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Pilots Suspected in Disappearance of Malaysian Plane

U.S. intelligence officials leaning toward the theory that the pilots of Flight 370 were deliberately responsible for its disappearance.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 3/16/2014, 6:18 AM

Malaysia Airlines
Malaysia Airlines
Reuters

American intelligence officials are leaning toward the theory that the pilots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were deliberately responsible for the mysterious disappearance of the jetliner, a U.S. official with direct knowledge of the latest thinking told CNN on Saturday.

The revelation followed news that Malaysian authorities searched the home of the lead pilot, a move that came the same day that Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters the plane veered off course due to apparent deliberate action taken by somebody on board.

The Malaysian government had been looking for a reason to search the home of the pilot and the co-pilot for several days. It was only in the last 24 to 36 hours, when radar and satellite data came to light, that authorities believed they had sufficient reason to go through the residences, according to the U.S. official, who spoke to CNN on condition of anonymity.

"The Malaysians don't do this lightly," the official told the network, adding that it is as yet unclear whether the Malaysian government believes one or both the men could have been responsible for whatever happened to the plane when the Boeing 777-200 ER disappeared March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The official emphasized no final conclusions have been drawn and all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date.

A source close to the investigation told CNN that Malaysian police had searched the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53 as well as the home of the co-pilot, 27-year-old Farq Ab Hamid.

Razak noted on Saturday that military radar showed the flight doubling back towards Malaysia before heading northwest towards the Bay of Bengal or southwest to the Indian Ocean.

"Evidence is consistent with someone acting deliberately from inside the plane," acknowledged Razak.

"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 added. "Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft's transponder was switched off."

A senior U.S. law enforcement official told CNN on Saturday night that investigators are carefully reviewing the information so far collected on the pilots to determine whether there is something to indicate a motivation or indication of what may have happened.

That would seem supported by preliminary U.S. intelligence reports, which the U.S. official said show the jetliner was in some form of controlled flight at a relatively stable altitude and path when it changed course and flew toward the Indian Ocean. It is presumed by U.S. officials to have crashed, perhaps after running out of fuel.

The disappearance of the plane with no trace has sparked a frantic search. Hijacking has been suspected given that, in addition to the plane turning around, it continued sending satellite signals for four hours, indicating hundreds of miles or more of continued flight-time.

Suspicions deepened after Interpol found two Iranian nationals had boarded the plane on stolen Austrian and Italian passports, with Thai police reporting the passports were sold to both of them and the tickets booked for them by a third Iranian national.