, sabotage or having personal or psychological problems that could have been connected to the flight’s disappearance on March 8.

“They have been cleared of the four,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency Bernama.

Malaysian authorities have still not ruled out mechanical problems as causing the disappearance of the plane, but say evidence suggests the plane was deliberately diverted from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

"We are very thorough in our probe. Even the four tonnes of mangosteens in the aircraft cargo is being investigated....Investigators are looking into who ordered them, paid for them and plucked and packed them from an orchard in Muar.That is how in-depth this probe is going," Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

Investigators believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial aviation navigation switched off the plane’s communications systems before diverting it thousands of miles off its scheduled course.

That has turned the focus of investigations onto the two pilots, 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot, 27-year old Fariq Abdul Hamid.

But the police say their investigation into the men has failed to turn up any red flags. The FBI helped Malaysian authorities analyse data from Captain Zaharie’s personal flight simulator but found nothing suspicious.

Search teams in the southern Indian Ocean are in a race against time to locate the plane’s black box recorder, which has an expected battery life of around 30 days and may well contain the key to understanding the plane’s mysterious disappearance.

The police chief also warned on Wednesday that authorities may never learn what caused the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370.

“Give us more time,” he told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, according to Dow Jones Newswires.  “We may not even know the real cause of this incident.”

The sober assessment is unlikely to go down well with anxious family members of the missing passengers, especially Chinese relatives who have fiercely attacked Malaysia’s government and the airline as incompetent “liars” and “murderers”. Two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese.

Mr Khalid said police had recorded more than 170 statements so far.

“This investigation is ongoing. There are still more people we need to interview,” he said, declining to provide further details while the probe was under way.