Many theories surround missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370, making it difficult for readers to distinguish truth from hypothesis. The flight vanished from civilian air traffic control approximately an hour after it took off in the early morning hours on March 8th. Recent theories include found objects via satellite, which have brought in the forces of multiple countries in an effort to solve the mystery. There is also the story that the plane may have landed on an Indonesian island. The fact remains, however, in the absence of locating the black box – or something more – that all of these premises are simply conjecture.
One speculation is that Uighur separatists in far western Xinjiang province in China might have been responsible for the plane’s derailment, but this has now been dismissed. Over 150 (approximately two-thirds) of the passengers on board were Chinese, but none are suspects in the planes’ disappearance. Intelligence agencies in the countries where the passengers were from are carrying out background checks. And, Malaysian police are also scrutinizing all of the pilots as well as the ground engineers for the missing plane.
Last week it was reported that at the point when the MH370 diverted off its flight path, this was programmed into the plane’s Flight Management System, and was likely done by someone in the cockpit, with deep knowledge of navigating a Boeing 777. U.S. officials increasingly believe that the diversion may have been deliberate.
This leads to the possible implication of the chief pilot himself in the account of the lost plane. Could Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah – a veteran pilot – have voluntarily turned off the radar, thereby preventing communication with the control tower in Malaysia? Malaysian officials also are investigating the possibility of suicide by the pilot. And, if so, what would be a motive for foul play?
Shah had built a flight simulator at his home in Malaysia. His co-workers knew about this and ribbed him that he was bringing his work home. In fact, the hard drive of the simulator is now being probed for solutions to unanswered questions. Malaysian police are observing the runways frequented via the simulator. They are also investigating which routes assignments the pilot had received in the past through Malaysia Airlines.
A mostly unexplored angle – perhaps because of its convoluted nature – is the pilot’s connection to the People’s Justice Party (PKR) – the chief political group opposing the Malaysian government – and in particular, to the group’s leader. In fact, the opposition party lost in a general election in both 2008 and 2013, although in 2013 they won the popular vote. The ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), has maintained dominance for 40 years and critics say they maintain control over coverage of politics in the country’s media.
The leader of the group, Anwar Ibrahim, a popular icon among Malaysians, was jailed for five years just hours before the plane went missing. The charge was sodomy – a code word for homosexuality – which is against the law in Malaysia, one of over 70 countries where being or presumed to be gay is punishable by undetermined jail terms. It is rare for this law to be upheld in Malaysia. Many Malaysians believe Anwar is being politically persecuted. His being imprisoned is devastating to the opposition party and without his presence, they say the party may lose its momentum.
The theory being floated is that Shah hijacked the plane he flew, in protest for Anwar’s prison sentence. While this is possible, critics say it is unlikely that a chief pilot would have put 239 people’s lives at risk to make his point because of this ruling. He was the father of three and had been with Malaysia Airlines since 1981, having clocked over 18,000 flying hours with the air service. In addition to his home flight simulator, Shah enjoyed simple home repair and had even posted YouTube video tutorials on how to service your own air conditioner or repair a Whirlpool ice maker. On social media he is often seen with remote-control planes, as well as cooking dishes from his native Penang.
Sources related to the Malaysian government say that Shah is a “fanatical supporter” of the chief opposition group. Investigators learned from Shah’s co-workers that he was a social activist who was both fervent and vocal about his support of Anwar. However, by all accounts, this group is not connected with terrorism. It is trying to beat Malaysia’s authoritarian regime through pluralistic and democratic elections – not through violence.
Prior to becoming leader of the opposition group, Anwar was deputy prime minister of Malaysia (1993-98). One year after leaving office, he was imprisoned; the accusation was abuse of power. The following year he received a conviction for “engaging in sodomy” with the chauffeur of his wife. That ruling was overturned in 2004 and he was released from prison. Once again in 2008 he was accused of sodomy.
Despite this, Anwar was elected to Parliament that year. That charge, too, was dismissed in 2012. However, this month, after a government appeal went through under the nation’s ruling party, the UMNO, one of two major parties within the National Front Coalition, that decision was in fact reversed. Anwar was sentenced to return to jail for an additional five years. It is conjecture whether the missing plane’s pilot Shah was at Anwar’s trial when his acquittal was reversed, just prior to Shah flying the plane. Anwar is currently free on bail on his own recognizance while awaiting federal appeal of the ruling.
The latest news to come out of this story is that Shah is related to Anwar’s son-in-law although details have not been released about the exact connection. When pressed, Anwar also admitted that Shah is an active member of the People’s Justice Party and a friend of a Supreme Council Member. However, he was quick to add that, Shah should not be found guilty without full knowledge of what happened on MH370, and that the family should receive prayers, not condemnations.
A new story from earlier this week was that Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s wife and children moved out of the family home one day before the plane disappeared.
Two weeks after the Malaysian plane went missing, there are few facts known and many conjectures as to its disappearance. Police and intelligence agencies in many countries are still struggling to determine a clear motive.
By Fern Remedi-Brown