Malaysian police probe staff backgrounds

Investigators are looking at the backgrounds of the pilots, crew and ground staff of the missing plane.

FILE: A man stands beside the arrival board showing the flight MH370 (top-red) at the Beijing Airport after news of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 plane disappeared on 8 March 2014. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG/KUALA LUMPUR - The focus of investigations into the missing Malaysian aircraft has now shifted to a flight engineer who was one of the passengers on board the plane.

Malaysian investigators are trawling through the backgrounds of the pilots, crew and ground staff who worked on the missing Boeing 777-200ER for clues as to why someone on board flew it hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of kilometres off course.

No trace of the plane has been found more than a week after it vanished but investigators believe it was diverted by someone with deep knowledge of the plane and of commercial navigation.

A flight engineer is responsible for overseeing systems on a plane during flights to confirm they are working correctly and to make repairs if necessary.

The Boeing 777 has not been seen since leaving Kuala Lumpur nine days ago with 239 people on board.

It is thought it flew for up to seven hours after vanishing from the radar, when its communication systems were deliberately switched off.

Meanwhile, senior management at OR Tambo International Airport says the country has an excellent reputation when it comes to flight safety and security at airports as a result of regular audits by local and international entities.

"We get issued by the Civil Aviation Authority a licence every year and they then come back to conduct a thorough audit. We also get audited by an American company called TSA," says General Manager Tebogo Mekgoe.

"We've got a stellar reputation. I think the fact that we haven't had serious incidents coming out of this country from an aviation point of view also contributes to that."

There are no terrorist threats to passengers or airlines recorded in the country's aviation history but despite this, the airport's general manager says they have plans in place in case it does happen.

While security has been heightened at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, Mekgoe says they are following developments but have not activated any additional measures.