By Mike Lillis - 03/23/14 10:26 AM EDT
The Malaysian government botched the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, frittering "a week of precious time," the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee charged Sunday.
"The Malaysian government spent way too much time focusing on the northern route and the Gulf of Thailand [and] Kazakhstan. It would have been picked up by radar, and we knew that, and I know satellite imagery given to the Malaysians established that," McCaul said in an interview on the "Fox News Sunday" program. "We wasted a week of precious time up in that region, when all along … the southern Indian Ocean I think is where the location is."
McCaul said terrorism is an unlikely scenario, but emphasized that it was "probably" a "deliberate attack" and not an accident.
"We haven't ruled out terrorism, although there's no direct evidence at this point in time," he said. "But if this was a deliberate attack, as we think it probably was, because, remember the transponders turned off right after they exit Malaysian airspace, which is sort-of [an] odd scenario, and then the route is completely turned around.
"That suggests that either the pilot intentionally did it for whatever reason, or that something was happening in the cockpit … possibly with some of the passengers," McCaul added. "So we can't rule out the possibility of passengers [or] the [possible] terrorism link to that."
Nor did McCaul reject the possibility that lithium batteries, which were being shipped on the flight, might have caught fire. But he was quick to add that that theory, too, is unlikely, considering the communications with the pilots and evidence that the plane remained in the air for many hours after the transponders were turned off.
"We have examined that possible theory in this case," he said. "But then he [the pilot] says, 'OK, good night.' And the transponders turned off two minutes later … [so], if there's no distress on the plane at the time, it makes you wonder if there was any sort of [accidental] crisis."
The comments came as French satellites spotted debris in the southern corridor of the Indian Ocean, fueling theories that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 went down in that massive body of water after vanishing on March 8, less than an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
On several previous occasions, satellites have spotted similar debris, though multinational search teams scouring those regions have so far come up empty.
Part of the investigation has focused on a flight simulator owned by the head pilot. Malaysian officials have determined that Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah had deleted certain files on the hard drive, and the FBI is now trying to retrieve those records in search of clues.
"Even though you may delete a file, they can be retrieved later, and I know that the FBI is working to do that," McCaul said. "The question is, 'What was deleted? And could that be evidence of a route that was taken in this case?' … That's all under review.
"There are many theories floating around out there," McCaul added. "None, in my opinion, connect all the dots at this point in time. But that's why we have an investigation ongoing."