The captain of Flight MH370 has been identified as the prime suspect by a Malaysian police investigation into the disappearance of the plane after checks cleared all other people on board, a media report said today.
The criminal inquiry does not rule out the possibility the Boeing 777-200 plane was lost due to mechanical failure or terrorism, but the police view is that if it was the result of human action, the captain was the most likely perpetrator, The Sunday Times reported.
Malaysia’s special branch focused the inquiry on Captain Zaharie Shah, 53, after intelligence checks failed to substantiate any suspicions about the other people on board the jet, the report said. The Beijing-bound Flight MH370 – carrying 239 people, including five Indians, mysteriously vanished on March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. The disappearance of the plane is one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
Detectives conducted more than 170 interviews. They found that Zaharie, an outgoing, married man with a penchant for gadgetry and postings on social media, appeared to have made no social or work commitments for the future, the report said. This stood in contrast to the plans of his co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, and the rest of the crew.
The investigators found that Zaharie had programmed a flight simulator in his home with drills rehearsing a flight far out into the southern Indian Ocean and a landing on an island with a short runway. These were deleted but computer experts were able to retrieve them, the report said.
The pilot had made no secret of his unusual hobby, creating aviation videos that were posted on the Internet. But behind the facade of a normal family life in a comfortable Kuala Lumpur suburb, with three children and a five-year-old grandson, police heard rumours of marital estrangement and tensions that have been denied by Zaharie’s family, it said.
The initial results of the inquiry have not been published but have been shared with foreign governments and investigators, the report said. They were disclosed by people in the aviation industry and government officials in southeast Asia, it said.
“The police investigation is still ongoing. To date no conclusions can be made as to the contributor to the incident and it would be sub judice to say so. Nevertheless, the police are still looking into all possible angles,” the Malaysian police was quoted as saying by the British daily.
It was Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who first gave a heavy hint about the government’s suspicions of “deliberate action by someone on the plane” on March 15.
On April 2, the chief of police, Khalid Abu Bakar, said: “We are investigating the four areas of focus, namely personal and psychological problems, sabotage and hijacking.”
He had said the simulator at Zaharie’s home “had not been cleared”.
Asked yesterday about the simulator, the police spokesman said: “The leads uncovered so far are still being investigated.”
A separate international investigation team, including air accident specialists from Britain, America and France, is working to find out what happened to the aircraft.
Relatives and friends of the pilot have fiercely defended him against speculation and rumour. They point out that the truth can emerge only when the plane is found and its “black box” flight data recorders are recovered.
Zaharie’s daughter, Aishah, has denounced speculation about her father as “lies”, and his brother-in-law, Asuad Khan, said he often played with his five-year-old grandson.
Meanwhile, it emerged last week that the search for Flight MH370 will now revert to a zone 1,800 kilometres west of Perth, previously dismissed in late March.
Meanwhile, Malaysian police have denied a report that MH370 pilot Zaharie is the primary suspect in the probe into the plane’s disappearance.
The investigation is “ongoing” on all angles, with nothing conclusive at this time, Malaysian police spokeswoman Asmawati Ahmad told CNN.
“We did not make any statement to say that Capt. Zaharie was the prime suspect,” she said, refuting an article in London’s The Sunday Times that says Zaharie is now the sole focus of the investigation.