Pilot comes under scrutiny as friends defend him


Foreign reports are increasingly identifying those in the cockpit as being responsible for the mysterious vanishing of MH370

(FMT) – Friends of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 pilot Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah have come out to defend him as investigators started focusing on those in the cockpit for probably being responsible for the disappearance of the jetliner.

“Things are pointing towards [him] probably [being] the cause of the thing, terrorism and all that. I think that’s not fair because nobody knows what’s happening. That’s why I decided to come forward and speak,” Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post quoted Peter Chong, 51, as saying today.

“I don’t blame people for exploring every angle. But until there is proof that he is a terrorist, I will not accept it,” said Chong, according to the report.

Chong described Zaharie as a “caring man and a professional and dedicated pilot” who always puts the safety of his passengers first.

Chong, who is also PKR’s Subang MP R Sivarasa’s secretary, said that Zaharie was a close friend and fellow member of PKR.

Saying that he had met Zaharie two years ago, Chong said they were close and spoke regularly. The last time they spoke was a week before the ill-fated flight took off to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.

“There was nothing unusual about him that time, and nothing unusual in the recent few months also,” Chong was quoted as saying in the daily.

“The Malaysian government may play with his political membership with the opposition party, but I think it’s got nothing to do with this. I hope to let the families of the passengers know their lives were in the hands of somebody good,” he said.

Another friend and former classmate Mohd Nasir Othman was quoted in The Star as describing Zaharie as a gentle grandfather who would “never compromise his passengers’ safety”.

“He would never do anything that would endanger people’s lives,” the daily quoted Mohd Nasir as saying. The paper also quoted several other old friends of the pilot who defended his professionalism.

The focus shifted to the pilots following Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak’s disclosure yesterday that the missing Malaysia Airlines was deliberately steered off course after its communication system was switched off.

He said it headed west over the Malaysian seaboard and could have flown for another seven hours on its fuel reserves.

Investigators also said that the plane was flown off course by a “skilled and competent” flyer.

Obsessed with politics

UK’s Mail on Sunday meanwhile reported that the police were investigating the possibility that the pilot hijacked his own aircraft in a bizarre political protest.

The daily said it had learned that Zaharie was an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim.

It also claimed that police sources confirmed that Zaharie was a vocal political activist – and fear that the recent Court of Appeal decision to sentence Anwar to five years jail for sodomy had left him profoundly upset.

“It was against this background that, seven hours later, he took control of a Boeing 777-200 bound for Beijing and carrying 238 passengers and crew,” said the newspaper.

The police had inspected Zaharie’s house yesterday. They had also inspected co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s house, and are believed to be looking into the political and religious backgrounds of both the pilots.

The UK daily also said that Zaharie’s co-workers have told investigators the veteran pilot was a social activist who was vocal and fervent in his support of Anwar.

“Colleagues made it clear to us that he was someone who held strong political beliefs and was strident in his support for Anwar Ibrahim,” the Mail quoted another investigation source as saying.

“We were told by one colleague he was obsessed with politics,” added the report in quoting the source.