KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The FBI probably will be able to retrieve material deleted from the flight simulator used by the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to determine whether he rehearsed plans to divert the Boeing 777 after it lifted off from Kuala Lumpur, U.S. investigators said Wednesday.
"The chances are good we will get some of it," one federal official said, asking to not be identified because the investigation is still underway.
He said agents will retrieve and examine files deleted Feb. 3 from the hard drive of the simulator that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah built at his home. Of particular interest, he said, is whether the aviator trained to make maneuvers similar to the hard-left turn toward the Indian Ocean that were revealed in radar data from the lost flight. Also of interest is whether he removed the material all at once or in a series of deletions.
But the source said that any evidence of a practice route toward the Indian Ocean by itself would not prove nefarious intent. The pilot could have been planning flights to that area or Australia, or merely trying to practice his skills.
Officials said they expect to know soon what was deleted. The why, they said, will take longer. A 26-nation search of an area about the size of Australia continued Wednesday with no signs of the aircraft.
Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. said Wednesday that U.S. law enforcement officials were eager to offer more assistance to Malaysian authorities. He said that "at this point I don't think we have any theories that I could propound" on why the passenger jet with 239 people aboard was diverted about 50 minutes into its flight to Beijing.
"We are still in the process of trying to determine what happened there, and we're helping in any way that we can," Holder said.
In Kuala Lumpur, meanwhile, emotions boiled over as a distraught Chinese woman, said to be a relative of a passenger, shouted at officials gathered in a hotel ballroom for a daily media briefing. The woman demanded answers to multiple questions about what authorities know about the flight. Witnesses said security officers dragged the woman, tears running down her face, into a room as reporters and camera crews ran toward her.
Since the flight disappeared March 8, grieving families and relatives in China have voiced anguish and anger over what many see as incompetence and a lack of timely and accurate information from Malaysian authorities.
Moments later at the news briefing down the hall, as Malaysian officials answered reporters' questions, two Chinese women were escorted out of the hotel with reporters chasing after them and pushing through security officers.
Asked during the news conference whether it was time for Malaysian officials to apologize to the passengers' families, the acting transportation minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, responded, "The time is still to look for the aircraft."
Later, he said, "I clearly understand what they're going through. Emotions are high.... It is heart-wrenching even for me."
Hishammuddin said Malaysia was assembling a high-level team to send to Beijing to provide updates to the families.
He also said that reports that the missing aircraft had been sighted in the Maldives, nearly 2,000 miles west of its takeoff point and far from its intended course, were found not to be true.
Serrano reported from Washington and Lee reported from Kuala Lumpur.