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March 27th, 2014
05:10 AM ET

Flight 370 Pilot's Son Dismisses Speculation About His Father

A son of the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has defended his father, rejecting speculation about his possible role in the plane's disappearance.

"I've read everything online. But I've ignored all the speculation. I know my father better," Ahmad Seth Zaharie, 26, said in an interview published Thursday by the New Straits Times. He is the youngest son of the 53-year-old pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Investigators have so far been unable to establish why the passenger jet flew far off course on the night it vanished from radar screens almost three weeks ago.

Malaysian authorities say the jetliner and the 239 people it was carrying ended up in the southern Indian Ocean, where a multinational search is trying to locate traces of the plane.

The search efforts were severely hampered by bad weather Thursday, while Thai authorities reported detecting hundreds more objects that could be related to the plane in satellite images.

'I understand him'

The pilot and first officer of the plane have come under particular scrutiny, with a range of speculative theories proffered for why one or both of them might have diverted it from its scheduled flight path to Beijing.

Some of the wilder speculation suggested Zaharie might have hijacked the plane as a political act.

"We may not be as close as he travels so much. But I understand him," Ahmad said of his father in the interview, which was conducted Tuesday.

Ahmad is the first member of the Zaharie's close family to speak publicly to the news media about the plane's disappearance.

No 'smoking gun'

Comments from government officials on the investigation so far support the young man's view.

A senior Malaysian government official on Wednesday told CNN law enforcement analyst Tom Fuentes that authorities have found nothing negative in 19 days of investigating the two pilots that leads them to any motive, be it political, suicidal or extremist.

And an ongoing FBI review of the two pilots' hard drives, including Zaharie's flight simulator, has not turned up a "smoking gun," a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

"They have accessed the data," the official said. "There is nothing that's jumping out and grabbing us right now."

Officials have so far not reported anything suspicious in their investigations into the 10 other crew members and 227 passengers on board the plane.

American investigators continue to be baffled by the plane's disappearance, with one U.S. official saying, "I don't think there is a prevailing theory. There are counterarguments to every theory right now."

Air search halted

With little sign of progress in the investigation on land, search efforts at sea were hampered Thursday by another bout of bad weather.

The conditions brought an early end to the day's aerial search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, but five ships in the area are trying to keep up the hunt for debris despite the difficult conditions.

All the planes that had flown out to the search zone are returning to Perth, the western Australian city where they set out from, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. It initially reported that the ships were leaving the search area, too, but later said they would stay.

The search teams that have been out over the remote area of ocean Thursday have been "beaten up," said Lt. Comm. Adam Schantz of the U.S. Navy.

The visibility is almost zero, with clouds reaching down to the surface of the water, as well as severe turbulence and icing, he said.

"It's very cold," said Capt. Allison Norris, who is in charge of the HMAS Success, the Australian navy ship in the search area. "We rotate the lookouts through every hour and make sure that they are appropriately dressed to combat the very cold conditions down here."

Early Thursday afternoon, more than 60% of the search area was experiencing a mixture of low visibility, strong thunderstorms and powerful winds, said CNN International Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.

Hopes of resuming

Flight crews hope to be back in the air Friday if the weather clears, Schantz said. But the Australian maritime agency said it expects conditions to remain bad for another 24 hours.

This is the second time this week that operations have been hampered by harsh conditions in the isolated patch of ocean roughly 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. No search missions took place on Tuesday because of stormy weather.

The delay is likely to prolong an already protracted hunt for the missing Boeing 777, which disappeared March 8 over Southeast Asia with 239 people on board.

Citing an analysis of satellite data, Malaysian authorities say the plane ended its errant journey in the southern Indian Ocean. But they still haven't been able to establish why it lost contact with air traffic control and flew so far off course.

The suspension of the aerial search dims hopes that the teams might soon be able to pinpoint objects spotted in satellite images of the ocean captured over the past two weeks.

On Wednesday, Malaysia said it had received satellite images showing 122 potential objects floating in the ocean, not far from other satellite sightings that could be related to the missing passenger jet.

Adding to the list, a Thai satellite spotted 300 "pieces of floating objects potentially linked" to the missing plane in broadly the same region of the southern Indian Ocean, a Thai official said Thursday.

The Thai satellite captured the images on Monday, but it took several days to process them and pass them on to the Malaysian government, said Kampanart Deeudomchan, an official at Thailand's Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency.

Analysts have said the detection of possible objects is an encouraging sign, but so far nothing conclusively linked to the plane has been found.

"The type of wreckage or object that we're looking for is so close to the water line that now radars would not be able to pick it up," Norris of the HMAS Success told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "So we are very reliant on lookouts who use binoculars and night vision glasses to scan the horizon and scan the area around the ship while we conduct our search pattern."

The forecast from Friday morning through Saturday shows much improved conditions in the search zone, CNN's Javaheri said.

"Scattered clouds should be expected," he said. "But the winds and seas will both calm considerably, giving a rare a stretch of generally favorable conditions for this region during this time of year."

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