All on board missing Boeing 777 now under scrutiny

17:10, Mar 16 2014
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Journalists attempt to interview a woman who is the relative of a passenger on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as she crouches on the floor crying, at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
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A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries, surrounded by journalists, at the Beijing Capital International Airport on March 8, 2014.
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The Malaysia Airlines flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew lost contact with air traffic controllers early on Saturday en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, the airline said in a statement.
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An aerial view of an oil spill is seen from a Vietnamese Air Force aircraft in the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane, 250 km from Vietnam and 190 km from Malaysia, in this handout photo from Thanh Nien Newpaper taken on March 8.
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A spokesman (centre) of Malaysia Airlines is surrounded by journalists as he gives a briefing about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at a hotel in Beijing March 8, 2014.
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A relative (front) of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as she walks past journalists at a hotel in Beijing March 9, 2014. The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200ER aircraft carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew was presumed to have crashed off the Vietnamese coast on Saturday.
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Malaysia Airlines Commercial Director Hugh Dunleavy (centre) speaks to journalists about information of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
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Vietnamese Air Force officers sit in the cockpit of a search and rescue aircraft as they fly over the search area for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane.
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Volunteer rescue workers and religious organisations pray during multi-religion mass prayers for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang.
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A view of oil slicks (pale line near the bottom right) spotted in an area of the South China Sea about 100 nautical miles (185 km) from Tok Bali Beach in Malaysia's Kelantan state.
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Admiral Datuk Mohd Amdan Kurish, Director General of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency, looks at a radar screen while searching for a missing Malaysia Airlines plane in the South China Sea.
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A relative (left) of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is escorted by a caregiver from Malaysia Airlines as they walk in a corridor at a hotel in Beijing.
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Indian sand artist Sudarshan Patnaik applies the final touches to a sand art sculpture he created wishing for the well being of the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, on a beach in Puri, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
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Life vests and lifesavers are seen onboard a Vietnam Air Force search and rescue aircraft on a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, off Tho Chu island.
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Journalists place their recorders as they get ready for the first briefing of the day at a news conference at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 10.
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Relatives of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cry inside a hotel they are staying, in Putrajaya. China has urged Malaysia to step up the search for the jetliner that went missing with 239 people on board, about two-thirds of them Chinese, and said it has sent security agents to help with an investigation into the misuse of passports.
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An officer looks out of a helicopter during a mission to find the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, near Tho Chu Island.
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A map of a flight plan is seen on a computer screen during a meeting before a mission to find the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared from radar screens in the early hours of Saturday, at Phu Quoc Airport.
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A woman stands in front of a giant screen showing the number hours since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, in Beijing on March 10.
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A family member of a passenger from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 waits for news at Lido Hotel on March 10, in Beijing, China. Investigative teams continue to search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the 293 passengers that were travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
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Dato' Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation briefs the media over latest updates on missing Malaysia Airline MH370 on March 10, in Kuala Lumpur.
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Clouds hover outside the window of a Vietnam Air Force search and rescue aircraft An-26 on a mission to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, off Vietnam's Tho Chu island.
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People believed to be relatives of passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are escorted to the VIP section of the Beijing Capital International Airport prior to flying to Kuala Lumpur.
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A Chinese relative of a passenger of Malaysia Airlines MH370 is comforted by a staff member of the airport as she shields her face from journalists at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
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A combination photo shows two men whom police said were travelling on stolen passports onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane.
Military personnel look out of a Singapore Air Force plane during the search
Military personnel look out of a Singapore Air Force plane during the search.
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Malaysia's police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar, addresses a news conference.
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Students from an international school in east China city Zhuji pray for the passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
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LOOKING FOR ANSWERS: Family members of missing passengers leave a meeting in a Beijing Hotel.
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MESSAGE OF HOPE: A Vietnamese tourist writes a message of hope for missing passengers and crew.
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MESSAGES FOR THE MISSING: Tying a message of hope on a message board for passengers and crew.
