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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Malaysia Airlines' captain's friend says he was in no state to fly and could have taken plane for final 'joyride'

The New Zealand Herald interviews a friend of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 captain Zaharie Ahmed Shah, who says that his friend was in no state to fly, and could have taken the plane on a final 'joyride' to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's world was crumbling, said the long-time associate. He had been facing serious family problems, including separation from his wife and relationship problems with another woman he was seeing.
The man, who spoke to the Herald on condition of anonymity, said Captain Zaharie was "terribly upset" when his wife told him she was leaving and believed he may have decided to take the Malaysia Airlines plane to a part of the world he had never flown in.
However the fellow pilot raised questions about the captain's state of mind.
He guessed that Captain Zaharie may have considered the flight a "last joyride" - the chance to do things in a plane he had previously been able to do only on a simulator.
The friend said Captain Zaharie, who he chatted to when they met several times a year through work, was a fanatic for "the three Fs" - food, family and flying.
When he wasn't working he spent hours cooking or using his home-made flight simulator for a variety of situations he wouldn't experience at the controls of a commercial airline, such as flying at the highest and lowest possible altitudes.
The simulator was seized last week and is being analysed by the FBI.
Investigations so far found that, up to the point when the co-pilot said "all right, good night" to Malaysian traffic controllers, the plane had been flying normally. Military radar tracking showed the aircraft made a sharp turn soon after and started flying at altitudes as high as 45,000ft (13,716m) and as low as 12,000ft before it disappeared.
The associate believed the co-pilot must have been incapacitated and the other flight crew kept out of the cockpit.
"It is very possible that neither the passengers nor the other crew on-board knew what was happening until it was too late."
The friend said the disappearance of the Boeing 777 happened as Captain Zaharie's world was crumbling.
"He's one of the finest pilots around and I'm no medical expert, but with all that was happening in his life Zaharie was probably in no state of mind to be flying."
New Zealand aviation expert Peter Clark said he believed Captain Zaharie may have been responsible.
He said Mr Fariq was "too inexperienced" to carry out the takeover - it was his first flight as co-pilot without a third pilot in the cockpit overseeing him.
Mr Clark said it would have been very simple for the pilot to reprogramme the flight management computer to fly a new course.
"All you need to do is fly it to high altitude, de-pressurise the aircraft, you kill everybody on-board including yourself and you have the flight management programmed in and it just continues to fly to the South Indian Ocean until it runs out of fuel."
But Mr Clark said it would be very hard to prove it was pilot suicide even if the data recorders were found.
The voice recorder would have been overwritten every two hours and the flight recorder would most likely record that the plane was operating normally and crashed because it ran out of fuel.
The only positive thing that can be said here is that at least he planned the flight so that it was unlikely to encounter other planes and so that it would crash in an area where it would be unlikely to hurt those not on board. Still, if this is true, he took 239 lives because he wanted to kill himself. And it sounds like we may never know the full story.

As someone who flies frequently, this makes me wonder what, if anything, the airlines can do to examine the mental state of pilots before they fly.

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