Posted 17.03.14

Missing Malaysian Flight Mystery Deepens: Pilot Investigated, Foul Play Suspected

If this was a hijacking, then where is the list of demands? March 16, 2014

It has been over a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared without a trace, and the world is nowhere closer to finding either where the airplane and its 239 passengers and crew are to be found, nor what actually happened.

Instead, what initially was speculation about a midair disintegration, and subsequently suggested a potential case of airplane terrorism gone wrong, has now transformed into a theory that the pilot and/or crew may have been engaged in “foul play”, especially since it appears that based on tracking data, that the plane flew for nearly seven hours after someone “skilled” purposefully shut down its communications and tracking beacon: possibly indicative of a stealthy midair hijacking.

However, the same satellite data gave no precise location, and the plane’s altered course could have taken it anywhere from central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.

“More importantly, and what is missing so far, is that if indeed this was a hijacking, then where is the list of demands? Or was this merely repossession of something already onboard the plane, i.e. theft, ostenisbly of something in the cargo hold, or the kidnapping or repossession of one or more passengers on board the plane?”

Also, if indeed the plane is safely somewhere else, as per the pilot’s wishes, then how and why are the 200+ passengers, most of whom likely have portable communication devices, keeping quiet?


On the manifest above, while the main focus so far has been on the two passengers with stolen passports, we wonder how long until the two Ukrainians are thrown into the mix. As for the topic of the plane’s possible location considering the latest satellite tracking data, the Malaysian officials on Saturday released this map showing two corridors that the plane might be located on.

WaPo reports: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Saturday that, based on newly analyzed satellite data, the plane could have made last made contact anywhere along one of two corridors: one stretching from northern Thailand toward the Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan border, the other, more southern one stretching from Indonesia to the remote Indian Ocean. Although U.S. officials previously said they believed the plane could have remained in the air for several extra hours, Najib said Saturday that the flight was still communicating with satellites until 8:11 a.m. — 7 ½ hours after takeoff, and more than 90 minutes after it was due in Beijing.

There was no further communication with the plane after that time, Najib said. If the plane was still in the air, it would have been nearing its fuel limit. The U.S. official said the search area is somewhere along the arc or circumference of a circle with a diameter of thousands of miles. The new leads about the plane’s path, though ambiguous, have drastically changed a search operation involving more than a dozen nations.

Malaysia on Saturday said that efforts would be terminated in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, the spot where the plane first disappeared from civilian radar.

Malaysian authorities are now likely to look for help from other countries in Southeast and South Asia, seeking mysterious or unidentified readings that their radar systems might have picked up. The largely clueless Malaysian police, with few leads to puruse, have rapidly shifted their suspicion on the team of pilot and co-pilot.

Reuters reports that minutes after Malaysian leader Najib Razak outlined investigators’ latest findings about flight MH370 at a news conference, police began searching the house of the aircraft’s 53-year-old captain for any evidence that he could have been involved in foul play.

A photo of the flight simulator set up in the pilot’s house is shown below:

AFP provides some additional perspective on the pilot:

Investigative sources told Reuters on Friday they believed the plane was following a commonly used navigational route when it was last spotted early on Saturday, northwest of Malaysia. Their suspicion has hardened that it was flown off-course by the pilot or co-pilot, or someone else with detailed knowledge of how to fly and navigate a large commercial aircraft.

No details have emerged of any passengers or crew with militant links or psychological problems that could explain a motive for sabotaging the flight. The experienced captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was a flying enthusiast who spent his off days tinkering with a flight simulator of the plane that he had set up at home, current and former co-workers said. Malaysia Airlines officials did not believe he would have sabotaged the flight. The 27-year-old co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was religious and serious about his career, family and friends said, countering news reports suggesting he was a cockpit Romeo who was reckless on the job.

An Australian television report broadcast an interview with a young South African woman who said Fariq and another pilot colleague invited them into the cockpit of a flight he co-piloted from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.

Since 9/11, passengers have been prohibited from entering cockpits during a flight. Malaysia Airlines has said it was “shocked” by the report, but that it could not verify the claims. The son of a high-ranking official in the public works department of a Malaysian state, Fariq joined Malaysia Airlines when he was 20.

