Asia-Pacific News

Malaysia flight update: FBI assisting with investigation

The investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing has presented several twists and turns over the past week. 

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370—carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members—lost contact with air traffic controllers about an hour after taking off from the Malaysian capital early on Saturday, March 8. 

The aircraft was flying in good weather conditions and disappeared without a distress call—unusual for a modern jetliner.  

Over the weekend, Malaysian authorities provided further details of what unfolded in the hours after the flight took off. (Click here to view a minute-by-minute breakdown).

Latest revelations suggest the plane was deliberately diverted off its planned path to China, giving rise to speculation that it has been hijacked. 

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Saturday he could not confirm reports of a hijacking and maintained that all possible causes for the plane's disappearance are still being investigated.

Here is a chronology of developments:

Wednesday, March 19

FBI assisting investigation: US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the FBI will be assisting the Malaysian government with the investigation, according to the Associated Press. 

Malaysia discounts Maldives sighting: Investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board have discounted reports the plane may have been sighted over the Maldives, Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said. 

(Read moreMalaysia discounts missing plane sighting in Maldives)

Several residents of Kudahuvadhoo, one of the more remote a tolls in the Indian Ocean island chain nation, had reported seeing a low-flying aircraft on the morning of March 8, when Flight MH370 disappeared enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Files were deleted from flight simulator: The Associated Press reported that investigators are trying to restore files deleted last month from the home flight simulator of the pilot aboard the missing Malaysian plane to see if they shed any light on the disappearance, Malaysia's defense minister said Wednesday. Files containing records of the simulations carried out on the program were deleted on Feb. 3, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu told the news conference.

First insurance payments made for missing plane: German insurance company Allianz said it has made initial payments in connection with the missing Malaysian Airlines plane, according to The Associated Press. Allianz's global head of communication Hugo Kidston confirmed Wednesday that the Munich-based insurer and "other co-reinsurers of Malaysia Airlines aviation hull and liability policy have made initial payments."

Jet said to be most likely in southern Indian Ocean: Investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board believe it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean, a source close to the investigation told Reuters.

"The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Missing jet's U-turn programmed before signoff: The missing Malaysia Airlines jet's abrupt U-turn was programmed into the on-board computer well before the co-pilot calmly signed off with air traffic controllers, sources told NBC News.The change in direction was made at least 12 minutes before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid said "All right, good night," to controllers on the ground, the sources said. 

The revelation further indicates that the aircraft's mysterious turnaround was planned and executed in the cockpit before controllers lost contact with Flight 370, but it doesn't necessarily indicate an ulterior motive. 

Tuesday, March 18

China finds no terror link to its nationals: The Associated Press reported that checks into the background of the Chinese citizens on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner have uncovered no links to terrorism, the Chinese ambassador in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday.

The remarks will dampen speculation that Uighur Muslim separatists in far-western Xinjiang province might have been involved with the disappearance of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew early on March 8.

Thai radar may have spotted missing plane: A spokesman for Thailand's air force said it may have detected Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with radar minutes after the missing jetliner's communications went down, The Associated Press reported.

The radar tracked a plane that was flying toward to the Strait of Malacca, which is where Malaysian radar also tracked Flight 370 early March 8. The spokesman said the air force didn't share the information earlier because it wasn't specifically asked for it. 

Change in flight path entered via cockpit computer: New information suggests the change in the flight's direction was plugged into a computer in the cockpit by someone familiar with airplane computer systems. The fact that the turn was programmed into the computer in the cockpit raised more questions about the possible involvement of one of the flight crew.

Monday, March 17

New phase of search underway: Search and rescue missions in the northern and southern corridors begin. Australia and Indonesia lead search in their own regions. A total of 26 countries are involved in the search.

Sunday, March 16

Search party expanded: The number of countries involved in the ongoing search for flight MH370 has expanded to 25 from 14, the Malaysian Transport Minister said at a press conference on Sunday, noting the search has entered a new phase and become more difficult.

Additional countries involved in the search effort include Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Corridors remain in focus: The search area remains focused on the northern and southern corridors identified earlier this weekend. Officials are currently discussing with all partners how best to deploy assets along the two corridors, both of which are being treated with equal importance.

Further investigating crew and passengers: All crew members and passengers on board flight MH370, as well as engineers who may have had contact with the aircraft prior to take off are being investigated, the Malaysian police chief said. He noted that hijacking, sabotage, personal and psychological problems remain the four areas of focus on this front.

According to the authorities, police searched the homes of both the pilot and co-pilot on Saturday, March 15. Experts are examining the flight simulator found in the pilot's house, they said.

Authorities also confirmed that the pilot and co-pilot did not request to fly together.

Saturday, March 15

"Deliberate" action taken on board: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak reveals at a press conference that actions taken on board Flight MH370 were deliberate – including the disabling of the aircraft's communications system shortly before the plane reached the east coast of Malaysia as well as the flight's divergence from its planned route.

