Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has renewed calls for another search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 after revealing an early belief by people high in the Malaysian government that the plane’s disappearance was the result of a pilot murder-suicide.
“My understanding, my very clear understanding, from the very top levels of the Malaysian Government is that from very, very early on here they thought it was murder-suicide by the pilot,’’ Abbott. who was Prime minister at the time of the crash, told Sky News.
“I’m not going to say who said what to whom, but let me reiterate — I want to be absolutely crystal clear — it was understood at the highest levels that was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot. Mass murder-suicide by the pilot.”
The comments throw further doubt on widely criticized claims made during the release of a final report on the disappearance that Captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah was unlikely to have been responsible for the disappearance.
Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and has become one of aviation’s biggest mysteries.
The Malaysians were keen to avoid dissent from other countries involved in the investigation and in the final report said only that they could not rule out that the plane was flown by one of the pilots or by an unknown third party.
However, chief investigator Kok Soo Chon went further on the issue during a press conference.
“We have examined the pilot, the first officer. We were quite satisfied with the background, with the training, with the mental health, mental state,’’ he said. “We are not of the opinion that it could have been an event committed by the pilot.”
No-one actually knows what happened on MH370 but the theory seen as most likely, including by Australian search officials, was that Zaharie seized control of the plane.
He is thought have sent his co-pilot out of the cockpit on some pretext and then depressurized the plane to kill the passengers and crew before setting a course for the Southern Indian Ocean.
Whether he was still alive at the end of the flight is disputed but, either way, it plunged into the sea somewhere near a seventh arc defined by satellite handshakes.
The former Aussie PM stopped short of saying there had been a cover-up by the Malaysians.
“That’s not my assumption at all,’ he said. “And I’ve read all these stories that the Malaysians allegedly didn’t want the murder-suicide theory pursued because they were embarrassed about one of their pilots doing this.
“I have no reason to accept that.”
Abbott joined a growing chorus of voices calling for the search to resume later this year.
There is a push for the Malaysian Government to again engage hi-tech search firm Ocean Infinity on a “no find, no fee” basis.
Ocean Infinity conducted the second unsuccessful search for MH370 using a fleet of autonomous underwater vehicles and has said it is willing to try again.
Independent experts have since refined what little data there was from the flight to look at three scenarios and produce a best estimate of the point of impact as 34.2342°S and 93.7875°E.
The experts assign the highest priority to a scenario that assumes no pilot inputs after fuel exhaustion and look at impacts beyond the two previous search areas.
They also take into account claims by pilots and others that the ditching may have been controlled and define a lower priority search area of 166,000 sq. km.
Another theory from a vocal group of pilots who support the controlled ditching theory is that the wreckage is in a triangle south of 39°S, although other analyses suggest this is too far south.
“If it is a fact that the furthest reaches were not explored because of assumptions of a pilot who was no longer at the controls, I would say let’s ditch that assumption,’’ Abbott said.
“Let’s assume that it was murder-suicide by the pilot and if there is any part of that ocean that could have been reached on that basis that has not yet been explored let’s get out and explore it.”