Downed planes: MH370

MH370 pilot tested flight path at home

Malaysia Airlines pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah used an elaborate flight simulator to steer the aircraft into the Indian Ocean.
Malaysia Airlines pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah used an elaborate flight simulator to steer the aircraft into the Indian Ocean.

Magazine says confidential Malaysian police report casts suspicion on pilot

NEW YORK • The pilot who flew missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which is believed to have gone off route and crashed in the Indian Ocean, conducted a simulation of a similar path just weeks before, New York magazine has reported.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, the highly respected pilot at the helm of the plane, used an elaborate home-built flight simulator to steer himself over the Straits of Malacca and into the remote southern Indian Ocean, a course with striking resemblance to the route MH370 is believed to have taken, reported news agency Agence France-Presse.

The finding, which casts a shadow of suspicion over the pilot, was published on Friday by New York magazine, which obtained a confidential document from Malaysian police investigating the incident.

According to the document, the Federal Bureau Investigation recovered deleted data points from the flight simulator on Capt Zaharie's hard drive.

"We found a flight path that led to the southern Indian Ocean, among the numerous other flight paths charted on the flight simulator," the document said, according to New York magazine. Although the paths are similar, the simulated flight's endpoint is located some 1,450km from the area where the plane is believed to have gone down.

The Boeing 777 vanished for unknown reasons on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, mostly Chinese nationals.

Capt Zaharie, an opposition supporter, came under scrutiny amid unsubstantiated reports that he was upset over a jail sentence handed to Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim hours before the plane took off or was suicidal due to personal problems.

But his family and friends rejected such claims as baseless. His sister, Ms Sakinab Shah, told the BBC that he was not responsible for "this heinous crime".

Investigators have sought a motive to explain if he deliberately flew the aircraft off course, but he had no money, mental health or marriage problems, no drug or alcohol problems, and no history of odd behaviour. They also checked if he had recently taken out life insurance but found nothing suspicious.

Ms Sakinab added: "He was just a few years from retirement. Do you think he would want to throw this all away?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 24, 2016, with the headline 'Pilot tested flight path at home'. Print Edition | Subscribe