Malaysia’s Defense Minister said on Wednesday that files had been recently deleted from a flight simulator belonging to the captain of the jetliner that has been missing for almost two weeks.
Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in a news conference that investigators examining the flight simulator belonging to Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the captain of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, discovered files had been recently deleted from the home flight-simulator system, the New York Times reports. He said investigators are trying to retrieve the deleted files and reminded reporters that Zaharie is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing.
Other authorities cited by the Times said records were deleted more than a month before the flight vanished, and the FBI is now moving to assist in the search for records from the flight simulator. The Malaysian government has recruited “local and international expertise” to examine the flight simulator and try to retrieve the deleted files. “The experts are looking at what are the logs, what has been cleared,” inspector general of the police Tan Sri Khalid Bin Abu Bakar told the Times.
Investigators have focused on the Boeing 777’s pilots, Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, since discovering the flight took a left-hand turn off course that was programmed into the plane’s computerized flight-management system. That discovery suggests that someone with knowledge of flying programmed the flight to turn off course.
Aviation experts have said the flight simulator in Zaharie’s home was very sophisticated — likely costing several thousand dollars — and that it appears to have been set up to simulate a 777. Investigators have not released information about when files were deleted from the simulator, and their investigation is focusing on the types of training Zaharie undertook on the system.
A group of Chinese relatives of missing passengers at the press conference protested Malaysia’s handling of the search effort for Flight 370, unfurling a banner that criticized the Malaysian investigation. Chaos broke out as Malaysian police roughed up journalists crowded around the group.
As Malaysian authorities continue to examine the flight’s pilots, countries whose citizens were aboard Flight 370 have conducted background checks on the passengers. Hishammuddin said on Wednesday that Malaysian authorities have received background checks from all countries except Russia and Ukraine — which accounted for three passengers — and that so far none of the checks have turned up anything suspicious.
Meanwhile, search crews from more than two dozen countries continue to scour a massive area of land and sea looking for any evidence that Flight 370 may have crashed. The area being searched now covers roughly 2.24 million nautical miles (7.68 million sq km) from Central Asia to the deep waters of the southern Indian Ocean, which is being covered by ships, planes and satellites. “A needle in a haystack remains a good analogy,” John Young, general manager of the emergency-response division of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, told reporters on Wednesday.