x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

UAE Armed Forces join search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370

The UAE Armed Forces sends two search and rescue aircraft to cover a search zone stretching over the Indian Ocean and south and central Asia.

Filipino artists from the Guhit Visual Arts Group paint the image of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Benigno Ninoy Aquino High School grounds in Makati City, south of Manila, Philippines, on March 17 to express hope and solidarity for the passengers and crew of the missing jet. Amiel Meneses / EPA
Filipino artists from the Guhit Visual Arts Group paint the image of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Benigno Ninoy Aquino High School grounds in Makati City, south of Manila, Philippines, on March 17 to express hope and solidarity for the passengers and crew of the missing jet. Amiel Meneses / EPA

KUALA LUMPUR // The UAE Armed Forces has joined the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines jet, a source at the General Headquarters of the Armed Forces told Wam, the state news agency.

The source added that the military is using two Search & Rescue aircraft in the search operations, which cover a zone stretching south over the Indian Ocean to Australia and north over an area extending to the south and central Asia.

No trace of Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard. Investigators are increasingly convinced it was diverted perhaps thousands of kilometres off course by someone with deep knowledge of the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial navigation.

A search unprecedented in its scale is now under way for the plane, covering an area stretching from the shores of the Caspian Sea in the north to deep in the southern Indian Ocean and involving more than 25 countries including the Emirates and Oman.

Malaysia’s ambassador to Oman, Dato Rustam Yahaya, confirmed that the UAE has agreed to help Malaysia locate the missing plane.

“They have joined the special forces currently investigating the matter,” he told the Times of Oman.

“We are looking everywhere for the flight. Right now, we are at a stage where there are too many questions but very few answers,” the ambassador said.

The General Civil Aviation Authority in the UAE is waiting for reports to see if there were security breaches at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where the missing plane took off, the director general of GCAA Saif Al Suwaidi told Al Ittihad newspaper, The National’s sister newspaper. If reports confirm that security was compromised, all flights coming in from Malaysian airports will be subject to new stricter measures, Mr Al Suwaidi said.

Meanwhile, the co-pilot of the missing jetliner spoke the last words heard from the cockpit, the carrier’s chief executive said yesterday, as investigators consider suicide by the captain or first officer as one possible explanation for the disappearance.

Airline chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also said it was unclear exactly when one of the plane’s automatic tracking systems had been disabled, appearing to contradict the weekend comments of government ministers.

Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage had hardened further when officials said on Sunday that the last radio message from the plane — an informal “all right, good night” — was spoken after the system, known as “ACARS”, was shut down.

“Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically spoke the last time it was recorded on tape,” Mr Ahmad Jauhari said.

That was a sign-off to air-traffic controllers at 1.19am as the Beijing-bound plane left Malaysian airspace.

The last transmission from the ACARS system — a maintenance computer that relays data on the plane’s status — had been received at 1.07am, as the plane crossed Malaysia’s north-east coast and headed out over the Gulf of Thailand.

“We don’t know when the ACARS was switched off after that,” Mr Ahmad Jauhari said. “It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from there, but that transmission did not come through.”

Police and a multinational investigation team may never know for sure what happened in the cockpit unless they find the plane, and that in itself is a huge challenge. Satellite data suggests it could be anywhere in either of two corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north from Laos to the Caspian, the other south from west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra into the Indian Ocean west of Australia.

Aviation officials in Pakistan, India, and Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan — as well as Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan — said they knew nothing about the whereabouts of the plane.

China, which has been vocal in its impatience with Malaysian efforts to find the plane, called on Kuala Lumpur to “immediately” expand and clarify the scope of the search. About two-thirds of the passengers aboard MH370 were Chinese.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak, and had offered more surveillance resources in addition to the two P-3C Orion aircraft his country has already committed.

The Malaysian acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said a request had been sent to all countries along the northern and southern search corridors, for radar and satellite information as well as land, sea and air search operations.

Asked if pilot or co-pilot suicide was a line of inquiry, Mr Hishammuddin said: “We are looking at it.” But he added it was only one of the possibilities under investigation.

Police special branch officers searched the homes of the captain, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, in middle-class suburbs of Kuala Lumpur close to the international airport on Saturday.

* Reuters and WAM