One day after the Malaysia government’s announcement that Flight 370 was sabotaged, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters that the pilot’s final words to ground control — “All right, good night” — were spoken after one of the plane’s data communications systems had been turned off. Though it’s not clear whether 53-year-old chief pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah or 27-year-old co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid made that last sign-off, the fact that they did so without indicating that anything unusual had happened onboard added to speculation that at least one of them was responsible for taking the aircraft off course, either by choice or under duress. According to Malaysia Airlines, Fariq and Zaharie did not request to fly Flight 370 as partners, which would seem to suggest that they didn’t conspire together to alter the plane’s route.
Malaysian police searched the homes of both pilots yesterday: Officers say they removed a flight simulator that Zaharie, a married father of three, kept in his house and “reassembled it so that experts could examine its workings.” Zaharie’s Facebook page featured images of him cooking and playing with the flight simulator, which Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said was not an unusual hobby among pilots. Zaharie’s Facebook page also showed that he supported a Malaysian political party that opposes the current government, the Associated Press reports. However, a police official told Reuters that they had not found any evidence linking him to any “militant group.” A friend described Zaharie as “very friendly, very jovial, loves people, enjoys being with people, doesn’t get angry very easily.”
Meanwhile, neighbors described Fariq, who lived with his parents and was eldest of five children, as religious and “a very nice man” who was engaged to be married. In the days after Flight 370 disappeared, his professional behavior fell under scrutiny after an Australian woman told a news show that Fariq and another pilot had invited her and a friend to ride in the cockpit during a 2011 flight from Thailand to Malaysia.
Malaysian investigators are also looking into the backgrounds of the rest of Flight 370’s crew and passengers, as well as support staff that worked on the plane before it took off, according to police chief Khalid Abu Bakar. Meanwhile, 25 countries are now involved in the search for the aircraft itself. As the Malaysian government announced on Saturday, satellite data suggests that it flew for up to seven hours along one of two arcs: The first possible route stretches from southern Kazakhstan to northern Laos, while the second spans from Indonesia to the middle of the Indian Ocean. Bloomberg reports that United States investigators who have examined the records say that the plane’s last-known position was over the water, about 1,000 miles west of Perth, Australia.
Regardless of where Flight 370 ended up, it took a wide — and unauthorized — U-turn after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, and eventually flew all the way across northern Malaysia without drawing the attention of the country’s Air Force, even though it was detected by several military radar systems. “The fact that it flew straight over Malaysia, without the Malaysian military identifying it, is just plain weird — not just weird, but also very damning and tragic,” aviation expert David Learmount told the New York Times.