Malaysia Plane Mystery: Pilot Spoke with Airport After Transponder Shut Down
As the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues, investigators have collected a series of concerning clues regarding pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah. The UK Mirror claims his family moved out of his home the day before the flight, while Malaysian authorities now say Zaharie spoke to them after communication shut down.
The New York Times reports that Malaysian officials are now being more forthcoming about the timing of certain events the night the plane disappeared, particularly their last communication with the pilot. The pilot sent an innocuous message to air traffic control--a simple "good night"--after signaling to civilian satellites was disabled on the plane. He did not indicate that the plane was having any trouble, according to Defense Minister and acting Transportation Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
The pilot's life is now the subject of intense scrutiny, leading to the publication of facts that could mean anything for the fate of the plane. That the pilot had an opportunity to speak to air traffic control and did so without indicating that there was any problem with communications or the plane itself raises suspicions that the pilot shut down the plane's communication mechanisms himself. As only someone with advanced aviation skills could have maneuvered the plane the way radar indicates it was after losing contact, Zaharie remains the prime suspect.
One detain of his private life also hints at internal strife. The Mirror, as mention above, claims that "the pilot's wife and three children moved out of the family's home the day before the plane's disappearance." It does not give any further details on such a matter, however, instead turning to Zaharie's political beliefs.
Those political beliefs are at the center of reporting seeking to find a motive for why Zaharie would have wanted to hijack and disappear the plane. Zaharie was a known fan of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, and often posted favorable things about the leader on social media. Some outlets have described him as "obsessed" and fanatical about the opposition leader. The timing of the plane also raises suspicion related to this fact, as Ibrahim was convicted of sodomy, a crime in Malaysia, the day before the plane disappeared. Ibrahim has been arrested for sodomy numerous times since 1998. Ibrahim has written in many Western publications, including Time Magazine, about the threat of radical Islam to moderate Muslims.
Zaharie's Facebook and Twitter accounts appear to have been made private or disabled since the plane investigation, though The Mirror notes that much of Zaharie's activity included liking Ibrahim's Facebook statuses about maintaining internet freedom and tweeting in favor of human rights groups. Zaharie's political affiliations are relevant to the search because they could provide motive and context for other potential clues, like testimony of a former al-Qaeda operative in an unrelated trial last Tuesday that he provided Malaysian Islamists with "shoe bombs" to help break open a plane's cockpit door.
Given that Zaharie supports the opposition, the Malaysian government has an incentive to use him--should he be found guilty of any wrongdoing--as a poster child for the political opposition. The Malaysian government has done little to gain the trust of the international community on this investigation, and the New York Times notes in the report above that both China and the United States are frustrated, the latter privately because they believe the FBI could be of great service in finding the plane. China, meanwhile, has been very vocal publicly on their mistrust of the Malaysian government.