Malaysian police investigating the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have searched the homes of the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid.
They are examining a flight simulator taken from Captain Zaharie’s home and have talked to his relatives.
Police say they are now also investigating all ground staff who handled the aircraft.
Malaysia’s acting transport minister and defence minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, has appealed to the public not to jump to conclusions about the investigation.
The police are still insisting that hijacking is just one avenue they are exploring, along with possible sabotage, and whether any passengers or crew had psychological or personal problems.
The investigation has now been classified under Section 130 C of Malaysia’s penal code, which covers hijacking, sabotage, acts of terrorism, and all crimes under the Aviation Offences Act.
Police are still waiting for background-check information on passengers from some countries, but nothing received so far has raised suspicions.
Mr Hishammuddin said Malaysia’s prime minister, Najib Razak, had been in touch with leaders of India, Bangladesh, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan.
Yesterday Mr Najib said there was a high degree of certainty that someone on board the flight deliberately disabled the data transmission system and switched off the plane’s transponder.
He said the plane’s movements were consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.
The authorities are now investigating two possible routes that the aircradt may have taken: one in a northern corridor stretching roughly from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and the other in a southern corridor stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian ocean.
Representatives from 22 countries, including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Laos, and Australia have now been briefed. The US, China, and France have all been asked to provide further satellite data.
“We are contacting additional countries who may be able to contribute specific assets relevant to the search and rescue operation,” Mr Hishammuddin said. “Surveillance aircraft are required, and maritime vessels are needed, particularly for the southern corridor.”
Twenty-five countries were now involved in the search for the missing aircraft, he added, and this brought new challenges of coordination and diplomacy.
The search, he said, was no longer focused mainly on shallow seas. Search teams were now looking at large tracts of land crossing 11 countries as well as deep and remote oceans.
He said both possible corridors were being treated with equal importance.
Allegations against pilots
There have been many comments from Captain Zaharie’s friends, who say they do not believe he could have hijacked the plane, and there is no actual evidence that either of the pilots are responsible for the disappearance of flight MH370, but an article in Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper has sparked yet more extraordinary speculation.
The Daily Mail called Captain Zaharie a political fanatic and said he had attended the trial of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim just hours before the missing flight took off. Opposition leaders dismissed the report as “wild allegations”.
The co-pilot has meanwhile been accused of committing a security breach in 2011, letting two women into the cockpit on a flight from Thailand.
Mr Hishammuddin said today that could not comment on speculative theories as to what might have caused the plane’s deviation from its original flight path, as he did not wish to prejudice the ongoing investigation.
“I understand the hunger for new details, but we do not want to jump to conclusions. Out of respect to the families, and the process itself, we must wait for the investigation to run its course,” he said.
Malaysia is a very multicultural society and prayers are being said in churches, Chinese and Hindu temples, Sikh gurdwaras and of course mosques, and messages of concern and support continue to flood in.