American investigators have found nothing incriminating in MH370 pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s flight simulator, acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said, as the search efforts for the missing plane moved to a new area of the Indian Ocean on Friday.
The search moved to a new sea zone after fresh data indicated the plane was flying faster than first thought before it is presumed to have run out of fuel and plunged into the sea.
Malaysia says the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO), which vanished less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately but investigators have turned up no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
Attention had focused on Zaharie and on March 14, police raided his Shah Alam home and took his personal flight simulator. Earlier, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak had said the plane was suspected to have been diverted deliberately.
Police had also visited the house of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.
American officials close to the investigation said yesterday the FBI had found nothing illuminating in data it had received from computer equipment used by Zaharie, including a home-made flight simulator.
The company that made the flight simulator software found in Zaharie’s home had also defended the MH370 pilot on March 19.
In a statement posted on the website of the simulator’s manufacturer, Precision Manuals Development Group (PMDG) CEO Robert Randazzo said the pilot’s avid interest in flight simulation did not mean he was involved in altering the aircraft’s course.
Last year, US-based PMDG released the Boeing 777 version of its flight simulator software, which replicates in detail every facet of flying the long-range jetliner.
“Captain Zaharie was well known to many in the flight simulation community because he had developed an online presence in which he dedicated many hours of his time to promoting the enjoyment of flying generally, and flight simulation specifically,” Randazzo had said.
Meanwhile, AFP reports today that former Australian defence chief Angus Houston will take over coordination of the international search effort for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
The retired air chief marshal will head a new joint agency coordination centre to be set up in Perth which will coordinate the search for the Boeing 777, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported.
Sydney's Daily Telegraph said Houston's brief was to not only lead the search but also coordinate the often delicate diplomatic contacts with search partners in Malaysia, China, the United States, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand.
He will also ensure the joint agency provides a single point where the families of the 239 people who were on board the flight when it disappeared on March 8 can obtain information, the newspaper reported.
It said services available to the families, most of whom are Chinese, would include up-to-date information and travel assistance, including visa services, accommodation advice, interpreter services and counselling.
The reports did not say when Houston, who was chief of the Australian Defence Force from 2005-2011, was expected to take over.
Many of the families of those missing, particularly the Chinese, have been critical of the way Malaysia has treated them, accusing Kuala Lumpur of providing insufficient information as they endure an agonising wait to learn the fate of their loved ones.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said yesterday that international protocols meant Malaysia would remain in charge of the search operation but Australia was ready to assist where possible.
In Perth, the Chinese navy vessel Jinggangshan, which carries two helicopters, reached the new search area early yesterday where it was expected to focus on searching for plane surfaces, oil slicks and life jackets in a sea area of some 6,900 sq km, Xinhua reported.
Another four Chinese vessels and one from Australia were on the way.
The search has involved more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has been bedevilled by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.
Two Malaysian military aircraft, which arrived in Perth yesterday, are expected to join the search party for the first time today. – Agencies, March 30, 2014.