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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.

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Bunny Morgan March 14 2014 at 12:39 PM

I think the reason none of the passengers were able to use their cell phones is because they were all forced to give them up before the plane was diverted off course. They are all held in the same place and not allowed to communicate with anyone. Lets hope that they all will be found.

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1 reply
sueat103 Bunny Morgan March 14 2014 at 1:06 PM

Collected and then..... It is aweful to think of what really happened and/or is still happening.

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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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coptazlou March 14 2014 at 12:48 PM

pilots letting people into the cockpit. Boy ythis is a secure airline. I bet someon got into there and crashed the plane. Or they ran into some weather and just went into the sea. But with aircratf these days you put in GPS number sin a computer and the cratf pretty much flys itself. Pilots beome lax and cannot handle some emergencies that arise due to relying on computers to fly. Not like the old days when you flew by compass and stars, landmarks.

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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.

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Robin March 14 2014 at 2:24 PM

Some of you people posting have WIERD minds.

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1 reply
psychictweeter Robin March 14 2014 at 2:42 PM

Weirdos boarded that Plane so you have to think like a weirdo to try figure out this missing plane,

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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.

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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?

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moonsun2011 March 14 2014 at 2:25 PM

Plane is Hijacked by those two fake passports, ONE WAY tickets, Paid in CASH by them.
Leave pilots alone. There are people on ground involve with those TWO Iranian passengers to help
them to get in the plane with Fake passports for sucide mission.

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2 replies
psychictweeter moonsun2011 March 14 2014 at 2:40 PM

Sounds plausible, every one gets leary of Muslims because of What happened in the USA on 911 so it's understandable but this sounds like a Chinese issue.

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cliffy934 moonsun2011 March 14 2014 at 3:21 PM

Buying a one way ticket reminds me of what happened back in the early 70's. I was working for a company that uses specialized trucks, and I was living in Dallas, and had to fly to Memphis to pick up a new truck and drive it back to Dallas. I purchased a one way ticket, and this was at Love Field, since the new airport was not built yet. When I got to the gate to check in, 2 well dressed men escorted me to a private room, and questioned me as to why I only purchased a one way ticket. When I told them, they let me go. Now, since 911, and security at airports has really gotten tough, these 2 guys buys one way tickets using stolen passports, and were not pulled aside and asked the same questions I was asked back in the early 70's, and I did not even have a passport at that time. This happened to me because of all the hijacking planes to Cuba.

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1 reply
cliffy934 cliffy934 March 14 2014 at 3:22 PM

I forgot, they paid cash for their tickets also.

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Thomas W. Gray March 14 2014 at 1:37 PM

Ever wonder if that plane is being loaded with explosives somewhere for a suicide flight?

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1 reply
Kathrene Thomas W. Gray March 14 2014 at 1:43 PM

OMG... What a horrific thought. Everyone is wondering the same thing now. I hope they get caught before it's too late for thousands of others.

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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!

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