Sunday 28 December 2014

Lost jet's pilot practised landing on remote island

Dean Nelson

Published 23/06/2014 | 02:30

Zaharie Shah (inset) was flying MH370. Main, Iman (4), a crew member's child, writes a tribute on the 100th day since it vanished
Zaharie Shah (inset) was flying MH370. Main, Iman (4), a crew member's child, writes a tribute on the 100th day since it vanished
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah: the father of three was a flying enthusiast. Photo: Damir Sagolj

THE pilot of the missing Malaysian Airlines plane which disappeared in March with 239 people on board had plotted a flight path to a remote island in the southern Indian Ocean where the search is now focused, investigators have discovered.

The route, which was deleted before MH370 disappeared on March 8, was made on a home flight simulator machine used for practise by its captain, Zaharie Shah. Its discovery has intensified suspicion that he deliberately hijacked his own plane and diverted it from its approved flight path to Beijing.

More than three months have now passed since the flight vanished in what's become one of the great mysteries of modern aviation. And despite a lack of any hard evidence, suspicion of Capt Zaharie's involvement has grown as investigators have gradually eliminated other potential suspects and causes of its disappearance.

Detectives and investigators, including experts from Britain's Air Incident Branch, have so far found no evidence of a technical fault or malfunction which could explain its disappearance. Inquiries into the backgrounds of the flight's passengers and crew have similarly failed to yield any evidence of, or motive for, anyone hijacking the plane or sabotaging it.

But suspicion of Capt Zaharie emerged within a week of MH370's disappearance as China intensified pressure on Malaysia to explain the mystery and find the missing plane. More than 150 of its 227 passengers were Chinese nationals.

Detectives raided Capt Zaharie's home in Kuala Lumpur and took away his flight simulator as part of their investigation as tracking information from the British Inmarsat satellite company indicated the flight had not plunged into the South China Sea off Malaysia's east cost close to Vietnam as feared but had doubled back across the Malay Peninsula, turned left and headed towards the southern Indian Ocean.

Its movement indicated it had been deliberately diverted but there is no evidence yet to conclude who was responsible.

Last Friday, shortly before new details of Capt Zaharie's deleted simulator flight path emerged, Malaysia's acting transport minister, Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, said his search team would soon begin looking in a new area in the southern Indian Ocean corridor suggested by a new analysis.

"We have to continue with the lead because the best lead we have is based on the handshake on the Inmarsat satellite data and still in the southern corridor", he said.

Sources close to the investigation confirmed that a deleted flight path was recovered from Capt Zaharie's simulator which had been used to rehearse landing an aircraft on a small runway on an unnamed island in the far southern Indian Ocean.

The discovery leaves Capt Zaharie as the prime suspect in a crime which cannot yet be proven to have been committed – and Malaysian police have been careful in their public comments to stress that all leads are still being investigated and no conclusions have been reached.

But at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur on March 16, Malaysia's chief of police Khalid Abu Bakar said he believed the plane had been diverted by hijackers, saboteurs or someone with a personal vendetta or psychological problem.

Friends and relatives of Capt Zaharie denied he had any motive for hijacking his own plane.

They described him as a warm and helpful man who was committed to social work. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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