KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airlines said on Tuesday it was "shocked" by allegations aired in an Australian news programme of a past cockpit security breach involving the co-pilot on its missing passenger jet.
Malaysia Airlines MH370 vanished early Saturday on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. No trace of the plane or evidence of its fate have been found.
Among those aboard were First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, who along with a fellow pilot violated airline rules in 2011 by allowing two young South African women into their cockpit during a flight, one of the women told Sydney-based Nine Network.
The report included photos of the women in the cockpit, with one appearing to show them posing with a man resembling Fariq. Passengers have been prohibited from entering the cockpit during a flight after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.
The encounter took place during the one-hour flight from the Thai beach resort of Phuket to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capital, the report said.
"Malaysia Airlines has become aware of the allegations being made against First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid which we take very seriously. We are shocked by these allegations," a statement by the airline said.
"We have not been able to confirm the validity of the pictures and videos of the alleged incident. As you are aware, we are in the midst of a crisis, and we do not want our attention to be diverted," the airline said.
Malaysia Airlines has come under intense pressure from enraged relatives of the 227 missing passengers, who are demanding answers to the plane's perplexing disappearance.
The plane also had 12 crew.
Despite a search by several nations over a wide swathe of sea in Southeast Asia using dozens of aircraft and ships, the airline and Malaysian authorities say they still have no idea what happened to the plane.
"We also urge the media and general public to respect the privacy of the families of our colleagues and passengers. It has been a difficult time for them," the airline said.
"The welfare of both the crew and passengers' families remain our focus. At the same time, the security and safety of our passengers is of the utmost importance to us."
The lack of information on the plane's fate has sparked intense speculation, with theories including a possible terror attack, mid-air explosion, structural failure, or crash into the sea.
There has been no evidence backing any of the theories.
Malaysia Airlines has said Fariq joined the airline in 2007.
Netizens' reactions on Sina.com
The majority of users on Chinese website Sina.com are, understandably, condemning the irresponsible behaviours of the pilots on that flight.
"Toying with passengers' lives" is how some users describe the reported behaviours of the pilots.
There are, however, some who question the motives of the woman exposing the incident, and wonder how the revelation will help in locating the missing plane.