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A relative of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 answers media questions at Lido Hotel.
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A charity worker comforts an emotional relative of a passenger.
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Indian sand artist Sudarshan Pattnaik works on a sand sculpture of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, at golden beach at Puri in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.
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Satellite images reveal a possible crash site for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, where three large objects were seen in the water.
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An object sits in the water in satellite imagery released by China.
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The zone where the mystery objects were found.
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What appears to be fuel sits on the water in the area where three large objects were found.
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A crew member from the Royal Malaysian Air Force looks through the window of a Malaysian Air Force CN235 aircraft during a Search and Rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
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The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Kidd and USS Pinckney are seen en transit in the Pacific Ocean in this US Navy picture taken May 18, 2011. Kidd and Pinkney have been searching for the missing Malaysian airliner and are being re-deployed to the Strait of Malacca off Malaysia's west coast as new search areas are opened in the Indian Ocean.
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Students watch as a group of artists put the finishing touches to a three dimensional artwork at a school in Makati city, metro Manila. According to the artists, the artwork is their way of expressing sympathy towards the relatives of passengers onboard the missing Boeing 777-200ER.
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Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein shows two maps with corridors of the last known possible location of the missing plane.
Selamat Omar shows a picture of his son, flight engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat
Selamat Omar shows a picture of his son, flight engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat who was onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
Chinese relatives of the missing passengers
Chinese relatives of the missing passengers who were travelling onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 watch a television displaying a Malaysian press conference at Lido Hotel in Beijing.
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A family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries as he watches a message board dedicated to passengers.
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Satellite photos from March 20 show the objects "possibly associated" with the search for the missing plane. The images were released hours after Australia announced it had "credible" leads in the search for flight MH370.
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Satellite photos from March 20 show the objects "possibly associated" with the search for the missing plane. The images were released hours after Australia announced it had "credible" leads in the search for flight MH370.
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A still image taken from video shows an image of an object spotted in the southern Indian Ocean by the Gaofen-1 high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite of CNSA.
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Pilot Dave Smith (R) gives a pre-flight briefing aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft before taking off to search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, at RAAF base Pearce near Perth, March 22, 2014.
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Family members of passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 raise their fists as they shout "return our families" to protest against the lack of new information after a routine briefing given by Malaysia's government and military representatives at Lido Hotel in Beijing March 22, 2014.
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Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein holds up a note that he has just received on a new lead in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, during a news conference at Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 22, 2014.
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Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (bottom C) takes part in a special prayer for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin mosque in Putrajaya March 21, 2014.
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A woman writes on a banner of well wishes for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 14, 2014.
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A family member of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 covers her face as she cries after a routine briefing given by Malaysia Airlines at Lido Hotel in Beijing, March 22, 2014.
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A girl reads some of the messages of hope and support for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 at a mall outside Kuala Lumpur March 22, 2014.
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A crew member aboard a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) AP-3C Orion uses binoculars as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean during the search for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 March 22, 2014.
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A woman writes another message of hope and support for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 at a mall outside Kuala Lumpur March 22, 2014.
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Map of the southern Indian Ocean locating site where a satellite may have found debris related to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370; includes satellite images of possible debris. MCT
Search for MH370
Solid matter is pictured floating in the southern Indian Ocean seen from a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.
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INDIAN OCEAN - This handout Satellite image made available by the AMSA (Australian Maritime Safety Authority) shows a map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 on March 24, 2014.
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Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein holds satellite images as he speaks about the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 26.
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A satellite photo, showing the locations and co-ordinates of unknown objects reported by the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency (MRSA) in the Indian Ocean. The images were taken on March 23 and released on March 26.
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A satellite photo, showing the location of unknown objects reported by the Malaysian Remote Sensing Agency (MRSA) in the Indian Ocean. The images were taken on March 23 and released on March 26.

