'We may never know' why plane disappeared

'We may never know' why plane disappeared
Director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman of Malaysia's Civil Aviation Department addressing the media after a briefing with Chinese relatives of passengers on the plane in Bangi, outside Kuala Lumpur, yesterday.

KUALA LUMPUR - A three-week criminal investigation into why a Malaysia Airlines jet went missing has come up empty so far, with Malaysia's chief of police warning that the authorities may never learn what happened to the plane.

"We don't discount the possibility that the cause of the aircraft's disappearance may never be known," Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters at a police academy event yesterday.

Mr Khalid said the 227 passengers on the flight have been cleared by the probe. Crew members are still under investigation, with police having interviewed 170 people to date, including families and friends of the aircrew and passengers.

The case is being investigated under Malaysia's criminal and terrorism laws.

Mr Khalid also refuted reports that a self-assembled flight simulator belonging to the plane's pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah has been cleared of any suspicion related to the Boeing 777-200ER's disappearance on March 8.

The simulator was being investigated by police and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

"It may be cleared on one aspect but we have to look into many other areas. No, it has not been cleared," Mr Khalid said.

He also denied claims that the FBI and the Australian authorities have proposed to take over investigations.

"These are all speculations. The agencies from both countries have not written to me or made such requests. Everybody knows their jurisdiction," he said.

The protracted search for the missing jet received a boost yesterday with the arrival of a British nuclear submarine in the Indian Ocean. But senior Australian officials also warned that bad weather and a lack of reliable information were seriously impeding efforts to locate any wreckage.

With bad weather hampering the search effort yesterday, Air Chief Marshal (Ret) Angus Houston, head of the Australia-led Joint Agency Coordination Centre, raised the possibility that the plane's wreckage may never be found.

"We don't know what altitude the aircraft was travelling at. We don't really know the speed (at which) it was going," he was quoted as saying by The Sydney Morning Herald yesterday.

"Inevitably, if we don't find wreckage on the surface, we are probably eventually going to have to, in consultation with everybody who has a stake in this, review what we do next."

Yesterday, the HMS Tireless, a British Trafalgar-class nuclear attack submarine equipped for search and surveillance, arrived in the southern Indian Ocean to join the multinational search entering its 27th day.

It was accompanied by survey ship HMS Echo, said Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Twitter yesterday from Hawaii, where he was attending a conference.

Ten planes and nine ships were deployed yesterday to comb an area of about 221,000 sq km off Perth.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who reached Perth last night, is scheduled to visit Pearce Air Base today to be briefed on the search operations. He will meet his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott to discuss bilateral issues on the same day.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation and its Chinese counterpart held a closed-door meeting with the Chinese families to brief them on technical aspects of the search, in a bid to quell accusations that the authorities were hiding information.


This article was published on April 3 in The Straits Times.

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