KUALA LUMPUR - Former Malaysian officials who oversaw the probe into missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 said Wednesday that the rogue pilot angle had been investigated without any conclusive evidence found.
That theory was recently resurrected by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who said in an Sky News interview that he was told "very early on" by "very top levels of the Malaysian government" that they suspected "murder-suicide by the pilot."
Abbott refused to clarify exactly what was said to him and by whom, but insisted that "it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot."
Former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who was Abbott's counterpart when the Boeing 777 vanished, said that the possibility the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah was responsible "was never ruled out" but there was no conclusive proof.
"It would have been deemed unfair and legally irresponsible since the black boxes and cockpit voice recorders had not been found, and hence there was no conclusive proof whether the pilot was solely or jointly responsible," Najib told online news portal Free Malaysia Today.
"Again I must stress that this possible scenario was never ruled out during the search effort and investigations, where no effort was spared," he added.
Flight MH370 disappeared from radar less than 40 minutes after taking off from the Kuala Lumpur International Airport bound for Beijing just after midnight on March 8, 2014.
Based on radar and satellite communications, the plane with 239 people on board was calculated to have diverted from its flight path and plunged into the southern Indian Ocean, sparking a massive international hunt led by Australia.
Hishammuddin Hussein, who was then acting transport minister, said in a statement posted on his Facebook page that it is "irresponsible" to heap blame on the pilot without proof.
"Being transparent, releasing corroborated developments and establishing what actually happened had always been my priority. Revealing anything which has not been corroborated would have affected the on-going investigations and would be unfair to the families of the passengers on board MH370 and the general public. It would have been an irresponsible and insensitive thing to do," he said.
The final report by the international investigation team released in 2018 concluded that it was not able to find the real cause for the plane's disappearance without examining the wreckage and flight data and it also found no evidence to implicate the pilot.
What fuels the conspiracy theory on Zaharie, who had been with Malaysia Airlines for 32 years, was a flight simulator seized from his home in which routes similar to the one taken by MH370 were found, namely the turn back north of the Strait of Malacca and into the southern Indian Ocean.