Suspicion grows that pilots were involved in disappearance of Malaysian jet

The final words from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s cockpit gave no indication anything was wrong, even though one of the plane’s communications systems had already been disabled, officials said Sunday, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The final words from the missing Malaysian jetliner’s cockpit gave no indication anything was wrong, even though one of the plane’s communications systems had already been disabled, officials said Sunday, adding to suspicions that one or both of the pilots were involved in the disappearance.

Authorities also examined a flight simulator confiscated from the home of one of the pilots and dug through the background of all 239 people on board, as well as the ground crew that serviced the plane.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 took off from Kuala Lumpur in the wee hours of March 8, headed to Beijing. On Saturday, the Malaysian government announced findings that strongly suggested the plane was deliberately diverted and may have flown as far north as Central Asia or south into the vast reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Investigators have said someone on board the plane first disabled one of its communications systems — the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS — about 40 minutes after takeoff. The ACARS equipment sends information about the jet’s engines and other data to the airline.

Around 14 minutes later, the transponder that identifies the plane to commercial radar systems was also shut down. The fact that both systems went dark separately offered strong evidence that the plane’s disappearance was deliberate.

On Sunday, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference that the final, reassuring words from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — were spoken to air traffic controllers after the ACARS system was shut off. Whoever spoke did not mention any trouble on board.

Air force Maj. Gen. Affendi Buang told reporters he did not know whether it was the pilot or co-pilot who spoke to air traffic controllers.

Given the expanse of land and water that might need to be searched, finding the wreckage could take months or longer. Or it might never be located. Establishing what happened with any degree of certainty will probably require evidence from cockpit voice recordings and the plane’s flight-data recorders.

The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over, Hishammuddin said, adding that the number of countries involved in the operation had increased from 14 to 25.