KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia â€” The pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is believed to be solely responsible for the flight being taken hundreds of miles off course and there is no evidence of a mechanical failure or hijacking by a passenger, according to an law enforcement official involved in the investigation.
A high-ranking officer attached to a special investigative branch of the Malaysia police force in Kuala Lumpur told USA TODAY on Wednesday that investigators are pressing relatives of the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, for information on his behavior leading up to the March 8 flight.
The official could not speak on the record because he is not authorized to talk publicly on the investigation.
The Boeing 777 was bound for Beijing when it vanished from civilian radar. Malaysia says satellite data indicate the plane veered west about an hour after takeoff and then flew south deep into the southern Indian Ocean.
The lack of places to land there and the amount of fuel needed to get there indicate the flight must have ended there and that there is no realistic hope the 239 people on board survived, according to Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
A French satellite scanning the Indian Ocean for remnants of a missing jetliner found a possible plane debris field containing 122 objects, he said, calling it “the most credible lead that we have.”
The search resumed Wednesday after fierce winds and high waves forced crews to take a break Tuesday. A total of 12 planes and five ships from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand were participating in the search.
The investigator, who has been on the case since the beginning, told USA TODAY police believe the pilot “deliberately” redirected the plane. He said of those on board the flight, only the captain possessed the experience and expertise to fly the plane.
The official said investigators have found no connection between Zaharie, 53, and any militant groups, and the 27-year-old co-pilot on the flight did not have the experience to manage such a diversion, they believe.
Zaharie was a firm supporter of the opposition party to the current ruling regime and his flight left the day that the party’s leader, Anwar Ibrahim, was sentenced to five years in prison on sex crimes his supporters say are fraudulent. Zaharie was in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.
The official said there was nothing amiss in Zaharie’s finances to suggest he did something drastic for money. And he refuted reports in British media that Zaharie received a phone call moments before the flight was to depart from a woman who used a false name to obtain a cellphone SIM card to make the call.
He said as far as investigators knew, he did not receive a phone call to his cellphone at that time.