He is a mild-mannered “good boy” who regularly visited his neighbourhood mosque outside Kuala Lumpur, said the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader. The far more seasoned Zaharie joined MAS in 1981 and had logged 18,365 hours of flying time.

Malaysian media reports quoted colleagues calling Zaharie a “superb pilot”, who also served as an examiner, authorised by the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department, to conduct simulator tests for pilots. The whole passenger manifest is likely to be re-examined. So if the pilots were not involved, could it have been a hijacking by someone among the passengers (with or without the complict participation of the pilors)? Here suspicion will once again fall on two passengers who boarded with stolen EU passports. Interpol had identified the two men as Iranians: Seyed Mohammed Reza Delavar, who used a stolen Italian passport, and Pouria Nourmohammadi, who used an Austrian one.

Both passports had been stolen in Thailand. Interpol chief Ronald Noble said last Tuesday that the men were thought to be illegal immigrants who had travelled from Doha to Kuala Lumpur in a round-about bid to reach Europe. Interpol’s information suggested the pair were “probably not terrorists”, Noble said at the time. Adam Dolnik, a professor of terrorism studies at the University of Wollongong in Australia, said he still doubted that organised terrorism was behind the Malaysian plane mystery. While a group like Al-Qaeda “would love to bring down an airliner”, a Malaysia Airlines plane made little sense as a target and the stolen passports had an “amateurish” element, Dolnik said. “Terrorists don’t do (hijackings), because the chances of success have gone down,” he said, citing the challenge of bringing weapons onto a plane and subduing other passengers.

There has been no indication yet of any possible terrorist involvement. But some academics suggest the theory requires further consideration. “Investigations should focus on criminal and terrorist motives,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism expert at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University. “It is likely that the aircraft was hijacked by a team knowledgeable about airport and aircraft security. It is likely they are supported by a competent team from the ground.”

Which is why instead of merely looking at the passenger manifest, perhaps it is time to look at the cargo manifest as well. Was there anything on board the plane, one serving the all-important Beijing route, that may have made the stealthy theft of the plane a sufficiently attractive risk/return proposition to the pilots? Purely hypothetically, a 777 has a cargo hold that, in addition to passengers and baggage, can hold somewhere between 20 and 25 tons. 25 tons of gold, on a less than public Malaysia-China “official import-bypassing” route, would have a value of a little over $1 billion, four times more than the value of a new Boeing 777. So perhaps instead of robbing the cargo from the plane, some more enterprising thought would be to get the pilots in on the play, and steal the entire plane, mid-flight. Of course, all of the above is purely hypothetical, and we are confident once the plane is uncovered safe and sound (or not as the case may be) and with all the cargo accounted for, that yet another crazy conspiracy theory can be disproved. And still, we wonder, would Malaysia Airlines be so kind as the disclose just what “other” cargo may have been on board the mysterious flight. Inquiring minds are dying to know.

* * * Stepping away from the conspiracy ledge for a minute, here is the WSJ with the four main unanswered questions about the flight:

Was it a hijacking?

While Mr. Najib suggested that the plane’s disappearance was due to “deliberate action,” he stopped short of categorizing the event as a hijack. “I wish to be very clear: We are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.” Aviation experts say that the likelihood of a hijack has increased significantly with the latest information, and a key to solving the mystery is to profile in detail every person aboard the jet. “Everything points to a hijack or something that was planned way in advance,” said Mark Martin, an aviation consultant.

Did the plane crash, or did it land somewhere?

No further information was available about the state of the widebody jet and the 239 people on board after the last satellite communication was sent from it. There was no indication as to whether the aircraft crashed into the ocean—as several aviation experts have earlier suspected—or if it had actually landed. Though experts say it is unlikely such a large jet could land undetected, investigators are actively pursuing the notion that the plane was diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose,” a person familiar with the matter said earlier to The Wall Street Journal. The search will now likely involve scores of other countries in South and Central Asia following the new information, raising the possibility that the jet may have reached some of the world’s more politically unstable regions.

Whose deliberate actions?

Mr. Najib says the nation’s authorities have “refocused” their investigation onto the crew and passengers. Experts say that the 777′s multiple communication systems could only have been manually disabled by someone or people with detailed knowledge of the sophisticated jet’s inner workings, thus putting the focus on the pilots or with passengers who have aviation experience. “Whoever flew the aircraft was an outstanding pilot who was familiar with radar evasion techniques and fuel-burn management,” said Mr. Martin, the aviation consultant.

