* Search in 12th day, no wreckage found so far
* Distraught relative protests about lack of information
* Countries seen reluctant to share militarily sensitive
* Data from pilot's flight simulator deleted
* FBI puts its technical expertise to work
(Recasts with U.S. helping investigation, adds details
By Tim Hepher, A. Ananthalakshmi and Mark Hosenball
KUALA LUMPUR/WASHINGTON, March 19 The FBI is
helping Malaysian authorities to analyse data from a flight
simulator belonging to the captain of a missing Malaysian
airliner, a U.S. official said on Wednesday as investigators
grasped for clues 12 days after the plane vanished.
Malaysia's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said an
examination of the simulator, taken from the home of pilot
Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, showed its data log had been cleared on
Feb. 3, more than a month before the airliner, carrying 239
people, disappeared on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
"The experts are looking at what are the logs that have been
cleared," he told a news conference.
No wreckage has been found from Malaysia Airlines
Flight MH370, which vanished from air traffic control screens
off Malaysia's east coast at 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8
(1721 GMT March 7), less than an hour after taking off.
Malaysia has now made available to the FBI electronic data
generated by both pilots of Flight MH370, including data from a
hard drive attached to the captain's flight simulator, and from
electronic media used by the co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, a U.S.
law enforcement official told Reuters.
The official said he could not confirm that some data had
been wiped from the simulator and stressed that there was no
guarantee the FBI analysis would turn up any fresh clues.
U.S. investigators had become increasingly frustrated in
recent days that Malaysian authorities had not asked them for
The FBI has extensive experience investigating airplane
crashes, including those of TWA 800 and EgyptAir 990 off the
U.S. east coast in the 1990s and Pan Am Flight 103 over
In the case of EgyptAir 990, the FBI helped air safety
investigators establish that the crash was caused by a suicidal
co-pilot, while in the case of Pan Am 103, the agency worked
with British and U.S. intelligence to build a case against the
government of Libya.
In Kuala Lumpur, at the headquarters of a search operation
that has so far turned up few leads, Chinese relatives' anger
over sparse information on the fate of their relatives sparked
chaotic scenes on Wednesday.
Malaysia's transport minister ordered an inquiry after
security guards carried out the distraught mother of a passenger
from a briefing room where she had protested about a lack of
"They are just saying wait for information. Wait for
information. We don't know how long we have to wait," cried the
woman before being whisked away from a massive media scrum.
Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he regretted the anguish.
"Malaysia is doing everything in its power to find MH370 and
hopefully bring some degree of closure for those whose family
members are missing," he said in a statement.
Prospects that a 26-nation operation would lead to quick
results appeared to be dwindling, however, as investigators
confirmed they were focusing on the remote southern Indian Ocean
after failing to find any traces of the jet further north.
"Our top priority is being given to that area," Hishammuddin
told the news conference, confirming an earlier Reuters report.
Australia is leading the search in the southern part of the
southern corridor, with assistance from the U.S. Navy.
It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking
data and analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers
an area of 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), roughly the size of
Spain and Portugal.
The unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER had
focused on two vast search corridors: one arcing north overland
from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south
across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island
to west of Australia.
"The working assumption is that it went south, and
furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor,"
said a source close to the investigation.
That view is based on the lack of any evidence from
countries along the northern corridor that the plane entered
their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in
searches in the upper part of the southern corridor.
Some sources involved in the investigation have voiced fears
it could stall due to the reluctance of countries in the region
to share militarily sensitive radar data that might shed new
light on the direction the jet took.
Two people familiar with the investigation said the search
had been hampered in some cases by delays over the paperwork
needed to allow foreign maritime surveillance aircraft into
territorial waters without a formal diplomatic request.
"These are basically spy planes; that's what they were
designed for," said one source close to the investigation,
explaining the hesitance of some nations to give blanket
permission for other countries to scour their waters.
Hishammuddin confirmed that some assets that could be
involved in the search were waiting for diplomatic clearance.
"The search for MH370 involves diplomatic, technical and
logistical challenges," he told the news conference, held in a
Kuala Lumpur airport hotel that has served as a temporary crisis
coordination centre and a base for dozens of news organizations.
Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was
deliberately diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but
an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew
aboard has not yielded anything that might explain why.
If the plane did indeed end up in the southern Indian Ocean,
one of the remotest places on Earth and also one of the deepest
seas, it increases the chance it may never be found - and
investigators may never know for sure what happened on board.
Officials believe that someone with detailed knowledge of
both the Boeing 777 and commercial aviation navigation switched
off two vital datalinks: the ACARS system, which relays
maintenance data back to the ground, and the transponder, which
enables the plane to be seen by civilian radar.
U.S. agencies have looked for evidence that anyone other
than the pilots knew how disable ACARS but have found nothing.
(Additional reporting by Siva Govindasamy and Niluksi Koswanage
in Kuala Lumpur, Andrea Shalal and Mark Hosenball in Washington,
Jane Wardell in Sydney, Peter Apps in London, Daniel Bosley in
Male and Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Writing by Alex Richardson and
Tim Hepher; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ross Colvin)