Focus back on Malaysia plane pilots, stolen passports

Focus back on Malaysia plane pilots, stolen passports

KUALA LUMPUR - Confirmation that a missing Malaysian airliner was deliberately diverted suggests several scenarios that will sharpen scrutiny of the cockpit crew and passengers known to have boarded with stolen passports.

Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Saturday that satellite and radar data clearly indicated the plane's automated communications had been disabled and the plane then turned away from its intended path and flown on for hours.

"These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane," he said, adding that investigators had consequently "refocused their investigation into crew and passengers on board." Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, the International Civil Airline Organisation has mandated high security standards for plane cockpits.

Cockpit doors - reinforced to withstand bullets - must be locked from the inside before push off from the gate.

"So for me there's only a few scenarios," said Paul Yap, an aviation lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore.

"First the people involved in the deliberate actions are the pilots, one of them or both of them in cahoots.

"Then we have a scenario where terrorists make the pilots change course and switch off the transponders under duress, maybe threatening to kill passengers," Yap said.

The transponder of MH370 was switched off around the time analysts said it would have reached its cruising altitude, when pilots often emerge to take a bathroom or coffee break.

The hijackers of the four planes used in the 9/11 attacks turned off the transponders of three of the jets.

Flight crew under scrutiny

Flight MH370 was under the command of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and his First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27 - whose records and personal lives have already come under scrutiny.

An Australian television report broadcast an interview with a young South African woman who said Fariq and another pilot colleague invited them into the cockpit of a flight he co-piloted from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.

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