Why can’t the search parameters be narrowed?

Satellite information disclosed on Saturday indicate that the plane may have taken two possible tracks: a northerly corridor as far as the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and a southerly route extending to the southern Indian Ocean. Mr. Najib explained that the type of satellite data couldn’t confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact. Investigators are working to “further refine the information” on satellite data. *

Pilot Error

The father-of-three was a fervent supporter of Anwar Ibrahim – jailed for  homosexuality only hours before the Malaysia Airways jet disappeared

T-shirt: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah (right) with best  friend Peter Chong

The pilot of the missing Malaysia  Airlines jet is pictured in a T-shirt with a Democracy is Dead slogan as  fears emerge he could have hijacked the plane as an anti-government protest.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a fervent supporter of his country’s  opposition leader who was jailed for homosexuality – illegal in Malaysia – only  hours before flight MH370 vanished with 239 passengers and crew on board, the  Sunday Mirror can reveal.

And in a new twist, it emerged that the pilot’s wife and three children moved  out of the family’s home the day before the plane’s disappearance.

Not sure what to believe about MH370? We debunk the myths  here.

The revelations came after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak yesterday  confirmed the Boeing 777 jet was deliberately diverted from its planned  route between his country’s capital Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.

Investigators said trackers aboard the plane, which transmit its location to  air traffic controllers, were disabled moments after take-off last Friday.

And the airliner could have flown on for seven hours after vanishing from  radar over the South China Sea.

Police  raided the pilot’s home in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

They spent two hours at the gated property and left carrying small bags  believed to contain evidence.

They also found that the experienced pilot, who has worked for Malaysia  Airlines since 1981, had built a Boeing 777 flight simulator inside.

Follow the latest developments in the search with our live blog  here

But his friend Peter Chong insisted Capt Zaharie, 53, would be “the last  person” to hijack the aircraft.

He told the Sunday Mirror: “I would trust that man with my life. He  loves people and being involved in something like that would hurt people. I  would not believe he was involved in any way at all. If I went on a plane and  was allowed the choice of a pilot, I would choose Captain  Zaharie.”

Mr Chong last saw his friend a week before the jet vanished. He said the two  had agreed to meet up this week and that the pilot had been “his normal,  cheerful self”.

But now he has become a focus of the police investigation.

Landing sites: The red dots show all the  places MH370 could have landed within the search area 

On Twitter and YouTube he has backed human rights groups and campaigners for  internet freedom in Malaysia, which has strict Government controls.

The slogan on his T-shirt, as he poses with his pal Peter, is dated May 5,  2013 – the date of the country’s elections which led to violent protests against  alleged poll fraud.

Opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim called activists on to the streets and Capt  Zaharie has “liked” videos by Ibrahim posted on YouTube.

Ibrahim was sentenced to five years in jail on gay sex charges on March 7,  provoking widescale condemnation across the country.

The jet vanished in the early hours of the 8th March 2014.

Experts say it could have crossed up to 14 countries and landed safely in  Kazakhstan or crashed into the Indian Ocean.

Mr Chong, a political secretary to a Malaysian MP, described his friend as “a  very caring person who puts people ahead of himself”.

He said the pilot installed a mock-up of a 777 cockpit at his home only “to  share his joy of flying with friends”.

Photo : Getty

Capt Zaharie posted snaps of himself with the Boeing simulator on his  Facebook page, along with another showing him brandishing a meat cleaver and  holding a bowl of mince.

Mr Chong said Capt Zaharie would have done everything to ensure his 227  passengers were safe in the event of a hijack.

He was angry at suggestions the pilot could have “gone rogue” and hijacked  his own plane.

Mr Chong said: “I just do not believe it until there is concrete evidence to  prove otherwise. What I hope has happened is that it has been hijacked (by a  passenger), landed somewhere and negotiations are going on.”

Investigators believe someone with flying experience took the cockpit  controls and steered Flight MH370 off its planned route.

A Malaysian government official said the hijacking theory was now  “conclusive”.