Like an Agatha Christie whodunit, the investigation into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 is now focusing on a finite circle of suspects - the 227 passengers and 12 crew members of the missing plane.

However, in a Facebook post of the latest press statement, the Malaysian government asked the public to refrain from jumping to conclusions over the police investigation into the disappearance. The statement said it was normal procedure to investigate crew, passengers and engineers in the circumstances.

While reluctant to call it a hijacking, earlier today Malaysian officials said they believe somebody inside the plane with expertise in the navigational and communications systems of the Boeing 777 diverted it from its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing flight path.

Satellite
CRASH SITE?: Satellite images reveal a possible crash site for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, where three large objects were seen in the water.

"In view of this latest development, Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said at a news conference Saturday in Kuala Lumpur.

Among those who are coming under investigation are pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah. The 53-year-old Zaharie is one of the airline's most seasoned pilots, described by Malaysian newspapers as an "aviation geek" who owned a flight simulator at home and flew remote-control airplanes and helicopters as a hobby.

Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, with the airline since 2007, has already been the subject of speculation because of an incident in 2011 in which he invited two young South Africa women into the cockpit during a flight, and according to the women, flirted, smoked cigarettes and posed for photographs.

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Since the airliner vanished a week ago, investigators have been looking at the backgrounds of two passengers traveling on stolen passports. Both were young Iranian men. Pouria Nour Mohammed Mehrdad, 19, was booked through to Frankfurt and his mother was waiting for him there. Delavar Seyed Mohammed Reza, 29, boarded the flight together with Mehrdad, according to CCTV footage later made public, but had been booked to Copenhagen.

Investigators have said the two had no known links to terror organisations and appeared to be economic migrants trying to reach Western Europe.

Now, the rest of those on the flight are coming under scrutiny, transformed from victims to potential suspects. The largest number of passengers, 159, were Chinese nationals and most of the rest were Malaysians, with a few Ukrainians, Indians, Indonesians, Australians and two New Zealanders.

Among the Chinese were a group of artists and calligraphers returning home from an exhibition in Malaysia celebrating the "Chinese Dream." One of them was Maimaitijiang Abula, a 35-year-old ethnic Uighur from Kashgar in western China. He's been singled out for special attention by the Malaysian press because of the fears of violence surrounding the Uighur separatist movement in China. Some reports incorrectly identified him as an electrical engineer.

"It is important to profile all the passengers and crew. All the countries whose nationals were on that flight have to participate in the investigation so that they can narrow it down to who is responsible," said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert. "It is very likely that more than one person was responsible and that there were others on the ground responsible as well."

Malaysian and US investigators have said that whoever diverted the airplane was familiar with its navigational and communications systems. The Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System and transponder were both switched off within 50 minutes of takeoff - suspiciously, at a location between Vietnam and Malaysia where radar coverage is spotty.

Investigators say that the flight not only deviated from its planned route, but zigzagged in in a way that might have been designed to evade detection. Initially headed northeast toward Beijing, it then turned west over the Malacca Strait before turning again toward the Indian Ocean.

Flight 370 took off at 12.20am March 8 and disappeared about 1.30am. Malaysian authorities say, however, satellites picked up signals from the flight until 8.11am, which is also about the time it would have run out of fuel.

At his news conference in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Najib said investigators were focusing their search now on two air traffic corridors - a southern one heading from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean toward Australia; the other a northern corridor which would have taken the flight toward Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

"Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite," Najib said.

Aviation experts believe, however, it is unlikely that the plane headed northward because it would likely have been picked up by India's land-based primary radar systems or that of other countries along the route, including Thailand and Myanmar.

"A Boeing 777 would always be picked up on primary radar coverage. It is not like a stealth bomber," said Mikael Robertsson, co-founder of FlightRadar24, which tracks about 120,000 airline flights per day, in a telephone interview from Sweden. "If it flew over land, some country would have seen it on the radar. It is more likely it flew over water where it went undetected."

India announced today it has put on hold its search for the missing plane at the request of the Malaysian government which wants to reassess the week-old hunt.

India had been searching in two areas, one around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and a second further west in the Bay of Bengal. Both searches have been suspended, but may resume, defence officials said.

