Spotlight turns to the pilots of missing plane


The news about the forcible takeover of the missing plane will renew focus on the two pilots at the helm of the passenger jet.

K Kabilan, FMT

Following Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s confirmation today that the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was deviated from its original course due to deliberate action, the focus has now shifted to the pilots of the ill-fated jetliner.

Najib today confirmed previous reports from unofficial sources that the communications systems of MH370 were deliberately disabled.

He said that based on satellite and radar evidence, the plane then changed course and could have continued flying for a further seven hours. He added the “movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane”.

The plane disappeared a week ago with 239 people onboard while it was on its way to Beijing. It lost contact with air traffic control as it headed east towards the South China Sea, about one hour after take-off.

“These movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane,” said the prime minister without calling it a hijack. He said investigators have not made a final determination.

“Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, we are investigating all major possibilities on what caused MH370 to deviate,” he added.

Najib also said that Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation on crew and passengers aboard.

Najib’s disclosure today followed an earlier AFP report that quoted a senior military official as saying that the Malaysia Airlines was deliberately turned towards the Indian Ocean by someone with up-to-date knowledge of flying and radar positions.

Saying that available data suggested a “skilled” flyer had turned the jet away from its original journey, the senior Malaysian official speculated that it has to be a “competent and a current pilot”.

“He knew how to avoid the civilian radar. He appears to have studied how to avoid it,” the official was quoted as saying in the report.

Immediately after Najib’s press conference, Malaysian police today raided the house of MH370 pilot Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, reported Reuters. The police had previously said that they had been monitoring Zaharie’s house without entering it.

They also said that the questioning of families and friends of passengers and crew onboard the missing flight was to determine their state of mind before flying out.

A senior investigator told FMT that while they were going through the passengers and crew list again, the main focus was on the pilots.

Pilot suicide?

Zaharie, 53 and a veteran of 33 years, was assisted by First Officer Fariq Ab Hamid, 27.

The senior investigator said that they were particularly looking into Zaharie’s religious leaning.

Zaharie Ahmad Shah

Zaharie joined MAS in 1981 and had logged 18,365 hours of flying time. He was portrayed by his friends and colleagues as a “superb pilot” and that he assembled his own flight simulator at home.

He also has a YouTube channel in which his videos showed him as a handyman and home-cook.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this week that he had trained for a while in the Philippines, studying aviation at the Philippine Airlines (PAL) Aviation School in Pasay City in 1980, before joining Malaysia Airlines as a pilot in 1981.

He was born in Penang and is a known opposition supporter – a life member of an opposition party, registered in its Subang division, and had worked as an election volunteer during the last GE.  He is married with children and grandchildren.

As for Fariq, he was in the news earlier this week for inviting two young women into the cockpit throughout the journey from Phuket to Kuala Lumpur in 2011, clearly in breach of security.