These are the last known images of two pilots who boarded a passenger jet in Malaysia more than a week ago, and then seemingly vanished into thin air.
Video footage has emerged of the two pilots of Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 being frisked as they passed through security at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, shortly before taking control of the doomed plane.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on the weekend that the Boeing 777’s tracking systems were deliberately disabled by "someone on the plane", leading investigators to turn their attention to the crew and passengers on board the flight, including the political leanings and religious beliefs of its pilot and co-pilot.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, was captured on airport cameras being frisked and collecting his hand luggage from an X-ray machine at airport security in Kuala Lumpur. Footage shows him being followed immediately by his 27-year-old co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, who also was frisked.
Police officers arrived at Captain Shah’s home in a luxury gated community on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur on the weekend, shortly after the prime minister revealed new satellite data indicated that MH370 last made contact roughly seven hours after it vanished from civilian radar more than a week ago.
It has been claimed that Captain Shah was a political activist who attended the trial of Malaysia’s opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, just seven hours before he took control of the passenger jet with 239 passengers on board.
Ibrahim, who had campaigned on a platform of social justice and anti-corruption, was jailed for five years for sodomy in the trial, after his acquittal for the same charge was overturned.
The Daily Mail quoted an unnamed police source as saying that Captain Shah was a vocal political activist and it was feared that the court decision left him profoundly upset.
Captain Shah, a father of three and a grandfather, joined Malaysian Airlines in 1981 and was certified by Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation as a simulator test examiner.
He had 18,365 flying hours experience, and had installed a Boeing 777 flight simulator in his home, from which he made YouTube videos. Police have also removed laptops from his home.
An image has emerged of Captain Shah wearing a T-shirt with a ‘‘Democracy is Dead’’ slogan, while an unverified report in The Daily Mail suggested his wife and children may have moved out of the family home the day before the plane went missing.
Last year, Captain Shah became a member of the opposition People’s Justice Party and volunteered in its election campaign but didn’t hold any leadership roles, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Captain Shah was flying service MH370 alongside Mr Fariq, who was last week revealed to have invited two women passengers into the cockpit and smoked on an earlier flight to Phuket, violating the airline’s rules. His home was also searched as part of the probe
Mr Fariq is the son of a high-ranking civil servant and joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. He had 2763 hours of flight experience, and had only recently started co-piloting the sophisticated Boeing 777.
He had wanted to become a pilot from his school days, said a relative who asked not to be identified.
"He is a good student. He worked very hard to get where he was. His parents are so proud of him," said the relative, who had visited Mr Fariq’s family home for prayers in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.
Mr Fariq was often seen attending prayers at a mosque near his family home, family and friends said.
"I haven’t stopped praying to Allah in hope that my grandson and the other passengers are safe," Mr Fariq’s grandmother, Halimah Abdul Rahman, 84, said. "He is a good person, respectful to elders and religious."
One of the most recent revelations in the investigation has been confirmation that the plane’s tracking systems - known as ACARS [Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System] and the transponder - were switched off, before the pilot sent his final radio communication to air traffic control.
In the message, a male voice was heard saying "Alright, good night", without hinting at any trouble.
Shutting down ACARS and the transponder would require the specialised knowledge of one of the world’s most sophisticated planes, indicating either a pilot or someone on board who had studied the plane’s systems.
Turning off the transponder requires someone in the cockpit turning a knob with multiple selections to the “off” position while pressing down at the same time.
It has emerged that the flight was close to running out of fuel at the time a satellite picked up its last confirmed signal at 8.11am on March 8 – seven hours and 31 minutes after take-off.
smh.com.au with Reuters