"It's more of a pause," said Commander Babu, a spokesman for the country's Eastern Naval Command.

"The Malaysian authorities are reassessing the situation. They will figure whether they need to shift the area of search."

In his statements yesterday, the Malaysian prime minister belatedly confirmed what US intelligence has been suggesting for days - that the flight's disappearance was the result of a deliberate act - a theory that Malaysia has been dismissing for much of the last week. The prime minister, however, declined to characterise the incident as a hijacking.

"Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear we are still investigating all possibilities for what led Malaysian Air flight 370 to deviate from its flight path," he said.

Malaysia's announcement on Saturday came after days of fruitless searches along the flight path. At the last count, there were 14 nations participating in the search, deploying 43 ships and 58 aircraft.

State-run media in China, which sent a fleet of eight ships to search for the missing plane, reacted furiously to the belated acknowledgement by Malaysia of apparent foul play.

"Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner," the Xinhua new agency complained in a stinging editorial. "And due to the absence - or at least lack - of timely authoritative information, massive efforts have been squandered, and numerous rumours have been spawned, repeatedly racking the nerves of the awaiting families."

The news agency also accused the United States not being forthcoming about intelligence it had gathered about the flight.

In Beijing, family members of passengers who watched the Malaysian prime minister's press briefing on a large-screen TV at a hotel reacted to the news of the suspected hijacking with astonishment and even a little relief.

"Do you think they might be alive?" one man was overheard asking another as they waited outside the conference room.

"They could be alive," responded another.

KEY EVIDENCE

There are three pieces of evidence that aviation safety experts say make it clear the missing Malaysia Airlines jet was taken over by someone who was knowledgeable about how the plane worked.

TRANSPONDER

One clue is that the plane's transponder - a signal system that identifies the plane to radar - was shut off about an hour into the flight.

In order to do that, someone in the cockpit would have to turn a knob with multiple selections to the off position while pressing down at the same time, said John Goglia, a former member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

That's something a pilot would know how to do, but it could also be learned by someone who researched the plane on the Internet, he said.

ACARS

Another clue is that part of the Boeing 777's Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was shut off.

The system, which has two parts, is used to send short messages via a satellite or VHF radio to the airline's home base. The information part of the system was shut down, but not the transmission part.

In most planes, the information part of the system can be shut down by hitting cockpit switches in sequence in order to get to a computer screen where an option must be selected using a keypad, said Goglia, an expert on aircraft maintenance.

That's also something a pilot would know how to do, but that could also be discovered through research, he said.

But to turn off the other part of the ACARS, it would be necessary to go to an electronics bay beneath the cockpit. That's something a pilot wouldn't normally know how to do, Goglia said, and it wasn't done in the case of the Malaysia plane.

Thus, the ACARS transmitter continued to send out blips that were recorded by the Inmarsat satellite once an hour for four to five hours after the transponder was turned off.

The blips don't contain any messages or data, but the satellite can tell in a very broad way what region the blips are coming from and adjusts the angle of its antenna to be ready to receive message in case the ACARS sends them.

Investigators are now trying to use data from the satellite to identify the region where the plane was when its last blip was sent.

GUIDED FLIGHT

The third indication is that that after the transponder was turned off and civilian radar lost track of the plane, Malaysian military radar was able to continue to track the plane as it turned west.

The plane was then tracked along a known flight route across the peninsula until it was several hundred kilometres offshore and beyond the range of military radar.

Airliners normally fly from waypoint to waypoint where they can be seen by air traffic controllers who space them out so they don't collide.

These lanes in the sky aren't straight lines. In order to follow that course, someone had to be guiding the plane, Goglia said.

Goglia said he is very skeptical of reports the plane was flying erratically while it was being tracked by military radar, including steep ascents to very high altitudes and then sudden, rapid descents.

Without a transponder signal, the ability to track planes isn't reliable at very high altitudes or with sudden shifts in altitude, he said

-Los Angeles Times, Sydney Morning Herald and AP