, KUALA LUMPUR, Mar 13 – The captain of a missing Malaysian jet is said to be an engineering buff who assembled his own flight simulator, while friends of the co-pilot are defending his reputation after one report portrayed him as a cockpit Casanova.
Malaysian Airlines flight 370 disappeared six days ago and an international search and rescue effort in waters around Southeast Asia has failed to find a shred of evidence in one of the biggest aviation mysteries in history.
With little solid information to go on, authorities are investigating all 227 passengers and 12 crew for possible sabotage, although they stress no such evidence has come to light.
But it has brought Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and his First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, under scrutiny.
An Australian television report made waves this week by broadcasting an interview with a young South African woman who said Fariq and another pilot colleague invited them into the cockpit of a flight he co-piloted from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.
Passengers have been prohibited from entering cockpits during a flight since the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Malaysia Airlines said it was “shocked” by the reported security violation, but that it could not verify the claims.
– ‘Good boy’ –
Fariq, who joined the airline at the age of 20, studied piloting at a flight school on the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi.
The son of a high-ranking official in the public works department of a Malaysian state, he is a mild-mannered “good boy” who regularly visited his neighbourhood mosque outside Kuala Lumpur, said the mosque’s imam, or spiritual leader.
Fariq also attended occasional Islamic courses, said Ahmad Sharafi Ali Asrah.
He rejected the account of the supposed cockpit security breach.
“This story doesn’t make sense and I feel it’s just an effort to discredit Fariq or the airlines,” Ahmad Sharafi said.
“He is a good boy and keeps a low profile.”
Fariq had a brief brush with fame when he appeared in a CNN travel segment with the network’s correspondent Richard Quest in February, in which Fariq helped fly a plane from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur.
The segment portrayed Hamid’s transition to piloting the Boeing 777-200 after having completed training in a flight simulator.
“It was interesting to watch the way he brought the aircraft in to land,” Quest said, according to the CNN website, calling Fariq’s technique “textbook-perfect”.
– Handyman –
The far more seasoned Zaharie joined MAS in 1981 and had logged 18,365 hours of flying time.