Canberra/Kuala Lumpur, March 29: The search for the lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 concluded Saturday with aircraft sighting objects but no solid clues found even as the neighbours of the jet’s pilot came to his defence.
“Aircraft in the search area have continued to report sightings of objects similar to those reported Friday,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said in its latest update, adding that an area of approximately 252,000 sq km was searched.
It said, while a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force Ilyushin IL-76 reported sighting three objects in the search area 1,850 km west of Perth in Australia, a Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orion also reported sighting multiple objects in a different part of the search area.
“The objects sighted by aircraft cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships,” AMSA said.
“The Haixun 01 and HMAS Success reported they have retrieved a number of objects from the ocean but so far no objects confirmed to be related to MH370 have been recovered.”
Saturday’s search operation involved eight aircraft.
These included three Royal Australian Air Force P3 Orions, a Japanese Coast Guard jet, a Japanese P3 Orion, a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force Ilyushin IL-76 and a civil jet acting as a communications relay.
The Royal Australian Navy’s HMAS Success, the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration ship Haixun 01, China Rescue and Salvage Bureau ship Nan Hai Jiu, and the Chinese Navy ship Jinggang Shan arrived in the search area Saturday and a further five ships should arrive Sunday, according to AMSA.
The ANZAC class frigate HMAS Toowoomba left Perth earlier Saturday and is due to arrive at the search area in about three days.
“The weather in the search area was described as reasonable for searching however visibility was reduced to about four km with rain showers,” the AMSA update said, adding that the search would resume Sunday morning.
Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished mysteriously about an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur shortly after midnight March 8.
The Boeing 777-200ER was scheduled to land in Beijing the same day. The 226 passengers on board included five Indians, 154 Chinese and 38 Malaysians.
The plane lost contact along with its radar signal when it was flying over the air traffic control area of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur Monday cited British investigators from its Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) as confirming that flight MH370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean”.
“Based on their new analysis, Inmarsat and the AAIB have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth,” he added.
According to a report from Kuala Lumpur, neighbours of Captain Zahari Ahmad Shah, who commanded the lost jet, have come to his defence saying he had no terror links.
After the FBI failed to find evidence so far from the personal flight simulator of Captain Shah, his neighbours said the allegations against him were only “ratings driven propaganda” by the media.
The pilot’s neighbour, Kamal Nizam Kamal Ibrahim, said that he loved aviation and was not linked to any terrorist groups, the New Strait Times reported.
“The allegations are all lies. I have known Zaharie and his family since young as our families were among the first ones to come and live here,” Ibrahim said.
“Zaharie had invited me over to his house many times to try the simulator. That simulator is just like a video game to him and he loves to share his hobby with everybody,” Ibrahim added.
Ibrahim, 29, said he was close to Ahmad Idris, 30, Captain Shah’s eldest son, but they rarely communicated since the aircraft went missing March 8.
Another unidentified neighbour also criticised the media for the way it portrayed Captain Shah.
“The reporting is unfair and the allegations are malicious and baseless. I knew him as a nice guy and he was definitely not someone capable of becoming a suicidal terrorist,” he said.
The FBI Thursday said that its technical team would in a day or two be able to retrieve the deleted data from the flight simulator found at the residence of Captain Shah.