Malaysian authorities say the search for Flight 370 has entered “a new phase” as a total of 25 nations have now been called on to help in the case that has baffled the world of aviation.
It comes after a weekend when the politics and religious views of the pilot and co-pilot came under scrutiny, albeit Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the two men had not sought to fly together.
Mr Hussein also confirmed the plan had been recently inspected and was “fit to fly”, while the airline’s chief executive confirmed there was no hazardous material among the cargo.
Malaysian officials have now sought help from countries including Australia, Bangladesh, China, France, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
Over the weekend Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the aircraft could be anywhere between the Indian Ocean and the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan and its westward movement was consistent with deliberate action.
International agencies said police were examining the family life and psychological condition of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.
On Saturday, police searched the Kuala Lumpur homes of Mr Zaharie and Mr Fariq.
Prime Minister Najib said investigators believed “with a high degree of certainty” that Malaysia Airlines flight 370′s communications systems were manually turned off, and the plane veered west in a fashion “consistent with deliberate action” after dropping off primary radar.
But he was unable to confirm suspicions the plane had been forcibly taken over.
“Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path,” the Prime Minister said.
There were reports pilot pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had developed strong political views, with a conservative British publication labelling him a “political fanatic”.
Some publications even noted that Mr Shah was a strong supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who is facing charges of sodomy, allegations widely believed to be trumped up by the government.
However fellow pilot Peter Chong spoke up for his missing comrade with the ABC quoting him as says it was inconceivable Captain Zaharie could have gone rogue.
“His character, his personality just doesn’t point to that kind of direction,” he said.
“So honestly I’m in a very confused state at this point in time. If you were to fly on a plane and you were given a choice to choose a pilot, Captain Zaharie would be my first choice.”
Just where is it?
Prime Minister Najib said new data indicated the last communication was in one of two possible corridors — a northern one stretching between the border of Asian countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan reaching northern Thailand, or a southern corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian ocean.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority told News Corp it had no reliable information to suggest MH370 may have approached Australia.
The Boeing 777 vanished over waters between Malaysia and southern Vietnam. The night was clear and no distress signal was received.
Even with attention now firmly on the Indian Ocean, the search parameters pose enormous logistical challenges.
The vast Indian Ocean has an average depth of nearly 3,900 metres and any debris would have been widely dispersed by currents after a week.
“Wind and sea conditions are definitely going to play a very big part if there is wreckage, and if it happens to be in the Indian Ocean. It is an immense area,” said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor for aviation industry magazine FlightGlobal.
The plane has one of the best safety records of any jet, and the airline also has a solid record.
There has been further criticism of the search and rescue effort, emanating from China and Singapore.
China’s state-run newsagency Xinhua criticised Malaysia for taking too long to release key information, details which could have helped in the search effort.
“And due to the absence – or at least the lack of – timely authoritative information, massive efforts have been squandered and numerous rumours have been spawned.”
Aviation expert at Singapore Management University, Terence Fan, said Malaysia had taken too long to corroborate their own radar images that the aircraft could have turned west.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Tony Abbott confirmed two RAAF aircraft helping search for the missing airliner would shift their focus to the Indian Ocean.
Mr Abbott says Australia is also prepared to provide any more assistance the Malaysian government might seek.
But he says reports that the aircraft may have been hijacked did not justify any change to security measures in Australia.
Mr Abbott said he spoke to Mr Razak last week and offered two RAAF AP-3C Orion maritime surveillance aircraft to assist in the search.
With AAP and ABC