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.
CNN reports that U.S. officials believe that “those in the cockpit” are responsible for the plane’s disappearance:
The first clue that perhaps one or both of the pilots were involved stem from when the plane made a sharp, deliberate turn from where it last communicated with Kuala Lumpur air traffic controllers, and before it would have to communicate with Vietnamese controllers, according to the U.S. official with knowledge of the latest intelligence thinking.
“This is the perfect place to start to disappear,” the official said.
Military radar showed the jetliner flew in a westerly direction back over the Malaysian peninsula, Najib said. It is then believed to have either turned northwest toward the Bay of Bengal or southwest elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, he said.
“Evidence is consistent with someone acting deliberately from inside the plane,” the Prime Minister said, officially confirming the plane’s disappearance was not caused by an accident. “….Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, we are investigating all major possibilities on what caused MH370 to deviate.”
The focus of the search is now in the southern Indian Ocean. “The southern scenario seems more plausible,” the official said.
Meanwhile, according to Najib, new satellite information leads authorities to be fairly certain that someone disabled the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, or ACARS, just before the aircraft reached the east coast of peninsular Malaysia.
“Shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control,” Najib said, “the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.”
ACARS is the system that routinely transmits information like turbulence and fuel load back to the airline. A transponder is a system controlled from the cockpit that transmits data about the plane via radio signals to air traffic controllers. It combines with ground radar to provide air traffic controllers with details about the plane, including its identification, speed, position and altitude.
The last voice communication from the cockpit a week ago were these words: “All right, good night.”
They were uttered at the Vietnam air traffic control border at about the same time the transponder was shut off, Najib said. That suggests the incident on the plane began sooner than initially thought.
More suggestive details, but what about a motive? Ibrahim, despite a belief in some weird conspiracy involving the U.S., Israel, and a PR firm, is not a fanatic, but a reformer. His prosecution seems politically motivated, which, for a political activist like Shah, could engender feelings of outrage and hate of the government. But there would have to be a mental breakdown for him to act so irrationally as to commandeer an aircraft and fly it somewhere — or crash it. No one reported any unusual behavior.
This doesn’t mean he didn’t go postal. But you’re going to have to come up with a rational reason why he may have planned the takeover and flown the plane away before this theory even becomes plausible.