KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s top police official warned on Wednesday that authorities may never learn what caused the mysterious disappearance of flight MH370, as he indicated a three-week-old criminal investigation has so far been inconclusive.
“Give us more time,” Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, according to Dow Jones Newswires.
“We may not even know the real cause of this incident,” he added.
The sober assessment is unlikely to go down well with anxious family members of the missing passengers, especially Chinese relatives who have fiercely attacked Malaysia’s government and the airline as incompetent “liars” and “murderers.”
Two thirds of the 227 passengers were Chinese.
Malaysian police have said they were investigating the backgrounds of all 239 people on board the Malaysia Airlines jet, who included 12 crew members, as well as ground crew and flight engineers.
Their criminal probe has focused on the possibility of a hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among passengers or crew.
Khalid said police had recorded more than 170 statements so far.
“This investigation is ongoing. There are still more people we need to interview,” he said, declining to provide further details while the probe was under way.
The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8 shortly after take-off on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The flight’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, have come under particularly scrutiny as Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board.
But no evidence has emerged to suggest a motive by either of the men, who appear to have been well-regarded by their peers.
Malaysian police and Federal Bureau of Investigation experts were examining a flight simulator assembled by Zaharie at his home, hoping to find any clues.
But Khalid said he was still awaiting feedback from experts examining the simulator, adding that so far nothing conclusive had emerged.
A multi-nation search for wreckage from the plane is under way in the Indian Ocean after Malaysia said satellite data indicated it may have gone down there.
Agenda in US-Asean meet
The specter of missing Flight MH370 will loom over a meeting of US and defense ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) on Thursday, as they discuss how to improve their response to natural disasters and emergencies.
The agenda for the ministers gathering in Hawaii—focused on bolstering cooperation for humanitarian assistance efforts—has taken on new significance in the wake of the aviation tragedy, officials said.
The often confused search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet has sparked criticism of authorities in Kuala Lumpur and raised questions about the ability of regional governments to take joint action in an emergency.
Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel said that he expected his counterparts to look at possible lessons from the recovery effort, which has yet to find a sign of the plane since it went missing on March 8.
“We’ll go back and walk through this, what could have been done, maybe what should have been done,” Hagel told reporters on Tuesday before landing in Honolulu.
“We will get into some of this at our meeting over the next two days,” he said.
Malaysia Defense and Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who has served as the public face of the search effort, is attending the meeting, where he is expected to provide his counterparts an update on the search for the missing jet.
Hagel did not criticize Malaysia in his remarks but the government’s handling of the crisis has come under fire, especially by distraught relatives of the Chinese on board.
Singapore Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam last week called some of the criticism unfair and said Southeast nations lacked the military hardware to deploy in such a disaster, unlike the United States or China.
Washington has two naval P-8 surveillance aircraft taking part in the massive search of a remote stretch of Indian Ocean southwest of Perth, where the plane is believed to have gone down. The hunt has turned up nothing so far.
The international effort, which involves 10 aircraft, naval ships and now a British nuclear submarine, has illustrated the need to forge regular cooperation before a disaster strikes, said a senior US defense official.