Conflict & Justice

Details emerge about the pilot and co-pilot of Malaysia's missing flight

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Peter Chong holds a smartphone displaying a picture of himself with missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 captain Zaharie Shah.

Credit:

Samsul Said / Reuters

As the days go by, the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet seems to keep generating lots of new data — but few conclusive facts.

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

The portraits surfacing of the flight's pilot and co-pilot don't show particularly controversial characters. Judge for yourself. Go to YouTube and see one of Captain Zaharie Shah's instructional videos, like this one that offers advice on how to fine tune your home air-conditioning unit so it uses less electricity. 

The BBC's Tom Bateman has been looking into the backgrounds of both pilots. He says Shah's YouTube creations are anything but ideological. 

"There are these home do-it-yourself, fix-it-yourself videos. For example, there's one where he teaches you how to fix a window seal," Bateman says. "There are also links to comedy shows and political videos as well, because he was a supporter of the opposition in that country. But the majority of it is this anodyne, really innocuous stuff." 

Shah's friends and acquaintances describe the 53-year-old as someone who "loved flying" and was something of an "aviation geek." 

Bateman acknowledges that Shah had political leanings and was a member of Malaysia's opposition People's Justice Party. He was not a fan of the party that has ruled Malaysia for the past few decades, but in that way, he was like many others in Malaysia's urban middle class.  

Not every thing was quite as positive with Shah's much younger co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, though no one has pointed to any indications of connections to extremist groups. Hamid is thought to have been the last person on the flight to communicate with air traffic control.

He was apparently involved in a serious security breach two or three years ago on an Malaysia Airlines flight to Thailand, when he invited two teenage girls into the cockpit. 

"We were standing in line at the boarding gate with everybody else and the pilot and co-pilot passed us and came back and asked us if we would like to sit with them in the cockpit during the flight," Jonti Roos told Australia's Nine Network.  "And obviously we said 'yes.'"

According to Bateman, Roos went on to say that Hamid and the pilot were both smoking in the cabin on that flight to Thailand. 

"It painted a story of something that was in breach of the way a pilot should be running a cockpit," Bateman says.  "We don't know what the airline has found in terms of its investigation into that particular incident. It may have had absolutely nothing to do with what happened last week on flight MH370. It may be a factor." 

Malaysia Airlines says it was "shocked" by the allegations.