Investigators were on Sunday examining a flight simulator found at the home of a pilot of the missing Malaysian plane with 239 people on board, as they refocused on "those in the cockpit" who knew how to avoid detection by radars.
The house of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the missing flight MH370, was searched shortly after Prime Minister Najib Razak said the aircraft veered off course due to apparent deliberate action taken "by somebody on plane".
"Officers spoke to family members of the pilot and experts are examining the pilot's flight simulator. On March 15, the police also searched the home of the co-pilot," a statement issued by the Ministry of Transport said on Sunday.
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 were raised in the media over the simulator found at his home.
Officials said police are verifying the personal, political and religious backgrounds of pilots.
Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, were among the 12 crew members of the Malaysia Airlines plane with 227 passengers on board including five Indians and one Indian- Canadian, as the search for the aircraft entered ninth day.
The plane left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:41 am on March 8 and lost contact with radar an hour after take off.
"Police are investigating all crew and passengers on board MH370, as well as engineers who may have had contact with the aircraft before take-off," the statement said.
"Malaysian officials are also asking countries to provide further assistance in the search for the aircraft, including: satellite data and analysis; ground-search capabilities; radar data; and maritime and air assets," it said.
Malaysia was contacting countries along the northern and southern corridors about the flight. These countries include: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and France, the statement said.
"Both the northern and southern corridors are being treated with equal importance," it said, and appealed to the public not to jump to conclusions.
India has put on hold its search operations for the missing airliner as it is awaiting fresh instructions.
The search operations involving five warships and six surveillance aircraft have been put on hold and "we are awaiting fresh instructions from Malaysia," Andaman and Nicobar Command spokesperson Colonel Harmit Singh said.
Meanwhile, CNN said two vans were loaded with small bags, similar to shopping bags, at the home of the co-pilot Hamid.
The channel quoted a US official as saying that the "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."
"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.
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.
Some media reports have said that Captain Zaharie was an "obsessive" supporter of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim who was jailed for five years, a day before the scheduled flight.
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.
Image: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (left) and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid