Razak calls up Manmohan and requests technical assistance from India

Malaysian officials said on Sunday they had sought the assistance of 25 countries in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777. The country’s Prime Minister Najib Razak spoke with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and leaders of Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to enlist their help.

The expansion of the search came as Malaysian officials revealed that the pilot of Flight 370 had spoken to air traffic control, in what would be his last communication before the plane’s disappearance, after radar systems had been disabled. The pilot had not, however, suggested the aircraft was in any kind of trouble.

Officials said on Sunday they were examining the backgrounds of the 12 crew on board. Khalid Abu Bakar, the Malaysian police chief, said background checks of the 227 passengers had, so far, not yielded any telling evidence, though more information had been sought from several countries.

Police officers this weekend searched the homes of the aircraft’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53), a veteran pilot with more than 18,000 hours experience, and first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid (27).

Officials said they were examining computers taken from their homes, as well as a flight simulator that Mr. Shah had custom built.

The plane disappeared from radars early on March 8, an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, while over the South China Sea. Investigators believe the plane’s transponders were manually disconnected, and that the “deliberate action” of someone on board led to the aircraft being diverted thousands of kilometres off-course.

The number of countries involved in combing a vast swathe of land and sea — from Central Asia and the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal and southern Indian Ocean — for Flight 370 was up from 14 last week to 25, Malaysian Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

The Malaysian Prime Minister had, in his phone call with Dr. Singh, requested technical assistance in tracing the possible paths the airliner might have taken. Dr. Singh, official sources said, shared his concern about the fate of the aircraft and the passengers and assured all possible assistance.

Authorities on Saturday released a map showing likely locations of the last satellite signal received from the Boeing. Based on the angle of the satellite’s antennae, the airplane was somewhere along a curved, north-south arc stretching from Turkmenistan to the southern Indian Ocean.

(With additional reporting from Sandeep Dikshit in New Delhi)