The “top levels” of the Malaysian government long suspected the disappearance of a plane almost six years ago was a mass murder-suicide by the pilot, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has said.
Abbott was prime minister when Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 carrying 239 people disappeared somewhere in the vastness of the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014, while en-route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Australia coordinated what became the largest search in aviation history, but it failed to find the plane before being ended in 2017. It remains one of the greatest aviation mysteries and has sparked numerous theories around its loss.
Speaking in a Sky News documentary to air on Wednesday and Thursday, Abbott said high-ranking Malaysian officials believed veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah deliberately downed the jet in an act of murder-suicide.
Publicly, the Malaysian government’s investigation remained inconclusive, but privately, Abbott claimed those at the top knew the true explanation within a week of its disappearance, but he fears search teams were never informed.
“My very clear understanding, from the very top levels of the Malaysian government is that from very, very early on, they thought it was murder-suicide by the pilot,” said Abbott, who was Australia’s leader from 2013-15.
“I’m not going to say who said what to whom, but let me reiterate, I want to be absolutely crystal clear, it was understood at the highest levels that this was almost certainly murder-suicide by the pilot.”
Malaysian investigators publicly gave Captain Shah the all-clear, and were searching areas they believed a “ghost plane” – which continues flying without anyone able to control it – could have reached before running out of fuel and falling back to earth.
The search following the plane’s possible trajectory was based on the understanding the pilots were dead – or somehow incapacitated – before the plane fell into the sea.
The Australian-led search scoured 46,000 square miles of the southern Indian Ocean and cost $200 million. A private hunt by Texas-based company Ocean Infinity later searched more than 37,000 square miles of open ocean.
Debris that washed ashore in the western Indian Ocean has been confirmed as coming from the missing Boeing 777 and indicated a broad expanse of the ocean where the plane likely crashed after running out of fuel.
Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in 2016 that an official search would only resume if the three countries had credible evidence that identified a specific location for the wreckage. Most of the passengers were Chinese.
Abbott maintains a new investigation is warranted.
“Let’s assume that it was murder-suicide by the pilot and if there is any part of that ocean that could have been reached on that basis that has not yet been explored, let’s get out and explore it,” he said.
AP contributed to this story