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Missing jet pilots had firm community, family ties



KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- The pilots of the missing Malaysia Airlines passenger jet were a middle-aged family man passionate enough about flying to build his own simulator and a 27-year-old contemplating marriage who had just graduated to the cockpit of the Boeing 777.

As speculation intensified Friday that the plane might have been hijacked by a person or people with aviation skills, a picture began to emerge of the two men whose actions will be a focus of the investigation. Police have said they are looking at the psychological background of the pilots, their family life and connections as one line of inquiry into flight MH370's disappearance, but there is no evidence linking them to any wrongdoing.

The search for the plane with 239 people on board has been widened westward from the Gulf of Thailand toward the Indian Ocean. A U.S. official has told The Associated Press that the plane sent signals to a satellite for about four hours after it lost radar contact with air traffic controllers a week ago. The airliner vanished less than an hour into a six-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early last Saturday.

Online, Malaysians have rushed to defend the reputations of the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid. Both men were described to AP as respectable and community minded. Details of their backgrounds have emerged from interviews with neighbors, Malaysia Airlines staff, a religious leader and from social networks and news reports in Malaysia and Australia.

Fariq is a "good boy, a good Muslim, humble and quiet," said Ahmad Sarafi Ali Asrah, the head of a community mosque about 100 meters (yards) from Fariq's two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

He described Fariq's parents as distraught and the community solidly behind them, supporting the family in prayers.

"His father still cries when he talks about Fariq. His mother too," said Ahmad Sarafi.

Fariq, the son of a high-ranking civil servant in Selangor state, joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. With just 2,763 hours of flight experience he had only recently started co-piloting the sophisticated Boeing 777.

He had a short brush with fame when he was filmed recently by a crew from "CNN Business Traveler." Reporter Richard Quest called it a perfect landing of a Boeing 777-200, the same model as the twin-aisle plane that went missing. An online tribute page to the pilots shows a photo of Fariq in the cockpit with Quest, both smiling.

Neighbor Ayop Jantan said he had heard that Fariq was engaged and planning his wedding. The eldest of five children, his professional achievements were a source of pride for his father, said Ayop, a retiree.

Fariq's superior, Zaharie, joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and has more than 18,000 flight hours.

His Facebook page shows an avid aviation enthusiast, who flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.

Born in northern Penang state, the bald-headed captain and grandfather is also an enthusiastic handyman and proud home cook. As part of what he called "community service," he had posted several YouTube videos including how to make air conditioners more efficient to cut electricity bills, how to waterproof window panes and how to repair a refrigerator icemaker.

A Malaysian Airline stewardess who had flown with Zaharie several times said he was "very nice, very friendly and safety-conscious." She didn't want to be named because of company policy prohibiting employees from speaking to the media.

Neighbors of both men also praised their commitment to the community. Fariq played futsal, a modified form of soccer popular in Southeast Asia, with neighborhood youngsters and paid for their sports shirts. Zaharie was known for bringing food he cooked himself to community events or making sure his wife and children did when he couldn't attend. A supporter of Malaysia's main opposition parties, he had volunteered to be a poll monitor in recent elections.

Yet both Fariq and Zaharie have quirks that reveal a more colorful side to their pilot personas.

Grabbing attention were pictures Zaharie posted online of the flight simulator he built for his home using three large computer monitors and other accessories.

Asked at a news conference whether it was unusual for pilots to have such equipment at home, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said "everyone is free to do his own hobby."

Zaharie is certified by Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation as a flight simulator examiner, according to Malaysia Airlines.

Fariq has drawn greatest scrutiny after the revelation he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.

During the flight, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roo, said in an interview broadcast by Australia's Nine Network. The claims were backed with numerous photos showing Roos and her friend posing in the cockpit.

Though initially thrilled by the experience, Roos also described it as "possibly a little bit sleazy."

Malaysia Airlines said it was shocked by the claims and is investigating.

"I don't think he is a playboy," said Ahmad Sarafi, the imam at the mosque Fariq prayed at. "But I don't know about his personal life."

---

Associated Press writer Ian Mader contributed to this report.

Join the discussion

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Master of my fate.. March 14 2014 at 3:30 PM

Another Huff headline meant to get you top open and read he ads.

OF COURCE THEY ARE INVESTIGATING THE PILOTS, AND EVERY OTHER PERSON ON THE PLANE, OR WHO WORKED ON THEMAINTANCE OF THE PLANE. !
NOTHING NEW HERE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Flag Reply +4 rate up
Wanda Connor March 14 2014 at 12:48 PM

I AM PRAYING FOR THIS PLANE TO BE FOUND SAFE. MAY THE CHILDREN AND ALL HAVE FOOD AND MEDICINES THEY NEED.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
tommyrobinson4 March 14 2014 at 1:44 PM

I pray that they find out soon!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
Colonel Pauley March 14 2014 at 12:51 PM

This is important to the USA because it is becoming more and more possible that this plane is not in the ocean but is on the ground at some remote field. If it is on the ground what is being installed in it and where is its ultimate destination? We need to put all of our satellite and other intelligence sources to work fining this plane quickly.

Flag Reply +5 rate up
william01609 March 14 2014 at 12:53 PM

With all the eyes in the sky countries have, it amazes me that not country can find it on any statellite or radar tracking devices? Plus with all the cell phones on that plane no one called anyone if it were being hajacked?

Flag Reply +2 rate up
aireannaoconor March 14 2014 at 1:43 PM

These two seem pretty clean, but I wonder if there was someone else with aviation knowledge in the jumpseat of the cockpit (extra seat in cockpit) or maybe someone on board with aviation and air traffic knowledge. Whoever chose that moment to turn off the planes transponder knew what they were doing. When handing off an airplane from one facility to the next (especially to a different country) is the most vulnerable moment. But I haven't seen it reported exactly when the plane was noticed missing. That controller in Vietnam's airspace should have been expecting that plane and started wondering where it was pretty quickly.

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Pam March 14 2014 at 12:55 PM

I don't think this plane crashed. If it had, there would be evidence of the fact. I don't know what happened to this 777 with all those people on board. If the plane had been hijacked, a pilot would have to fly low enough to evade radar. I'm not sure a 777 could fly that low extendedly, My prayer is they find some answers soon. The families need to know, God Bless them all!

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loamylam March 14 2014 at 12:56 PM

For some reason from the beginning I had this creepy feeling the plane has been hi-jacked but never felt it had gone down. My thoughts were perhaps some terrorist group wanted the craft plus the idea of ransom for the people aboard. I don't know which is worse. Going down or another fate of terror. I hope perhaps the later as there just may be a survival chance. I could be wrong but this is what has gnawed at me from the start.

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1 reply
samsmi loamylam March 14 2014 at 1:04 PM

Reminds me of an old JAMES BOND movie...... Something's up! Why was the transponders turned off?
Better find this thing and QUICK!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
josiearack March 14 2014 at 3:21 PM

The mystery deepens, reall thinking it is foul play and he plane was hijacked somewhere now searching the Indian ocean and the South China seas, I cant get enough of the news that is filtering through so fascinated about this strange occurance!

Flag Reply +2 rate up
travelagenttl March 14 2014 at 3:18 PM

Based on above info investigation should be shifted towards different direction. This aircraft if crashed it was due to a serious fight on board aircraft to avoid hijacking, otherwise is seating somewhere. No mechanical failure.

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