Sunday, 16 March 2014

MH370 pilot was political fanatic?

Police are investigating the possibility that the pilot of missing Flight MH370 hijacked his own aircraft in a bizarre political protest.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was an ‘obsessive’ supporter of Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim. And hours before the doomed flight left Kuala Lumpur it is understood 53-year-old Shah attended a controversial trial in which Ibrahim was jailed for five years.

Campaigners say the politician, the key challenger to Malaysia’s ruling party, was the victim of a long-running smear campaign and had faced trumped-up charges.

Police sources have confirmed that Shah was a vocal political activist – and fear that the court decision 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.

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Timeline: The above graphic shows how the situation may have developed
Sudden ascent and dive points to cockpit takeover
Sudden ascent and dive points to cockpit takeover

The final picture: The missing jet is pictured here in February this year above Polish airspace
The final picture: The missing jet is pictured here in February this year above Polish airspace

Yesterday, Malaysian police searched his house in the upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb of Shah Alam, where he had installed a home-made flight simulator. But this newspaper can reveal that investigators had already spent much of last week examining two laptops removed from Shah’s home. One is believed to contain data from the simulator

Confirming rising fears, Malaysia’s prime minister Najib Razak announced yesterday that MH370 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.

It is not yet clear where the plane was taken, however Mr Razak said the most recent satellite data suggests the plane could have been making for one of two possible flight corridors. The search, involving 43 ships and 58 aircraft from 15 countries, switched from the South China Sea to the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean. 

In another dramatic twist early Sunday Indian officials however, said the search was on hold until 'fresh search areas' were defined by Malaysia. It is unclear what the reason was for the delay. 

Data showing the number of plausible runways where the plane could have touched down - which need to be at least 5,000ft - offer a baffling number of potential locations.
According to a map drawn up by U.S. radio station WNYC, there are 634 locations which could fit, from Australia to the Maldives to Pakistan.

However, the true number is likely to be even higher, as estimates of how far the plane could have travelled have been increased since the calculations were carried out.

US investigators say faint ‘pings’ were being transmitted for several hours after the flight lost contact with the ground. 

Meanwhile, military radar showed the jet climbed to 45,000ft – above its service limit – which could have been a deliberate attempt to knock out the passengers and crew.

Anwar Ibrahim is a broadly popular democracy icon and former deputy prime minister whose prosecution on a charge of sodomy is seen by many Malaysians as political persecution.


Activist: Captain Zaharie Ahmad ShahAlso raided: Fariq Abdul Hamid
Investigation: Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, left, was a political activist who attended a tense trial on the day of the flight, investigators believe. He was flying service MH370 alongside Fariq Abdul Hamid, right, from whom investigators have been keen to deflect suspicion


Jailed: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim leaving court in Putrajaya on March 7
Jailed: Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim leaving court in Putrajaya on March 7


Hunt: Investigators have riaded the houses of both pilots. Pictured is where co-pilot Hamid lives in an upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb
Hunt: Investigators have riaded the houses of both pilots. Pictured is where co-pilot Hamid lives in an upmarket Kuala Lumpur suburb

The raids on Captain Shah’s home appeared stage-managed as a display of intent after the Prime Minister said the focus of the investigation was now on ‘crew and passengers’ as a result of the latest leads.

But investigators have told the Mail on Sunday inquiries into the background of the pilot actually began days earlier.

Malaysian police, helped by FBI agents from the US, are looking into the political and religious backgrounds of both Zaharie and his co-pilot. Zaharie’s home was sealed off yesterday as police spent an hour inside.

However, a senior investigation source said two laptops were taken from the property in low-key visits by police early last week despite a series of denials by officials that his home had been searched or raided.

One laptop taken away is thought to contain data from the flight simulator while a second contained little information. Zaharie’s personal laptop was not found, and is thought to have been with him in the cockpit of the plane, the source said.

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.

JAILED FOR FIVE YEARS: MALAYSIA'S OPPOSITION LEADER

Anwar Ibrahim is a broadly popular democracy icon and former deputy prime minister whose prosecution on a charge of sodomy is seen by many Malaysians as political persecution.

Campaigners say the politician, the key challenger to Malaysia’s ruling party, was the victim of a long-running smear campaign and had faced trumped-up charges.

Captain Shah, who is thought to have attended the trial in Putrajaya hours before flying, is thought to be incensed by the verdict.

Co-workers have told investigators the veteran pilot was a social activist who was vocal and fervent in his support of Ibrahim.

Investigators said: ‘We are looking into the theory that Zaharie’s political beliefs may be a factor. There are huge sensitivities surrounding this but we cannot afford not to pursue any angle brought to our attention.’

In 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.

Mr Razak said the new satellite evidence shows ‘with a high degree of certainty’ that the one of the jet’s communications devices – the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System  was disabled just before it had reached the east coast of Malaysia. ACARS is a service that allows computers aboard the plane to relay in-flight information about the health of its systems back to the ground.

Shortly afterwards, near the cross-over point between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic controllers, the plane’s transponder, which emits an identifying signal, was switched off or, less likely, failed.

According to a military radar, the aircraft then turned and flew back over Malaysia before heading in a north-west direction.

On board: Student Firman Siregar, pictured centre with his family, was one of the 239 aboard Flight MH370
On board: Student Firman Siregar, pictured centre with his family, was one of the 239 aboard Flight MH370


Multinational: Indonesian rescue personnel join in the search for the missing plane
Multinational: Indonesian rescue personnel join in the search for the missing plane


Search: Investigators from countries around the world have been scouring the oceans
Search: Investigators from countries around the world have been scouring the oceans

A satellite was able to pick up a ‘ping’ from the plane until 08:11 local time, more than seven hours after it lost radar contact, although it was unable to give a precise location. Mr Razak went on to say that based on this new data, investigators ‘have determined the plane’s last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible corridors – north from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan through to northern Thailand, and south from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

If as suspected the plane was diverted into the Indian Ocean, the task of the search teams becomes more difficult, as there are hundreds of uninhabited islands and the water reaches depths of around 23,000ft.

Countries in the plane’s potential flightpath have now joined a huge effort to locate the missing passengers, but China described the revelation as ‘painfully belated’. And FBI investigators say the disappearance of MH370 may have been ‘an act of piracy’ and that the possibility that its hundreds of passengers are being held at an unknown location has not been ruled out.

Meanwhile, leading aviation lawyer James Healy–Pratt, who is helping relatives, said Malaysian Airlines had declined to buy Boeing’s Airplane Health Management system, which monitors systems in real time and could have alerted it to any potential problems, rather than having to recover a black box. 

‘If the transponder was manually disabled then one can only hope that the black boxes were not also manually disabled,’ he said. ‘Otherwise, the truth will never be known.’

The revelations about Zaharie’s political affiliations are highly sensitive in a country where political dirty tricks are widespread.

One of the investigation sources said: ‘We are looking into the theory that Zaharie’s political beliefs may be a factor. There are huge sensitivities surrounding this but we cannot afford not to pursue any angle brought to our attention.’

Separately, a police source told the Mail on Sunday: ‘I can confirm our investigations include the political and religious leanings of both pilots.’

Zaharie joined Malaysia  Airlines in 1981. He became a captain about ten years later  and has clocked up 18,360 hours of flying experience.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2581817/Doomed-airliner-pilot-political-fanatic-Hours-taking-control-flight-MH370-attended-trial-jailed-opposition-leader-sodomite.html#ixzz2w7YgUEpc
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- Sources: The Daily Mail UK

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