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Flight MH370: What we know about the missing pilots of Malaysia Airlines jet

WATCH: Investigators digging into the background of the missing pilots as the mystery deepens into Flight MH370

LATEST UPDATES:

  • Investigators searched the homes of Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid over the weekend
  • Intelligence agencies haven’t connected any of the pilots on the flight to known terrorist groups
  • The airline says the two pilots did not request to fly together, reports the Wall Street Journal

The pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet were a middle-aged family man passionate enough about flying to build his own simulator and a 27-year-old contemplating marriage who had just graduated to the cockpit of the Boeing 777.

READ MORE: Flight MH370: Plane search expands from Australia to Kazakhstan

As speculation intensified Friday that the plane might have been hijacked by a person or people with aviation skills, a picture began to emerge of the two men whose actions will be a focus of the investigation. Police have said they are looking at the psychological background of the pilots, their family life and connections as one line of inquiry into flight MH370’s disappearance.

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MORE: Missing Malaysia plane: frequently asked questions, few answers

Online, Malaysians have rushed to defend the reputations of the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid. Both men were described to The Associated Press as respectable and community minded.

Malaysian police confiscated a flight simulator from the pilot’s home on Saturday and also visited the home of the co-pilot in what Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar initially said was the first police visits to those homes.

A Muslim woman walks past the missing Malaysia Airlines co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s house in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 14, 2014.
A Muslim woman walks past the missing Malaysia Airlines co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s house in Shah Alam, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, March 14, 2014. AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin

But the government – which has come under criticism abroad for missteps and foot-dragging in their release of information – issued a statement Monday contradicting that account by saying police first visited the pilots’ homes as early as March 9, the day after the flight.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the two pilots did not request to fly together.

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Details of  Fariq Abdul Hamid’s and Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s backgrounds have emerged from interviews with neighbours, Malaysia Airlines staff, a religious leader and from social networks and news reports in Malaysia and Australia.

Who is Fariq Abdul Hamid?

Hamid is a “good boy, a good Muslim, humble and quiet,” said Ahmad Sarafi Ali Asrah, the head of a community mosque about 100 metres from Hamid’s two-story home in a middle class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

He described Hamid’s parents as distraught and the community solidly behind them, supporting the family in prayers.

Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, is pictured in a photo on “open” Facebook page.
Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, is pictured in a photo on “open” Facebook page. AP Photo/Facebook

“His father still cries when he talks about Fariq. His mother too,” said Ahmad Sarafi.

Hamid, the son of a high-ranking civil servant in Selangor state, joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. With just 2,763 hours of flight experience he had only recently started co-piloting the sophisticated Boeing 777.

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He had a short brush with fame when he was filmed recently by a crew from “CNN Business Traveler.” Reporter Richard Quest called it a perfect landing of a Boeing 777-200, the same model of the twin-aisle plane that went missing. An online tribute page to the pilots shows a photo of Hamid in the cockpit with Quest, both smiling.

Neighbour Ayop Jantan said he had heard that Hamid was engaged and planning his wedding. The eldest of five children, his professional achievements were a source of pride for his father, said Ayop, a retiree.

The final, reassuring words from the cockpit – “All right, good night” – were believed to have been spoken by Hamid, according to Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya.

Malaysia’s government said on Saturday police were examining an elaborate flight simulator taken from the home of 53-year-old pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

Who is Zaharie Ahmad Shah?

Hamid’s superior, Zaharie, joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and has more than 18,000 flight hours.

His Facebook page shows an avid aviation enthusiast, who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.

aharie Ahmad Shah, one of the pilots on the ill-fated Malaysia Boeing 777 Airlines flight bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpar which disappeared without trace over a week ago.
aharie Ahmad Shah, one of the pilots on the ill-fated Malaysia Boeing 777 Airlines flight bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpar which disappeared without trace over a week ago. AP Photo

Born in northern Penang state, the bald-headed captain and grandfather is also an enthusiastic handyman and proud home cook. As part of what he called “community service,” he had posted several YouTube videos including how to make air conditioners more efficient to cut electricity bills, how to waterproof window panes and how to repair a fridge icemaker.

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A Malaysian Airline stewardess who had flown with Shah several times said he was “very nice, very friendly and safety-conscious.” She didn’t want to be named because of company policy prohibiting employees from speaking to the media.

Neighbours of both men also praised their commitment to the community. Hamid played futsal, a modified form of soccer popular in Southeast Asia, with neighbourhood youngsters and paid for their sports shirts.  Shah was known for bringing food he cooked himself to community events or making sure his wife and children did when he couldn’t attend. A supporter of Malaysia’s main opposition parties, he had volunteered to be a poll monitor in recent elections.

Yet both Hamid and Shah have quirks that reveal a more colorful side to their pilot personas.

Grabbing attention were pictures Shah posted online of a flight simulator he had built for his home using three large computer monitors and other accessories.

Flight simulator inside the home of Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
Flight simulator inside the home of Zaharie Ahmad Shah. AP Photo

Malaysia Airlines has leapt to his defence. Asked at a news conference if pilots are allowed such equipment, CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said “everyone is free to do his own hobby.”

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Shah is certified by Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation as a flight simulator examiner, according to Malaysia Airlines.

After media reports  stated that Shah and his family moved out of their home the day before the flight went missing, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said Sunday that was not the case.

Malaysian authorities said yesterday that Zaharie was a supporter of the country’s opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

Just hours prior to the plane’s disappearance, on March 7th, a Malaysian court sentenced Ibrahim to five years in jail on sodomy charges, overturning an earlier acquittal and throwing his political career into jeopardy.

Some media  reports have labelled the pilot as a “fanatical” supporter of Ibrahim.

According to the Daily Mail, “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.”

William H. Dobson of Slate said Anwar is trying to defeat Malaysia’s authoritarian regime through elections—not terrorism, let alone revolution.

“So, to be clear, what we know is that the pilot of MH370 is a fanatical supporter of a nonviolent man who supports a pluralistic and democratic Malaysia.”

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