Thursday, May 24, 2018

Malaysia asks FBI for help in plane case

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Australia's prime minister said today that two objects possibly related to the missing Malaysia Airlines flight have been spotted on satellite imagery in the Indian Ocean and an air force aircraft was diverted to the area to try to locate them.

The Orion aircraft was expected to arrive in the area this afternoon, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament in Canberra. Three additional aircraft are expected to follow for a more intensive search, he said.

But Abbott cautioned that the task of locating the objects will be extremely difficult and "it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370."

The new area the search is focusing on is 12 hours ahead of Eastern daylight saving time.

Abbott did not say where the objects were. Military planes from Australia, the United States and New Zealand were covering a search region over the southern Indian Ocean that was narrowed down on Wednesday from 232,000 square miles to 117,000 square miles.

The hunt for the Boeing 777 has been punctuated by several false leads since it disappeared March 8 above the Gulf of Thailand.

Oil slicks that were spotted did not contain jet fuel. A yellow object thought to be from the plane turned out to be a piece of sea trash. Chinese satellite images showed possible plane debris, but nothing was found. But this is the first time that possible objects have been spotted since the search area was massively expanded into two corridors, one stretching from northern Thailand into Central Asia and the other from the Strait of Malacca down to southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Abbott said he spoke to the prime minister of Malaysia, Najib Razak, about the latest developments.

Nearly two weeks after the plane disappeared, the FBI has joined forces with Malaysian authorities in analyzing deleted data on a flight simulator belonging to the pilot of the missing jet.

Files containing records of flight simulations were deleted Feb. 3 from the device found in the home of the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.

It was not clear whether investigators thought that deleting the files was unusual. They might hold hints of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went, or the files could have been deleted simply to clear memory for other material.

Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference Wednesday that Zaharie is considered innocent until proven guilty. He said members of the pilot's family are cooperating in the investigation.

The 12 days since the plane, operating as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, disappeared from air controllers' screens have been troubled by confusion that has compounded the anguish of family members waiting for news.

The frustrations felt by family members and friends of the missing Chinese passengers erupted before a briefing by Malaysian officials Wednesday in a hotel conference room in Sepang. As reporters waited for the news conference to start, several protesters who said they represented families of the passengers unfurled a banner that read: "We oppose the Malaysian government concealing the truth. Delaying time for saving lives."

"All our feelings are the same: We demand to know the truth," said Xu Dengwang, one of the protesters. "It's not about compensation; it's about the truth."

After a scuffle, the police eventually pulled down the banner and forced the protesters out of the room.

Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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