Missing flight: Distraught relatives accuse authorities of 'hiding the truth'

By Andrew Bunscombe of the Independent, Herald's Lincoln Tan in Malaysia

Tensions boil over as families wait for news, while the captain's daughter tells of her pain

The FBI joined forces with Malaysian authorities in analysing deleted data on a flight simulator belonging to the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, while distraught relatives of the passengers unleashed their anger, wailing in frustration at 12 days of uncertainty.

The anguish of relatives of the 239 people on Flight 370 boiled over at a briefing near Kuala Lumpur's airport. Two Chinese women who shouted at Malaysian authorities and unfurled a banner accusing officials of "hiding the truth" were removed from the room.

In a heart-wrenching scene, one woman screamed in sorrow as she was dragged away.

"I want you to help me to find my son! I want to see my son!" one of the two unidentified women said. "We have been here for 10 days."

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Files containing records of flight simulations were deleted Feb. 3 from the device found in the home of the Malaysia Airlines pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.

It was not immediately clear whether investigators thought that deleting the files was unusual. The files might hold signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.

A Chinese relative of a passenger aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane is carried out by security officials as she protests before a press conference. Photo / AP
A Chinese relative of a passenger aboard a missing Malaysia Airlines plane is carried out by security officials as she protests before a press conference. Photo / AP

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference that Zaharie is considered innocent until proven guilty. He said members of the pilot's family are cooperating in the investigation.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation by name, said the FBI has been given electronic data to analyse.

US Attorney General Eric Holder said in Washington that the FBI was working with Malaysian authorities.

"At this point, I don't think we have any theories," Holder said.

Flight 370 disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Malaysian authorities have not ruled out any possible explanations, but have said the evidence so far suggests the flight was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next and why.

Investigators have identified two giant arcs of territory spanning the possible positions of the plane about 7 hours after takeoff, based on its last faint signal to a satellite an hourly "handshake" signal that continues even when communications are switched off. The arcs stretch up as far as Kazakhstan in central Asia and down deep into the southern Indian Ocean.

Police are considering the possibility of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board, and have asked for background checks from abroad on all foreign passengers.

Hishammuddin said such checks have been received for all the foreigners except those from Ukraine and Russia which account for three passengers. "So far, no information of significance on any passengers has been found," he said.

The 53-year-old pilot joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flight experience. People who knew Zaharie from his involvement in opposition political circles in Malaysia and other areas of his life have described him as sociable, humble, caring and dedicated to his job.

The crisis has exposed the lack of a failsafe way of tracking modern passenger planes on which data transmission systems and transponders which make them visible to civilian radar have been severed. At enormous cost, 26 countries are helping Malaysia look for the plane.

Relatives of passengers on the missing airliner two-thirds of them from China have grown increasingly angry over the lack of progress in the search. Planes sweeping vast expanses of the Indian Ocean and satellites peering on Central Asia have turned up no new clues.

At a hotel near the Kuala Lumpur airport, one of the Chinese women who was removed from the room displayed a banner that said, in part, "We are against the Malaysian government for hiding the truth." She later expressed frustration with officials.

"We launch our demands every day but to no answer, and they tell me to come back the next day," she said. "No answer, every day."

The father of passenger Pushpanathan Subramaniam said in an interview that the wait was "really too much."

"I don't know why it is taking so long for so many people to find the plane. It's 12 days," said 60-year-old Subaramaniam Gurusamy from his home on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. His 34-year-old son, Pushpanathan, was on the flight to Beijing for a work trip.

"He's the one son I have," Subaramaniam said.

Hishammuddin said a delegation of Malaysian government officials, diplomats, air force and civil aviation officials will head to Beijing where many of the passengers' relatives are gathered to brief the next of kin on the status of the search.

Aircraft from Australia, the US and New Zealand searched an area stretching across 305,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean, about 2,600 kilometres southwest of Perth, on Australia's west coast. Merchant ships were also asked to look for any trace of the plane.

China has said it was reviewing radar data and deployed 21 satellites to search the northern corridor, although it is considered less likely that the plane could have taken that route without being detected by military radar systems of the countries in that region.

Indonesian Defence Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said Indonesia military radar didn't pick up any signs of Flight 370 on the day the plane went missing. He said Malaysia had asked Indonesia to intensify the search in its assigned zone in the Indian Ocean west of Sumatra, but said his air force was strained in the task.

"We will do our utmost. We will do our best. But you do have to understand our limitations," Purnomo said.

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington, Rod McGuirk, Satish Cheney and Chris Brummitt in Kuala Lumpur, Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia, and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney, Australia, contributed to this report.

-AP

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's daughter, Aishah Zaharie, in a picture posted on Twitter.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's daughter, Aishah Zaharie, in a picture posted on Twitter.

Pilot's daughter tells of pain

The daughter of one of the pilots on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has spoken for the first time, revealing the toll the deepening mystery has had on her family.

Aishah Zaharie - the daughter of flight captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah - has been living in Melbourne since 2010, but rushed back to Kuala Lumpur when she heard the news about MH370.

"The speculation about my dad is torturing the family," the 27-year-old told Australian media.

It is understood she is with her mother Faizah Khanum Mustafa Khan and two brothers. They have moved from the family home in a secure complex and are being monitored by authorities.

Captain Shah's Facebook account has been suspended, and all his tweets deleted.

It was revealed yesterday that Captain Shah, 53, is related to one of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim's in-laws. Mr Ibrahim was jailed for homosexuality the day MH370 left Kuala Lumpur. Captain Shah, a staunch supporter of Mr Ibrahim, reportedly attended the sentencing before flying out.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammudin Hussein said the investigation did not link the aircraft's disappearance with the opposition party. But a police source told the Herald Mr Ibrahim may be interviewed by investigators this week.

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FBI to help recover files deleted from simulator

In other developments, a U.S. official says the Malaysian government is seeking the FBI's help in analysing any electronic files deleted last month from the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysian plane.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorised to discuss the ongoing investigation by name, says the FBI has been provided electronic data to analyse.

Malaysia's defense minister says investigators are trying to restore files deleted last month from the simulator used by the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah. Files containing records of simulations carried out on the program were deleted Feb. 3.

Attorney General Eric Holder said Wednesday U.S. investigators are prepared to help any way they can.

Maldives: Witnesses saw jumbo jet

Meanwhile, residents of a tiny island in the Maldives, reportedly spotted a "low-flying jumbo jet" hours after the aircraft disappeared.

Several witnesses in Dhaalu Atoll saw a plane heading south that bore the red stripe and white background of Malaysia Airlines planes. The sightings, reported by a local news outlet, would have occurred more than seven hours after the plane lost contact with air traffic control.

Though authorities are yet to confirm the sighting, Captain Shah is said to have practised landing at Male International Airport in the Maldives on a flight simulator at his home.

The Chinese Government has completed background checks of its 154 citizens on board the flight.

A coalition of 26 countries including New Zealand are now working to try to find the missing aircraft. Two New Zealanders were aboard - Paul Weeks and Ximin Wang.

At least 77 relatives of the missing have sought treatment and counseling services, the Malaysian Health Ministry said yesterday.

Four had to be hospitalised with 17 required "psychological intervention" to help manage their emotional stress.


Hunt for Flight 370

• Daughter of flight captain speaks of family's ordeal.

• Thailand reveals its military radar picked up a plane flying toward the Strait of Malacca shortly after flight 370 lost contact.

• Residents of an island in the Maldives reported spotting a "low flying jumbo jet" hours after the aircraft disappeared.

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