Saturday, March 15, 2014

Malaysia Airlines: The pilots of the missing plane

By Ben Brumfield and Pamela Brown, CNN
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1151 GMT (1951 HKT

(CNN) -- "All right, good night."

Those are the last words heard from the cockpit of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, said Zulazri Mohd Ahnuar, Malaysian civil aviation officer.

Who said them? Was it the captain or his first mate? Or someone else in the cockpit with them?

Since MH 370 went missing Saturday, there have been more questions than answers, including about the pilots.

Malaysian investigators are considering the possibility that one of them was involved in its disappearance, the transportation minister said Friday.

Information from U.S. officials indicated that the Boeing 777-200ER passenger jet may have flown for five hours after last contact with the pilots.

The duty of all pilots is to aviate, navigate and communicate, in that order, an aviation expert has told CNN.

Someone may have kept aviating, but either they couldn't -- or wouldn't -- communicate.
This is what we know about the 50-year-old pilot captain and his 27-year-old first mate.

Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah
Police have been outside his Malaysia home every day since the plane vanished, a source told CNN. But they have not gone inside.

If they did, they might find a flight simulator there. In a YouTube video he apparently posted, Zaharie can be seen sitting in front of one.

And in a German online forum for simulator enthusiasts, X-Sim.de, there is a post from November 2012 in his name that says he built it himself.

"About a month ago I finish assembly of FSX and FS9 with 6 monitors." The message was signed Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah BOEING 777 MALAYSIA AIRLINES.

On Friday, the CEO of Malaysia Airlines said that everyone is allowed to pursue their hobbies.

Zaharie, a pilot with 18,365 flight hours under his belt, is reportedly also a flight instructor.
On the same YouTube channel, Zaharie gives workman's tips on tinkering with a refrigerator and an air conditioner.

CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the social media posts.

1st Officer Fariq Ab Hamid
CNN's aviation correspondent Richard Quest once visited MH 370's 1st Officer Fariq Ab Hamid in a Malaysia Airlines cockpit, when he was training. Quest watched him land the plane under supervision of a senior pilot in February.

The captain described Fariq's landing as textbook perfect.

Fariq joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. He has 2,763 flying hours behind him and was transitioning to the Boeing 777-200 after finishing training in a flight simulator.

As with Zaharie, not much is known to the public about Fariq. But Quest was not the only guest who had joined him in the cockpit.

Passenger Jonti Roos got an invitation to check out the cockpit during a flight from Thailand to Malaysia -- one that Fariq was flying with another pilot.

She took photos and said Farid and his colleague smoked in the cockpit. After MH 370's disappearance, she reported her experience to journalists.

Malaysia Airlines was aghast. "We are shocked by these allegations," the airline said.
Such a practice would be illegal on U.S. carriers after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, but not necessarily so on international ones, Quest said.

Exploring the possibilities
Does Roos' story open up the possibility that a third or fourth person could have joined Zaharie and Fariq in the cockpit.

Former airline Capt. Mark Weiss suspicions appear to lead in that direction.

"There seems to be a real trail that leads to something taking that aircraft, somebody taking that aircraft off its intended flight path. That doesn't just happen by accident," he said.
Like most everything surrounding flight MH 370, that's yet unknown.
 
Other signs of life have also been spotty or missing -- radar images, a signal from the plane's transponder.

That device is situated between the pilots and can be disabled with a twist of the wrist. For a pilot to turn it off would seem reckless because the information it transmits gives the plane vital protection, Weiss said.

And the apparent lack of visibility on radar? "Airline pilots are not trained for radar avoidance," said aviation expert Keith Wolzinger, a former 777 pilot. They like to stay on the radar, because -- again -- it protects their plane.

Only military pilots, he said, are keen on avoiding radar.

The father of a passenger on the missing plane is hoping for an outcome that would sound shocking under normal circumstances.

"I hope the plane was hijacked, because then, at least, there is hope," Li from Hebei Province said. He did not give his full name.

Li is waiting at a Beijing hotel with dozens of other passengers' family members awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones.

"But if the worst happened then I will have no meaning in my life. This is my only son," Li said.

As he walked away, he bent his head and cried.
CNN's Pauline Chiou contributed from Beijing


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