Radar tracks show the plane climbing and descending in unusual patterns,  which should have alerted air traffic controllers that something was wrong.

MH370  flew to 45,000ft – almost 2,000ft above what Boeing says is its maximum  recommended height – before descending to 23,000ft.

It changed course at least twice from its scheduled route – first to fly west  back towards Malaysia and then north west into one of two air lanes used by  commercial planes.

A total of 57 ships, 48 aircraft and 13 nations are taking part in the air  and sea search .

Loaded with maximum fuel, a Boeing 777 plane can fly for 7,725 miles.

But aviation experts said it was unlikely it would have that much in the  tanks for its scheduled flight path.

If MH370 flew through other countries’ airspaces it should have triggered  national air defences.

Flight Global’s operations and safety editor David Learmount said: “If it has  flown north, why have none of the countries it has flown over said  anything?

“That’s the thing that baffles me more than any other. They would have sent  up aircraft to investigate. If it’s gone south there’s nothing there until you  hit Antarctica.”

Boeing 777s need a runway up to a mile long to land, making it unlikely it  touched down safely on a remote Asian strip.

“I can’t think which airfield it would be – and what would they do with the  passengers?” said Mr Learmount.

Malaysian authorities have been criticised for keeping the possibility of a  hijack secret for eight days.

Mr Learmount said their “total incompetence is unforgivable”, and created  more agony for families desperate for news.

Malaysian PM Razak said yesterday: “We can say with a high degree of  certainty that the aircraft communications addressing and reporting system was  disabled just before it reached the east coast of peninsular Malaysia.

“Shortly afterwards the aircraft’s transponder was switched off.

“From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed  an aircraft believed to be MH370 did indeed turn back. It then flew in a  westerly direction back over peninsular Malaysia before turning north west.

“These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the  plane.

Pictured: Has IT manager found missing Malaysian Airlines plane after  surfing satellite images on the internet?

Mike Seberger said he may have detected the missing Malaysian Airlines plane  on a high-resolution satellite photo

Mystery: IT manager Mike Seberger found this image by  surfing satellite images on the internet

One of the millions of people gripped by the mystery of flight MH370 may have tracked down  the missing jet… simply by surfing the internet.

Mike Seberger said he may have detected the missing Malaysian Airlines plane on a  high-resolution satellite photo taken above the seas where it went missing.

The image he spotted shows a plane-shaped object under a bank of white cloud  in the Gulf of Thailand, an arm of the South China Sea.

42 ships and 39 aircraft from 12 different countries have been drafted in to  search for the missing Boeing 777 and the 239 passengers – with no success.

UPDATE: Mirror reader de-bunks theory as he finds clearer  image

But if Mr Seberger’s hunch is correct, he will have solved a mystery that has  fascinated the world and baffled experts – all from the comfort of his home.

Mr Seberger, 47, from Chicago, United States, found the mystery object after  logging on to the Tomnod website, which uploaded the satellite images of 1,000  square miles the day after the plane disappeared.

Around half a million volunteers signed up for the online mission on the  first day and up to 100,000 people a minute have been using the website. The  interest has been so high that the site has frequently crashed through too much  traffic.

The site works by allocating each viewer a tiny square of the search  area.

The viewer then scrutinises that image in detail – a technique known as ‘crowd searching’.

The satellite photos were taken 400 miles above the earth on March 9 and can  capture a detail as small as a penalty spot on a football field.

If viewers see something of interest, they flag up the detail to the website  managers.

Mr Seberger said it took him only a few minutes to find the image, whose  dimensions are said to be consistent with a Boeing 777.

Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 search map
Huge: This map shows the search area for  Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370


Last night Mr Seberger said: “At first I skipped past it, thinking, ‘Nah. No  way I would find anything that quickly.

“But then I kept scrolling back to it and thinking to myself, ‘It does  resemble a plane.’”

The intrigue came as the search was widened to waters off both sides of the  peninsula following possible sightings of the plane from at least nine  witnesses.

One was from a New Zealander on a rig off Vung Tau in southern Vietnam. He  sent an email saying he had seen a “burning object” about 200 miles out to  sea.

View gallery


Mapped: The 634 runways  where missing Malaysia Airlines plane could have landed

Potential hijackers had enough fuel to  fly anywhere from Pakistan to Western Australia