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Pakistan dismisses reports of Malaysian jet in its territory

Updated March 15, 2014
Azeem said the plane disappeared far away from Pakistan air space and was not visible on its radars, “so how it could be hidden somewhere in Pakistan.” – File Photo by AFP
Azeem said the plane disappeared far away from Pakistan air space and was not visible on its radars, “so how it could be hidden somewhere in Pakistan.” – File Photo by AFP

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's top aviation official on Saturday dismissed Western media reports that missing Malaysian airliner might be hidden somewhere in the country.

“It’s wrong, plane never came towards Pakistan,” Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Aviation Shujaat Azeem told Dawn.com.

His attention was drawn on the reports which said the disappeared plane could have potentially reached as far as Pakistan. “Pakistan's civil aviation radars never spotted this jet,” he said.

Azeem said the plane disappeared far away from Pakistani air space and was not visible on its radars, “so how it could be hidden somewhere in Pakistan.”

However, he said that his division was on alert and following all developments related to the incident.

“At present there are 95 ships of various countries are in the Indian Ocean on search mission,” said Azeem. “No one among those who are on search mission has contacted us to seek information on this tragedy.”

The advisor said that civil aviation would provide full cooperation when sought from Pakistan. He said Pakistan’s national carrier has sent a message to Malaysian airline expressing sympathies with the relatives of those who have gone missing on this unfortunate flight.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak earlier today said communications aboard the missing jet were switched off and its course deliberately changed by someone on board before the aircraft disappeared a week ago, but stopped short of saying it had been hijacked.

Previous scenarios included a sudden mid-air explosion, catastrophic equipment or structural failure, or a crash into the South China Sea. But Najib's announcement opened a whole new avenue of speculation including an attempted 9/11-style attack.

The 9/11 hijackers had turned off the transponders of three of the four planes that were commandeered. Transponders transmit data on a plane's location to air traffic controllers.

MH370's transponder was manually shut off, Najib said.

Final satellite communication with the Boeing 777, scheduled to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, came more than six-and-a-half hours after it vanished from civilian radar at 1:30am on March 8, said Najib.

That would equate with the time Malaysia Airlines has said the plane would have run out of fuel.

Investigators had concluded the plane was diverted west from its original flight path, and thus a search in the South China Sea would end, Najib said, but would continue in the Indian Ocean.

But the new search zone is now dauntingly large – Najib said the plane could be anywhere from Kazakhstan to the southern Indian Ocean.

Earlier, a senior Malaysian military official had told AFP investigators believed the plane was commandeered by a “skilled, competent and current pilot” who knew how to avoid radar, stopping short of speculating whether a hijacker or crew member was suspected.


'Something beyond 9/11'


Dozens of ships and aircraft from 14 countries have been deployed across a huge search zone since MH370 went missing.

As the search continues, investigators will focus on who would have diverted it and why.

Malaysian security officials were earlier embarrassed by revelations that two Iranian men had managed to board the plane using stolen European passports.

It could also bring new attention on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and his First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.

Malaysian reporters told AFP they witnessed police enter Zaharie's house on Saturday, staying for two hours. Police declined comment to AFP.

An Australian television station had days earlier broadcast an interview with a South African woman who alleged she and a friend were invited into the cockpit of a flight Fariq co-piloted in 2011 – a breach of post-9/11 security rules.

The New York Times quoted American officials with knowledge of the investigation saying the plane saw wild fluctuations in altitude after it changed course.

“Investigations should focus on criminal and terrorist motives,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

“It is likely that the aircraft was hijacked by a team knowledgeable about airport and aircraft security. It is likely they are supported by a competent team from the ground.”

But Gerry Soejatman, a Jakarta-based independent aviation analyst, told AFP Saturday's revelations make a possible terror motive “extremely difficult to understand.”

“If that was deliberate, we may be dealing with something beyond the mission planning for 9/11,” he said.


'A conspiracy from the beginning'


Most of the plane's passengers were Chinese and the Malaysian leader's remarks did little to ease the nerves of anguished relatives gathered at a hotel in Beijing.

“I feel (Malaysia Airlines) has been playing a role in the incident,” said Wen Wancheng, whose son was aboard, suspecting “a conspiracy.” He remained hopeful his son was alive.

The airline defended its handling of the crisis, which it called “an unprecedented situation for Malaysia Airlines and for the entire aviation industry.”