Saturday Reads: Where is Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Paris in December (AP)

Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 in Paris in December (AP)

Good Morning!!

For completely selfish reasons I’m going to focus this post on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane mystery, because I’m obsessed with the story and I want to read about it.

A week after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radar, what happened is still a mystery. Where could it have gone? Early Saturday morning, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that the plane was diverted off course by “deliberate action.” Faith Karimi and Barbara Starr at CNN:

“Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation on crew and passengers aboard,” Najib told reporters. “Evidence is consistent with someone acting deliberately from inside the plane.” [….]

“Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, we are investigating all major possibilities on what caused MH370 to deviate,” he said.

Shortly after he spoke, a source close to the investigation told CNN that Malaysian police had searched the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53. Shah lives in a gated community in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier Saturday there was no police presence at the residence of his co-pilot, Fariq Ab Hamid, 27.

Here’s a transcript of the Prime Minister’s statement at CNN.

From Bernama, the National News Agency of Malaysia: Cops Visit Residence Of Missing Flight’s Captain.

SHAH ALAM, March 15 (Bernama) — Police were seen arriving at the residence of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the Flight MH370 at about 2.42pm Saturday.

This followed Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s press conference on the development of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) aircraft.

A check by Bernama noted that three plain clothed police personnel introduced themselves as coming from Bukit Aman police headquarters to the security guard manning the Laman Seri residence at Section 13 here before obtaining a security pass to go in.

It was believed that the police have conducted a search at the pilot’s house and all of them were seen leaving the residence at about 4.46pm.

From the Sydney Telegraph: Investigators digging deep into the lives of the pilots from the missing airliner.

Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid

Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid

THE psychological background, family life and connections of the two pilots aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have become a major focus of the investigation into the missing jet.

Pilots Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid have been described as respectable, community-minded men.

Mr Fariq has drawn the greatest scrutiny after the revelation that in 2011, he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur….

Fariq, the son of a high-ranking civil servant in Selangor state, joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. With 2763 hours of flight experience, he had recently started co-piloting the Boeing 777. “His father still cries when he talks about Fariq. His mother too,” Ahmad Sarafi said.

Fariq had a brush with fame when he was filmed recently by a crew from “CNN Business Traveller,” and reporter Richard Quest described it as a perfect landing of a Boeing 777-200, the same model as the plane that vanished. Neighbour Ayop Jantan said he had heard Fariq was engaged and planning his wedding. The eldest of five, Fariq’s professional achievements were a source of pride for his father.

Zaharie, the pilot of MH370, joined the airline in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of experience. His Facebook page showed an aviation enthusiast who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft. Born in northern Penang state, the captain and grandfather was an enthusiastic handyman and proud home cook.

Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah

Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah

Back to CNN story on the Prime Minister’s statement, linked above:

“The plane’s last communication with the satellite was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean,” Najib said.

Given that the new search area involves a number of countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been given access to the new information. Malaysia’s Foreign Ministry will brief the governments that had passengers aboard the plane and will brief the relatives of its 239 passengers and crew….

“Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East Coast of peninsular Malaysia,” the Prime Minister said. “Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft’s transponder was switched off. From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft — which was believed but not confirmed to be MH370 — did turn back.”

Military radar showed the jetliner flew in a westerly direction back over the peninsula before turning northwest toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest into the Indian Ocean, he said.

“Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” he said, adding that investigators had confirmed by looking at the raw satellite data that the plane in question was the Malaysia Airlines jet.

American and British aviation authorities agreed with these conclusions. A story from McClatchy (via the Miami Herald) explains that an experienced person must have been flying the plane.

Najib’s comments further suggest that someone with significant flying experience must have commandeered the flight, or that a hijacker managed to coerce the crew to take two actions that diverted the flight from reaching Beijing. One involved disabling the flight’s “Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System” over the northeast coast of Malaysia. Then, at 1:21 a.m, someone turned off a transponder that was reporting the aircraft’s location, altitude, speed and other information.

Forensics work and a review of Malaysian radar, Najib said, has now revealed that MH 370 turned back and started traveling in a westerly direction. But the flight was still tracked by satellites overhead. A review of that data, Najib said, revealed that the last confirmed communication between the plane and the satellite was at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time last Saturday, nearly seven hours after air traffic controllers lost track of it.

Based on this new data, the prime minister said, investigators think the plane could have traveled in two possible directions — “a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian ocean.” An international search effort has already shifted its attention to those areas, he said.

That first scenario raises the possibility that a hijacker or hijackers could have attempted to land the plane and its passengers in a remote part of Central Asia known to harbor militant groups. But in an age of satellites, doing so undetected would be extremely difficult, and so far there’s been no reported claim of responsibility for the plane’s disappearance.

missing-plane-graphic

According to The New York Times, Search for Malaysian Jet Becomes Criminal Inquiry.

Mr. Najib’s news conference, at an airport hotel here on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, came a day after American officials and others familiar with the investigation told The New York Times that Flight 370 had experienced significant changes in altitude after it lost contact with ground control, and altered its course more than once as if still under the command of a pilot.

Military radar data subsequently showed that the aircraft turned and flew west across northern Malaysia before arcing out over the wide northern end of the Strait of Malacca, headed at cruising altitude for the Indian Ocean.

News sources indicate the plane could have kept flying as long as 7 hours after it cut off contact.

“The investigation team is making further calculations, which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after the last point of contact,” Mr. Najib said, reading a statement in English. “Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with a satellite.”

The northern arc described by Mr. Najib passes through or close to some of the world’s most volatile countries, home to insurgent groups, but also over highly militarized areas with robust air-defense networks, some run by the American military. The arc passes close to northern Iran, through Afghanistan and northern Pakistan, and through northern India and the Himalayan mountains and Myanmar.

An aircraft flying on that arc would have to pass through air-defense networks in India and Pakistan, whose mutual border is heavily militarized, as well as through Afghanistan, where the United States and other NATO countries have operated air bases for more than a decade.

Air bases near that arc include Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where the United States Air Force’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing is based, and a large Indian air base, Hindon Air Force Station.

A few more articles on missing Flight 370:

WSJ: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Probe Sharpens Focus on Sabotage

The Independent: Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Plane’s communications ‘deliberately disabled’ says prime minister as new radar evidence points to hijacking

CBS News: As U.S. role expands, so do search area and suspicion of foul play

NPR: Boeing 777 Pilots: It’s Not Easy To Disable Onboard Communications

WaPo: Mystery of missing jet recalls past disappearances

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?