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The pilots of missing MH370 did not request to fly together: Minister

Published on Mar 16, 2014 5:50 PM

The Straits Times Malaysia Bureau

KUALA LUMPUR - The two pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 did not ask to fly together, said Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Sunday.

The search for the missing plane entered a dramatic new phase on Saturday after Prime Minister Najib Razak acknowledged for the first time that the plane was deliberately diverted, and that it could have gone as far north as Kazakhstan in Central Asia or southwards towards the Indian Ocean.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar, who was also present at the press conference on Sunday, said investigation now includes ground staff, as well as crew and passengers of the plane.

Malaysia's Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (second from the right) answers questions from journalists during a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 16, 2014. The two pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 did not ask to fly together, said Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Sunday, March 16, 2014. -- PHOTO: AFP

Investigations include possibility of hijack, sabotage and terrorism, he said, adding that investigators are still waiting for some countries to send background checks on passengers who were on the missing jetliner.

“There are still a few countries yet to respond to our requests,” he told the news conference.

Officials added that the plane turnback was cockpit driven, and not pre-programmed, and that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars) was shut off before the last words "All right, good night" were heard from the cockpit. 

The government said earlier on Sunday that police had searched the homes of the two pilots of the missing plane and were examining the captain's home flight simulator, but cautioned it was "normal" procedure.

"Officers spoke to family members of the pilot and experts are examining the pilot's flight simulator. On 15 March, the police also searched the home of the co-pilot."

Flight MH370, with 239 people on board, went missing near the South China Sea early on March 8.

The revelation refocused attention on the background of the 239 passengers and crew, while sparking both outrage and relief among anxious family members in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

Background story

Key elements that emerged from Malaysian Defence and Transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein’s press conference on Sunday:

  • No demand for ransom, or contact from external groups or individuals, has been made about the missing plane.
  • Aircraft’s mid-air turnaround over the South China Sea was cockpit driven, not pre-programmed.
  • The aircraft communication system was disabled before the pilot’s final “Alright, good night” to ground control.
  • The two pilots did not ask to fly together.
  • Search for the missing aircraft MH370 has widened, with 25 nations participating from 14 earlier.
  • Both northern and southern corridors are being given equal importance in the ongoing investigation, including scanning the waters of the Indian Ocean as well as large tracts of land across 11 countries.
  • Background checks have been initiated on all crew, passengers as well as ground staff who handled the missing plane.
  • Some external intelligence agencies have suggested that the passengers are beyond suspicion. Malaysian police are continuing their probe, however.
  • Authorities have examined the flight simulator set up by pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah at his residence. 

-- Ravi Velloor