Kuala Lumpur: US intelligence officials are now focusing on "those in the cockpit" - the pilots - who knew how to avoid detection when navigating around Asia, amidst the mystery over the sudden disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines plane with 239 people on board.
"Investigators are carefully reviewing the information so far collected on the pilots to determine whether there is something to indicate a plan or a motive," a senior US law enforcement official was quoted as saying by the CNN today, as the search for the missing plane entered into ninth day.
It followed news that Malaysian authorities searched the house of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the missing flight, shortly after Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters the Boeing 777 flight MH370 veered off course due to apparent deliberate action taken "by somebody on plane".
"The authorities had been looking for a reason to search the home of the pilot and the co-pilot for several days. But it was only in the last 24 to 36 hours, when radar and satellite data came to light, that authorities believed they had sufficient reason to go through the residences," the CNN quoted the US official as saying.
53-year-old Capt Zaharie, a pilot with 18,365 flight hours under his belt, is reportedly also a flight instructor.
He has been in the news after the mysterious disappearance of the plane on March 8. The questions have been raised in the media over a flight simulator found at his home.
"Two vans were loaded with small bags, similar to shopping bags, at the home of the co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid," the report said, adding that it was unclear whether the bags were taken from the home.
Zaharie and co-pilot Hamid, 27, were among the 12-member crew of the plane with 227 passengers on board including five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian.
The plane had left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:41 am om March 8 and lost contact with civilian radar and hour later.
It was not clear whether the Malaysian government believes one or both the men could be responsible for what happened when the plane disappeared, the report said.
No final conclusions have been drawn and all the internal intelligence discussions are based on preliminary assessments of what is known to date, it said.
"Other scenarios could still emerge. The notion of a hijacking has not been ruled out," the official said.
The Malaysian prime minister yesterday said that in light of the latest developments, authorities have refocused their investigation to the crew and passengers on board.
"The last satellite communication was at 8.11 am (local time) on March 8," Najib said, suggesting that the plane was in the air for 7.5 hours after it lost the control.
He stopped short of saying the plane had been hijacked but said, "...We are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate."
Najib`s statement confirmed growing speculation that the disappearance of the plane was not accidental.