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MH370: Australia's former PM says Malaysia believed pilot downed jet in murder-suicide

Malaysian authorities thought "from very, very early on" that the MH370 jet that vanished in 2014 was crashed intentionally by its pilot, Australia's former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has claimed.

Australia's former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has claimed that Malaysian authorities believe the MH370 flight, which went missing with 239 people on board, was downed by the pilot in a murder-suicide plot. 

The Beijing bound Malaysia Airlines jet went missing on March 8, 2014, after taking off from Kuala Lumpur.

"My understanding from the very top level of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on here they thought it was a murder-suicide by the pilot," Abbott, Australia's prime minister at the time, said in a show that will air in full later on Wednesday.

Australia played a large role in the 12,000 square kilometer (4,630 square mile) search in the Indian Ocean, the largest in aviation history, which came up empty.

Read more: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 — 'Families won't give up'

"I'm not going to say who said to whom but let me reiterate — I want to be absolutely crystal clear — it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot," Abbott said in an excerpt from the Sky News documentary released ahead of broadcast.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott (L) and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (R) speak to members of the media after a bilateral meeting at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Perth, Western Australia, Australia. File photo from April 3, 2014. (picture-alliance/dpa)

Australia and Malaysia played leading roles in the search efforts

Cause of disappearance unknown

A two-year international effort led by Malaysia, China and Australia to carry out a roughly $130 million (€120 million) underwater search in the Indian Ocean which ended in January 2017. A US exploration firm Ocean Infinity launched a private hunt the following year but that too ended after several months of scouring the seabed without success.

The MH370 disappearance since fueled widespread public speculation and is one of the greatest aviation mysteries. The theory that the veteran pilot, a man named Zaharie Ahmad Shah, suspected to be mentally troubled, went rogue and downed the plane has been strongly rejected by his family and friends.

One such incident is widely believed to have taken place in recent years in Europe, involving Germanwings Flight 9525 and its pilot Andreas Lubitz. However, his father also disputed the conclusion.

Read more: Malaysia's civil aviation chief resigns over MH370 failures

A 2018 report by Malaysian authorities concluded that the investigating team was "unable to determine the real cause for the disappearance of MH370." The report, however, suggested a lapse by air traffic control and said the course of the plane was changed manually.

A DW map and graphic showing the route the plane is known to have taken prior to authorities losing track of it, among other information.

A new search?

Earlier this month, Malaysia said it was yet to decide on whether to launch a new search for MH370, following a report suggesting fresh efforts to find the vanished plane may begin. The country’s transport ministry, in a statement, said that it had not received any new evidence warranting the initiation of a new search.

"However, the ministry will review any new evidence that it officially receives," it said in a statement. 

  • Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777
    The mystery of Flight MH370 Takeoff

    On March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 bound for Beijing takes off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport at 12:41 a.m., with 239 people on board. However, 26 minutes after departure, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which transmits key information on the plane's mechanical condition, is switched off.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Last words

    As the Boeing 777 passes from Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control a few minutes later, someone in the plane's cockpit says "Good night Malaysian three seven zero." The airline believes it is co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid speaking. The aircraft is flying in good weather conditions.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Off the radar

    The plane drops off civilian air traffic control screens as its transponder, which relays information on the plane's location and altitude, is shut down at around 1:31 a.m. As military radar plot the passenger jet at 2:15 a.m., it is located at a point south of the island of Phuket in the Strait of Malacca, hundreds of miles off course.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Seven hours later

    The aircraft's last communication with satellites seven hours later place it somewhere in one of two corridors: a northern corridor stretching from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or a southern one stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean. The last signal is received at 8:11 a.m., suggesting that the plane may have flown on for hours.

  • flugzeugabsturz malaysia vietnam china MH370 airlines
    The mystery of Flight MH370 The search begins

    Shortly after the disappearance, Malaysia and Vietnam mount a joint search and rescue mission. The search area is quickly expanded to 100 nautical miles to cover part of the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam. It also emerges that two passengers had been using stolen EU passports, fueling fears of a terrorist attack. Police later find that the men were illegal Iranian immigrants.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 A sea of debris?

    By March 12, the search area for the aircraft encompasses both sides of peninsular Malaysia, over an area of nearly 27,000 square nautical miles (more than 90,000 square kilometers), with a total of 12 countries participating in the operation. A Chinese satellite discovers three large objects floating in the South China Sea that could be debris belonging to the missing airliner.

  • PM Najib Razak (R) next to Hishammuddin Hussein
    The mystery of Flight MH370 'Deliberate action'

    Two days later, Malaysian PM Najib Razak (seen here right) confirms the plane turned back from its planned flight path and adds the movements "are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane." Authorities launch a criminal investigation, refocusing on the crew and the identity and background of the passengers on board. The homes of both the captain and the co-pilot are searched.

