MALAYSIA'S criminal investigation into the disappearance of flight MH370 has identified the plane's pilot as its prime suspect, it has been reported.
While the official results of the inquiry are yet to be published, details have been passed on to foreign governments and crash investigators, according to the Sunday Times.
They revealed that after detectives carried out 170 interviews and profiled all of the 239 people on board the Boeing 777 when it vanished on 8 March, Captain Zaharie Shah was left as the most likely perpetrator if deliberate human action is to blame.
Satellite data provided by the British firm Inmarsat have shown that the jet took a sharp left turn after leaving Malaysian airspace en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It then followed a long arc deep into the southern Indian Ocean, where it presumably ran out of fuel and crashed.
Investigators have previously refused to "clear" the captain's flight simulator of suspicious activity, and it now appears they found evidence of routes programmed to take a plane far out into the Indian Ocean and practising landing using a short runway on an island.
The data from the simulated flights had been deleted, the Times reported, but computer experts were able to retrieve them.
The police probe has also revealed that the 53-year-old captain was unique among those on board the flight for having no recorded commitments, either socially or for work, to take place after the date of the MH370 journey.
This was not in keeping with Zaharie's usually outgoing and open nature, police said, and in contrast to the activities of his co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, and the rest of the crew.
The reported findings of the criminal investigation rely only on circumstantial evidence, and make mention of rumours of trouble in the pilot's marriage and home life that have been denied by his family.
He was a veteran pilot who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981, and had more than 18,000 hours of flying experience.
The inquiry also does not rule of the possibility that the jet crashed due to some form of mechanical failure or an act of terrorism.
A spokesperson for the Malaysian police told the Times: "The police investigation is still ongoing. To date no conclusions can be made as to the contributor to the incident and it would be sub judice to say so. Nevertheless, the police are still looking into all possible angles."
Zaharie's family has said that the truth about what happened will only be revealed when MH370's "black box" flight recorders are found.
And the recovery effort to locate the plane's wreckage, the most extensive in aviation history, could be months or even years from making any real progress.
It emerged at the end of last week that the next phase of the search will focus on an area of the Indian Ocean hundreds of miles south of the first suspected crash site.
A Dutch ship has now joined the Chinese vessel tasked with surveying the ocean floor within a vast search zone, after which contractors will have 300 days to scan the designated area.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.