Tags: malaysia | jet | pilot | hijack

Missing Plane's Tracking Device Disabled Before 'All Right' Radio Call

Image: Missing Plane's Tracking Device Disabled Before 'All Right' Radio Call Indonesian national search and rescue agency personnel watch over high seas during a search operation for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the Andaman Sea on March 15.

Sunday, 16 Mar 2014 06:29 PM

By Newsmax Wires

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The final words heard transmitted from the flight deck of the missing Malaysian Airlines jetliner — "All right, good night" — were uttered after the plane's signaling equipment was shut off, a senior Malaysian official said Sunday.

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"Yes, it was disabled before," said Hishammuddin Hussein of the tracking system in response to a question about the crew's final, seemingly normal, radio transmission, The New York Times reports.

The revelation came as investigators continued to trawl through the backgrounds of the pilots, crew and ground staff who worked on a missing jetliner for clues as to why someone on board flew it perhaps thousands of miles off course, the country's police chief said.

Meanwhile, the British Sunday Telegraph reported that Saajid Muhammad Badat, a British-born al-Qaida informant, told authorities in court last week that he was aware of a long-standing plot by a group of Malaysians — one of whom reportedly was a pilot — to hijack an airliner.

Badat said he once supplied the cell with a shoe bomb and that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now being held in Guantánamo, was the plot's original organizer.

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Security experts told the Telegraph that the evidence was “credible”. Badat, who is in hiding, said that he had met the Malaysian jihadists – one of whom was a pilot – in Afghanistan and given them a shoe bomb to use to take control of an aircraft.

“These spectaculars take a long time in the planning,” one British expert told the paper.

Testifying at the trial in New York of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law, Badat said: “I gave one of my shoes to the Malaysians. I think it was to access the cockpit.”

Badat told the court that the Malaysian plot was being masterminded by Mohammed, the principal architect of 9/11. Mohammed kept a list of the world’s tallest buildings and crossed out New York’s Twin Towers after the September 11, 2001 attacks with hijacked airliners as “a joke to make us laugh," Badat said.

The Mail of Britain also reported Sunday that the pilot of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 was a "strident" supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Hours before the plane took off, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah reportedly attended a session of Ibrahim's long-running court proceedings. His colleagues said the captain was preoccupied with Ibrahim's trial. Reuters reported that postings on his Facebook page also seem to confirm this.

Ibrahim is a former deputy premier of Malaysia. He broke with the ruling Barisan Nasional Party and founded an anti-corruption reformist Islamic movement. He has been involved in lengthy proceedings following his imprisonment for alleged corruption and homosexual activity. Ibrahim is currently out on bail and the leader of the Malaysian parliamentary opposition. He is planning to run for re-election in his constituency on March 23.

Additionally, reports also emerged of the presence of an aviation engineer among the passengers, the Times reported.

But background checks of passengers have so far drawn a blank, though not every country whose nationals were on board has responded to requests for information, police chief Khalid Abu Bakar told a news conference on Sunday.

No trace of the Boeing 777-200ER has been found since it vanished on March 8 with 239 people on board, but investigators believe it was diverted by someone who knew how to switch off its communications and tracking systems.

Malaysia has appealed for international help in the search for the plane across two corridors stretching from the shores of Caspian Sea to the far south of the Indian Ocean.

"The search area has been significantly expanded," said Hussein, who also is the acting transportation minister. "From focusing mainly on shallow seas, we are now looking at large tracts of land, crossing 11 countries, as well as deep and remote oceans."

The disappearance of the aircraft has baffled investigators, aviation experts and internet sleuths since it vanished from civilian air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

Malaysian authorities believe that as the plane crossed the country's northeast coast and flew across the Gulf of Thailand, someone on board shut off its communications systems and turned sharply to the west.

Electronic signals it continued to exchange periodically with satellites suggest it could have continued flying for nearly seven hours after flying out of range of Malaysian military radar off the country's northwest coast, heading towards India.

The plane had enough fuel to fly for about seven-and-a-half to eight hours, Malaysian Airlines' Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said.

On Saturday, police special branch officers searched the homes of the captain and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, in middle-class suburbs of Kuala Lumpur close to the international airport.

An experienced pilot, Zaharie has been described by other current and former co-workers as a flying enthusiast who spent his off days operating a life-sized flight simulator he had set up at home.

Police chief Khalid said investigators had taken the flight simulator for examination by experts.

Earlier, a senior police official said the flight simulator programs were looked at closely, adding they appeared to be normal ones that allowed players to practice flying and landing in different conditions.

Police sources said they were looking at the personal, political and religious backgrounds of both pilots and the other crew members. Khalid said ground support staff who might have worked on the plane were also being investigated.

A day before the plane vanished, opposition leader Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to five years in prison, in a ruling his supporters and international human rights groups say was politically influenced.

Asked if Zaharie's background as an opposition supporter was being examined, the first senior police officer would say only: "We need to cover all our bases."

Malaysia Airlines has said it did not believe Zaharie would have sabotaged the plane, and many of his colleagues were incredulous.

"Please, let them find the aircraft first. Zaharie is not suicidal, not a political fanatic as some foreign media are saying," a Malaysia Airlines pilot who is close to Zaharie told Reuters. "Is it wrong for anyone to have an opinion about politics?"

Co-pilot Fariq was religious and serious about his career, family and friends said.

The two pilots had not made any request to fly together.

With no clear motive established as to why someone diverted the plane, Khalid said all possibilities — hijack, sabotage, or personal or psychological problems of someone on board — were being investigated.

Transport Minister Hishammuddin said authorities had not received any ransom or other demand. "That makes if very difficult for us to verify whether its a hijacking or terrorist," he said.

Southeast Asia's homegrown Islamist militant groups, such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which carried out the Bali bombings in 2002, have been quiet in recent years after security forces either arrested or shot dead numerous members.

Experts said they doubted the remaining militants had the skills or capabilities to carry out a complex hijacking.

"JI has not been involved with violence in the region since 2007," said Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

"The other groups that are active in Indonesia, in trying to make terrorist plots, are all not very competent. I would be extremely surprised if any group from Indonesia, the Philippines or Malaysia itself would be directly involved."

Analysis of satellite data showed the last signal from the missing plane was at 8:11 a.m., almost seven hours after it turned back over the Gulf of Thailand and re-crossed the Malay peninsula.

It's location was not pinpointed - experts could only determine that the plane could have been anywhere in either of two arcs: one stretching from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or a southern arc heading from Indonesia to the vast southern Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin said Malaysia had requested further satellite data from several countries, including the United States, China and France, to help with the search.

A source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it was thought most likely the plane had headed south into the Indian Ocean, where it would presumably have run out of fuel and crashed. Air space to the north is much busier, and the plane would likely have been detected.

Countries contacted by Malaysia to assist in the search range from the former Soviet central Asian republics in the north to Australia in the south, along with France, which administers a scattering of islands deep in the southern Indian Ocean uninhabited except for a handful of researchers.

The Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places in the world and also one of the deepest, posing enormous challenges for efforts to find any wreckage or the flight voice and data recorders that would be key to solving the puzzle.

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The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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