Turn back confirmed: Razak confirms that the plane turned back from its planned flight path over the over the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, flying in a westerly direction back over the Malaysian Peninsula before turning northwest.

Last signal: The last confirmed signal between the plane and a satellite came at 8:11 a.m. Malaysian time — about 7 1/2 hours after takeoff. 

New focus for search: Analysis of the plane's last communication with satellites places the aircraft in one of two "corridors" – a northern one from northern Thailand through to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean, Razak said. Search efforts in the South China Sea are scheduled to end. 


Friday, March 14

A new Indian Ocean search area possible: The White House said late Thursday that the latest expansion of the search area may be in the Indian Ocean. Several "pings" from the aircraft were picked up by satellites for up to four hours after going off radar, according to a NBC News report citing sources. The pings would indicate the plane was able to communicate. But the data would be unlikely to include exact location or direction.

The U.S. destroyer, USS Kidd, was headed into the Strait of Malacca from areas around the Gulf of Thailand, at the request of the Malaysian government, as part of the expanded search area.

Thursday, March 13

Malaysia denies Wall Street Journal report: Malaysian Transport Minister Seri Hishammuddin dismissed claims that the missing aircraft may have flown for about four hours past the time it disappeared off tracking systems. The Wall Street Journal had reported that the plane could have flown on for an additional distance of about 2,200 miles (3,500 km). Hishammuddin said their search efforts have always been focused on the South China Sea.

No link in satellite images: China's civil aviation chief said there was no proof that floating objects in the South China Sea captured in satellite images on Sunday were connected to the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. Chinese authorities also said that the satellite images had been mistakenly issued.

Wednesday, March 12

Search efforts intensify: The area of search for the missing aircraft expands to 27,000 nautical square miles covering the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, with a total of 12 countries participating in the operation. There are a total of 42 ships and 39 aircraft currently involved in the multi-national search.

Search scale-back in Vietnamese area: Vietnam says it is scaling back its search in Vietnamese waters for the missing plane, Reuters reported.

Sighting of objects in South China Sea: A Chinese government agency releases satellite images of what could be debris from Flight MH370 were released by a Chinese government agency.

Tuesday, March 11

Clarity on stolen passports: Interpol identifies two Iranian men as the passengers traveling on stolen passports: Pouria Nourmohammadi, 18, and Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, 29. The two men swapped their passports in Kuala Lumpur, using stolen Italian and Austrian passports to board the airline.

Interpol says it does not believe the disappearance of the jetliner is a result of a terrorist attack. Nourmohammadi is believed to have been traveling to Europe as an asylum seeker, according to the Malaysian police.

However, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director John Brennan says intelligence officials cannot rule out terrorism as a factor.

'Turned back' possibility probed: Malaysia's military look further into the possibility that the airplane turned back after flying over Kota Bharu on Malaysia's northeast coast, an official from the Malaysia's Transport Ministry told NBC News.

Police investigation: The Malaysian police say their investigation will look into four key areas: hijacking, sabotage, psychological and personal problems among crew and passengers.

Allegations against first officer: Photos and videos emerge of a Malaysia Airlines co-pilot identified as first officer Fariq Ab Hamid entertaining woman inside the cockpit during a previous flight. The airline says it is "shocked" by the allegations and has not been able to confirm validity of the claims.

Monday, March 10

Oil slick results: Malaysian authorities receive test results from the oil slick spotted off Vietnam's coast, which came back negative for jet fuel. The oil turns out to be fuel oil typically used in cargo ships.

Search area widened: Malaysia's civil aviation announces that the search area will double to 100 nautical miles to cover a larger area of the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam. This came after several leads from the original 50 mile-radius search parameter proved erroneous.

Shares tumble: Shares of Malaysia Airlines plummeted 18 percent to a record low in intraday trade but pared losses by the end of session to finish down 4 percent. 

Sunday, March 9

'Turn back' claims: Radar tracking the flight suggests it may have "turned back" from its scheduled route to Beijing before vanishing.

Search area widened:  Search radius widens to 50 nautical miles from 20 nautical miles of the last-known position of the plane, including the Strait of Malacca. More countries join the search and rescue operation including China, U.S., Singapore and the Philippines.

Stolen passports: Interpol confirms two passengers had used stolen passports and said it was checking whether others aboard had used false identity documents.

Saturday, March 8

Flight takes off: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 departs at 12:41 a.m.local time on Saturday, and is due to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. on the same day. The flight was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members. The passengers are of at least 12 different nationalities; all crew on-board are Malaysians.

Mysterious disappearance: The flight loses contact with air traffic controllers about an hour after taking off. The last-known position of the plane was 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said. The aircraft was flying in good weather conditions and disappeared without warning or a distress signal. 

Search efforts begin: Malaysia and Vietnam mount a joint search and rescue mission for the missing flight. 

—By with wires