Pilots of missing Malaysian jet investigated for links to extremism

Published: March 17, 2014

Fariq Hamid, left, and Zaharie Shah. Twitter/Facebook/theepochtimes.com

DEAN NELSON
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH

With Malaysian police searching the homes of flight MH370’s pilot and co-pilot, attention is growing on whether there was anything in the two men’s backgrounds that could explain the fate of the missing plane.

But while on the surface the pair appeared to be normal — and according to most — likable, police are scrutinizing the psychological background of both pilots, their family lives and their connections for any possible link to extremists or any motive for involvement in the flight’s disappearance.

When Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed that Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 had been seized mid-air and rerouted from its path to the Indian Ocean, the finger of suspicion pointed straight at its passengers and crew.

Whoever had taken the fate of the 239 people on board in their hands had a sophisticated knowledge of aircraft systems — they had disabled the radar and communications, and switched off its transponder, which signals its position to satellites. And in all probability no one on board had as much expertise as the pilot, Captain Zaharie Shah.

Now, according to the prime minister, he is one of the 239 passengers and crew who are being profiled by intelligence agencies to identify one of the most baffling plane seizures in aviation history.

“The two pilots are of particular focus in the investigation because they were in control of the aircraft and had the most detailed knowledge to do what was done to the communications equipment,” said one Western source.

The suspicion of Captain Shah, a 53-year-old grandfather and father of three grown up children, was bolstered in profiles of him that highlighted his obsessive passion for aircraft — he even had his own airline flight simulator at home and flew model remote controlled planes as a hobby.

His co-pilot, 27-year-old bachelor Fariq Abdul Hamid was portrayed as a playboy who entertained female passengers in his cockpit, where they flirted and smoked cigarettes.

According to their devoted and distraught friends and families they cut extremely unlikely terrorist figures — if they had in fact pulled their Boeing 777 airliner off its course, they would have done it on the basis of extraordinary covers.

Captain Shah is a mild-mannered social and political activist who raises money for the poor and loves his job so much that he badgers friends into using his flight simulator to share his pleasure.

His friend Stephen Chong, a fellow supporter of the Malaysian People’s Justice Party opposition group, said they had met as “social activists”, raising money for the underprivileged by organizing fundraising cycle rides. “During the election he was flying most of the time but whenever he was home, he would help out with environmental events,” he said.

He has his own Do-It-Yourself video channel on YouTube where he tutors the impractical on how to repair their air-conditioners, create ice machines, and make other gadgets more energy-efficient. He was also a proud cook, posting pictures of himself at the stove and of his dishes, and taking home-cooked food to community events. “But his passion was for flying. He build his own flight simulator to share the joy of flying with friends. He used to say it was more difficult than flying a real plane,” he said.

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