FBI analyses pilot’s flight simulator data as search for MH370 enters 13th day

The Malaysian Insider
March 20, 2014

With search for the missing Malaysia Airlines entering its 13th day without any significant development, the FBI has stepped in to help analyse data from a flight simulator seized from the home of flight MH370’s Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah last weekend.

Malaysia has now made available to the FBI electronic data generated by both pilots of flight MH370, including data from a hard drive attached to the captain’s flight simulator, and from electronic media used by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, an American law enforcement official said to Reuters.

The official, however, said he could not confirm that some data had been wiped from the simulator and stressed that there was no guarantee the FBI analysis would turn up any fresh clues.

USA Today, meanwhile, reported an American federal law enforcement official as saying that the material, including a flight simulator recovered from one of the pilot’s homes, is likely to be shipped to the FBI’s lab in Quantico, Virginia.

The report quoted United States Attorney General Eric Holder as saying that the US and Malaysian governments have been “in ongoing conversations about how we can help”.

“We’re working with authorities, but we don’t have any theories (on the cause of the plane’s disappearance),” USA Today quoted Holder as saying.

Acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had said at the daily press briefing yesterday that local and international expertise have been recruited to examine the pilot’s flight simulator.

“Some data had been deleted from the simulator and forensic work to retrieve this data is ongoing,” Hishammuddin had said.

He had said that the investigations into the flight simulator were part of the overall probe into all passengers and crew on board the Malaysia Airlines flight which has been missing since March 8.

“We are sharing all information relevant to the case with all relevant international investigative agencies,” he had said.

United States investigators had become increasingly frustrated in recent days that Malaysian authorities had not asked them for more help.

The FBI has extensive experience investigating airplane crashes, including those of TWA 800 and EgyptAir 990 off the US east coast in the 1990s and Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

In the case of EgyptAir 990, the FBI helped air safety investigators establish that the crash was caused by a suicidal co-pilot, while in the case of Pan Am 103, the agency worked with British and US intelligence to build a case against the government of Libya.

At yesterday’s press briefing in Sepang, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar also said that the data from the flight simulator was deleted on February 3.

“Our forensic personnel from the cybercrime unit, MAS and international experts are attempting to retrieve the information.

“The experts are looking at what are the logs that have been cleared,” Khalid had said.

No sign has been found of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which vanished from air traffic control screens off the east coast at 1.21am on March 8, less than an hour after taking off for Beijing, China.

The lack of significant development saw distraught relatives of Chinese passengers on board the plane venting their anger yesterday at the press briefing venue at Sama Sama Hotel.

They accused Putrajaya of withholding information and misleading the public about the search and rescue operation.

The group also carried a huge banner in Mandarin, demanding answers from Putrajaya.

A sobbing Chinese woman, speaking in Mandarin, cried: “Please let me know where is my son, where is his whereabouts”.

The distraught woman kept repeating her demands, calling the government “liars”.

She also said Beijing should exert pressure on Malaysia and demand answers on the whereabouts of flight MH370.

Another relative scolded Putrajaya in Mandarin, saying the Malaysian leaders were “liars” who had kept them in the dark after almost two weeks of searching for the aircraft.

Policemen on duty at the hotel attempted to escort the distraught and angry relatives out of the auditorium, but the situation became chaotic for a while as members of the media rushed to record the scene.

This was the first time relatives of passengers on board the flight MH370 have turned angry and caused a commotion in Kuala Lumpur over the progress of the search for the plane.

Previously, such outburst only occurred in Beijing where relatives complained that they were not getting adequate information in a timely manner.

Some of the relatives who had remained in Beijing had accused Putrajaya of talking nonsense and conspiring in a cover-up instead of carrying out search and rescue, reported the Financial Express.

“Only the Malaysian government knows the truth about Malaysia Airlines. They’ve been talking nonsense since the beginning,” Wen Wancheng, one of the relatives, told the daily after a meeting with airline officials in Beijing on Monday.

“You hid the whereabouts from the beginning and after seven to eight days, you discovered it?

“That was the best time to launch a rescue,” added the 63-year-old from the eastern province of Shandong. His son was on board MH370.

Another relative said after the meeting: “Of course, there is no useful information for us, there never is.”

Hishammuddin issued a statement yesterday addressing the relatives’ disappointment.

“One can only imagine the anguish they are going through. Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH370 and hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family members are missing.

“I have ordered an immediate inquiry into the events in the press room today.”

The display of anger by the relatives of the passengers coincided with more scathing criticism of Putrajaya from Chinese state media and social media users.

In an editorial, the China Daily newspaper had asked whether Malaysia was sharing all the information it had gathered.

“The contradictory and piecemeal information Malaysia Airlines and its government have provided has made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious,” the newspaper had said.

“What else is known that has not been shared with the world?”

Two-thirds of the passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines flight were Chinese nationals.

Reuters said prospects that the 26-nation search operation would lead to quick results appeared to be dwindling, however, as investigators confirmed they were focusing on the remote southern Indian Ocean after failing to find any traces of the jet further north.

“Our top priority is being given to that area,” Hishammuddin had said at the press briefing. Australia is leading the search in the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the US navy.

It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers an area of 600,000 sq km, roughly the size of Spain and Portugal.

The unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) had focused on two vast search corridors: one heading north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other towards the south, across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia’s Sumatra island to west of Australia.

“The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor,” a source told Reuters.

That view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane had entered their airspace and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part of the southern corridor.

Reuters said some sources involved in the investigation have voiced fears it could stall due to the reluctance of countries in the region to share sensitive radar data that might shed new light on the direction the aircraft took.

Two people familiar with the investigation said the search had been hampered in some cases by delays over the paperwork needed to allow foreign maritime surveillance aircraft into territorial waters without a formal diplomatic request.

“These are basically spy planes; that’s what they were designed for,” one source close to the investigation told Reuters, explaining the hesitance of some nations to give blanket permission for other countries to scour their waters.

Hishammuddin had confirmed that some assets that could be involved in the search were waiting for diplomatic clearance.

“The search for MH370 involves diplomatic, technical and logistical challenges,” he had said at the news briefing. – March 20, 2014.

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