The pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is now considered the prime suspect in the plane’s potential hijacking after a round of background checks excluded all others on board.
Though the official Malaysian police investigation has not ruled out mechanical failure, details released to foreign governments and crash investigators from a forthcoming report point to the careful planning and execution required to make the large Boeing 777 disappear from radar.
The inquiry named 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Shah as the “chief suspect” following 170 interviews and a profiling of all 239 people aboard the aircraft when it disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
New evidence discovered on a sophisticated flight simulator in Shah’s home included simulation routes programmed to fly a plane far out into the Indian Ocean and land on a short island runway. The data had been deleted, but was retrieved by technical experts.
Satellite data evidence of the plane’s activity after it dropped off radar show MH 370 making a sharp left turn outside of Malaysian airspace and following a long deep arc into the southern Indian Ocean, where investigators believe it crashed after running out of fuel. Months-long searches of the vast area have yet to uncover any wreckage.
The captain further stood out from everyone else on board for having no recorded business or social engagements after the March flight. According to police, the lack of commitments contrast Shah’s open social nature, and that of co-pilot Fariq Hamid and crew.
Reports described the evidence surrounding Shah as circumstantial, and also mentioned discontent in Shah’s marriage and home life — rumors the pilot’s family denies.
“The police investigation is still ongoing,” a Malaysian police spokesman told the London Sunday Times. ”To date, no conclusions can be made as to the contributor to the incident and it would be sub judice to say so. Nevertheless, the police are still looking into all possible angles,”
Neither a crash nor an act of terrorism are ruled out in the report. Shah’s family has stated the truth will not be known until the Boeing 777′s black box flight data recorders are discovered.
The next phase of the search, which the Independent described as “the most extensive in aviation history,” will move hundreds of miles south from the first search area after suspected black box pings failed to reveal any hard evidence. Sweeps of the ocean could go on for months or years before yielding any results.