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Malaysia Mystery Deepens: Why Were Crucial Flight Files Deleted?

FBI brought in to help solve case of disappeared flight, as investigators discover files were deleted from pilot's flight simulator.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/19/2014, 8:59 PM

Malaysian Defense and Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters at a press briefing Wednesday that a new twist had been revealed in investigations over missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370: the discovery that vital files had been deleted from the pilots' flight simulators sometime before takeoff. 

"Some data has been deleted from the simulator. Forensic efforts are on to retrieve the data," Hussein stated. “So far, no information of significance on any passengers has been found,” he added, emphasizing that “the passengers, the pilots and the crew remain innocent until proven otherwise.”

Malaysian police noted Wednesday that the data - flight plans from a simulator at the home of pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah - had been deleted over a month ago, according to the New York Times. Khalid Abu Bakar, inspector general of the Malaysian police, told reporters that "experts were looking at the logs" but declined to comment further on the case. 

Analysts remain divided over the significance of the revelation. While theTimes noted that evidence is mounting that the communications system on the aircraft was disabled by someone familiar with aviation, pilots often build their own private flight simulators, and the deletion may have been mere routine. 

The Times also added Wednesday that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been brought in to aid the ongoing search for the missing plane. The FBI is expected to relay the contents of the simulator's hard drive back to experts in the US to speed the investigative process. So far, the intelligence organization has also conducted extensive background checks on passengers with connections to the US and Europe, as well as the pilots and the two Iranian nationals who used stolen passports to board the plane. 

Theories Multiply

Theories abound over the fate of Flight 370, which disappeared nearly two weeks ago without a trace. While concerns were raised in Israeli media that the plane was being used as a terror weapon by Islamists, Tuvia Livneh, former head of security at El Al, stated in a recent Arutz Sheva interview that it is far more likely the plane was hijacked.

Along these lines, evidence recently showed that the plane continued sending satellite signals for hours, indicating hundreds of miles or more of continued flight-time. Several witnesses also claimed this week that they saw the plane flying below 5,000 feet, a possible attempt to evade radar. 

Other theories that have been proposed so far for the plane's disappearance include technical problems, a 9/11 style attack, and the suspicion that the co-pilot had hijacked the plane to further domestic political causes within Malaysia itself. So far, despite the hype, investigations into the pilots have turned up no facts linking them decisively to the plane's disappearance.

The New York Times has further theorized that the plane's computer systems were broken into to help direct the plane off course. However, experts note that anything is still possible - as information about the missing flight continues to be updated with new data and after the Malaysian authorities stayed mum for nearly a week before declaring that foul play may have been involved.