  • USS Kidd und USS Pinckney im Pazifik
    The mystery of Flight MH370 Search enters new phase

    Eleven days after the incident, the number of countries involved in the search for the plane increases from 14 to 26, with investigators focusing on the two large corridors the plane may have flown. The search area now covers 2.24 million square nautical miles. French investigators join in to lend expertise from the Air France jet that crashed in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Looking for a motive

    Officials reveal a new timeline suggesting the plane's final voice transmission may have occurred before the communications systems were disabled. Authorities are looking into hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide as potential reasons for the disappearance, but background checks of people aboard have yet to point to anyone with a known political or criminal motive to crash or hijack the plane.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Painful wait

    Conflicting theories emerge seeking to explain the incident. But without any identified wreckage, it is hard to establish facts. This prolongs the painful wait for the relatives and friends of those who have gone missing. There were people from 14 different countries on board, with the majority of passengers hailing from China (153) and Malaysia (38).

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 A breakthrough?

    On March 24, Malaysian PM Najib Razak announces that new satellite data suggests Flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean with all 239 people aboard presumed dead. The statement unleashes a storm of sorrow and anger among the relatives of the missing. Angry family members - who have complained about a lack of reliable information - demonstrate in front of the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 Frustration

    But anticipation repeatedly turns into frustration as objects spotted from planes turn out to be garbage. It's a time-wasting distraction for air and sea crews searching for debris. Sometimes the object traced in the water is a snarled fishing line, a buoy or something that might once have been the lid to an ice box.

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    The mystery of Flight MH370 An unsolved mystery

    On April 3, nearly a month after the flight's disappearance, authorities remain baffled as to how and why it happened. Malaysian Police Chief Khalid Abu Bakar warns that unless the black box is found, the mystery may never be solved. Premier Najib Razak (R) says the search won't stop until answers are found, as his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott calls it "the most difficult in human history."

  • Suche nach MH370
    The mystery of Flight MH370 Pings detected

    On April 5, a Chinese vessel reports hearing a "pulse signal" in the Indian Ocean. Two days later, an Australian ship detects two distinct, long-lasting sounds consistent with the pings from aircraft black boxes. The international team subsequently scours roughly 850 square kilometers (330 square miles) of the southern Indian Ocean for weeks, but fails to find any evidence of a wreckage.

  • Australien Suche nach Flug MH370 Karte Unterseekarte
    The mystery of Flight MH370 Australia shifts search further south

    In October, Australia shifts the search area further south to where the UK-based satellite company Immarsat calculated the plane probably went down based on brief hourly connections the plane made to one of its satellites. The area, west of Perth, Australia, along a narrow arc in the southern Indian Ocean is identified as the most likely resting place of the jet. But for months nothing is found.

  • Malaysia Airlines
    The mystery of Flight MH370 An accident?

    In late January 2015, Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation officially declared the flight was an accident, and that all people on board were presumed dead. The announcement was in line with global aviation rules that allow families of the passengers to seek compensation. Malaysian officials said they had not ruled out foul play and that the recovery of the missing plane remained a priority.

  • Flug MH370 Philip Wood und Sarah Bajc
    The mystery of Flight MH370 A 'convenient excuse'

    However, some families of the passengers aboard Flight MH370 refuse to accept Malaysia's conclusion that the plane's disappearance was an accident. Shortly after, Sarah Bajc, whose partner Philip Wood was on the aircraft, tells DW this is a "convenient excuse," arguing that no evidence has been found to support the authorities' claim.

  • Symbolbild Radarschirm Flufhafen
    The mystery of Flight MH370 New regulations

    In its efforts to improve global flight safety following the disappearance of MH370, the International Civil Aviation Organization recently proposed a new measure that will require commercial aircraft to report their position every 15 minutes. The guideline is the first stage of a proposal called the Global Aeronautical Distress and Safety System that aims to ensure planes can be tracked quickly.

  • Protest von Angehörigen der Passagiere Flug MH370 in Peking 29.01.2015
    The mystery of Flight MH370 Time for mourning

    Chinese families of passengers aboard the flight continue to protest the handling of the search efforts by the Malaysian authorities. They hold prayers and demonstrations on the occasion of the Chinese New Year.

  • Suche MH 370 Malaysia Airlines
    The mystery of Flight MH370 A difficult search

    The search teams looking for the missing airliner have so far met many challenges. Some of them are associated with the search area. The remoteness and the size of the area mean that every aspect of the operation must be planned and undertaken meticulously. The search for MH370 is already the most expensive of its kind ever undertaken.

    Author: Gabriel Domínguez

adi/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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