This may be a blind alley, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
One of the pilots of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, attended the trial of controversial opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim just hours before the plane took off. The opposition politician was being retried on sodomy charges after his original guilty verdict had been overturned.
Co-workers describe Shah as an “obsessive” supporter of Ibrahim. Coupled with the revelation that Shah had a homemade flight simulator in his house, the suggestion he may have hijacked the plane himself and flown it to a still-unknown destination is not completely out of the question.
Zaharie’s co-workers have told investigators the veteran pilot was a social activist who was vocal and fervent in his support of Ibrahim.
‘Colleagues made it clear to us that he was someone who held strong political beliefs and was strident in his support for Anwar Ibrahim,’ another investigation source said. ‘We were told by one colleague he was obsessed with politics.’
In their interviews, colleagues said Zaharie told them he planned to attend the court case involving Anwar on March 7, just hours before the Beijing flight, but investigators had not yet been able to confirm if he was among the crowd of Anwar supporters at court.
Zaharie is believed to be separated or divorced from his wife although they share the same house, close to Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. They have three children, but no family members were at home yesterday: only the maid has remained there.
n the days after Flight MH370 disappeared, Zaharie was affectionately described as a good neighbour and an eccentric ‘geek’ who had a flight simulator at home simply because he loved his work so much.
Malaysian officials initially appeared keen not to direct any suspicion towards Zaharie or his co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, who was last week revealed to have invited two women passengers into the cockpit and smoked on an earlier flight to Phuket.
But evidence of the way the plane’s transponder and communication systems were disabled and the way the plane was expertly flown over the Indian Ocean apparently using navigational waypoints meant only a skilled aviator could have been at the controls. Investigators were also baffled by why, if hijackers took over the plane, there was no Mayday call or signal from the two pilots to say the cockpit had been breached.
At yesterday’s press conference, the suspicion over the pilot’s involvement mounted as prime minister Najib Razak said that investigators had found ‘deliberate action’ on board the plane resulted in it changing course and losing contact with ground crews.
As a result of the new information, Malaysian authorities had ‘refocused their investigation on crew and passengers aboard’, he said. Police sealed off the area surrounding Zaharie’s home and searched the house shortly after the press conference.
A homemade flight simulator may, indeed, point to a dedicated pilot. It could also point to someone practicing how to steal away an aircraft without being tracked. Intricate knowledge of the inner workings of the aircraft would be necessary to turn off all the systems that allow aviation authorities to keep an eye on the bird. Is Shah that clever? Much more on the next page.