A Malaysian newspaper is reporting that authorities have found five runways in the Indian Ocean on a flight simulator kept by the pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370– including one in the Maldives, where reports have surfaced of locals seeing a “low-flying jumbo jet” last week.
The Malay Mail Online has translated a report from newspaper Berita Harian that quotes a source saying that the pilot, Malaysia Airlines veteran Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had loaded five runways in the Indian Ocean onto his flight simulator. “The simulation programmes are based on runways at the Male International Airport in Maldives, an airport owned by the United States (Diego Garcia), and three other runways in India and Sri Lanka,” the source told the paper.
The UK Telegraph has picked up the report, which notes that the Malaysian government had already discounted the possibility that the plane landed at Diego Garcia, an atoll in the Indian Ocean home to a United States naval base, but that they would renew their search there. They are also not dismissing any of the other possibilities, including that the plane landed on an island in the Maldives.
The new report surfaces just as other outlets are reporting interviews with “witnesses” in the Maldives, an archipelago off the coast of India. The Maldivian newspaper Haveeru is reporting that several residents of the small island Kuda Huvadhoo are claiming to have seen a “low flying jumbo jet” with the red stripe markings of Malaysia Airlines. Witnesses all agreed that the plane appeared to be flying towards the southeastern tip of the nation. No witnesses were named, but one anonymous “eyewitness” claimed that the plane’s “tremendous noise” was inescapable for anyone on the island, particularly around 6 AM when most were either asleep or just rising.
The Malaysian government has not invited the Maldives to join the search for the plane, which now includes 26 nations. As the search has expanded West, the roles of China and the United States in the search have diminished, much to the concern of both nations. China in particular, which may have lost more than 100 citizens on the flight, has expressed its displeasure with the Malaysian government vocally.
The Malaysian government, meanwhile has greatly changed the original scenario proposed for the flight. Having reported that the plane’s last automatic radar signal occurred before the pilot’s last, uneventful message to air traffic control, they retracted the claim, expanding the potential time of communications systems shutdown to a half hour, enough time to cloud whether the pilot spoke to officials before or after shutdown.
Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah came under direct scrutiny because the original report made it possible that he had hidden any problems from air traffic control during his first message. The pilot’s vocal opposition to the Malaysian government and support for opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim–to whom the Daily Mail reports he is related–also led many to suspect the disappearance was his own doing. Anwar, who is in jail after a second sodomy conviction (the act is a crime in Malaysia), called Zaharie a “decent man” and objected to the “politicization” of the search.