Missing Malaysia Flight MH370: Hijack suspect's father fights to keep hope alive – and insists his son is innocent

 

Putrajaya

He looked as if he had never slept in his life. His eyes were red, his face haggard. Yet somehow Selamat Omar was trying to exude a sense of hope, if only for his own sanity.

13 days ago, the 60-year-old received a frantic, sobbing call from his daughter-in-law. His son Khairul, the third of his four children, had been aboard a Malaysian Airlines flight to China that morning which had failed to arrive. Nobody knew what to think.

In the days since, Mr Selamat and his family have ensconced themselves in a hotel with other relatives of the 239 passengers and crew from Flight MH370, trying to lend support to one another. Yet what has made Mr Selamat’s pain all the more intense has been the announcement that police believe his son may have had something to do with the plane’s disappearance.

“I will stay here until they find the plane,” he said, saying he believed his son was still alive. “I’m confident that once they find the plane, everything will be back to normal.”

Mr Selamat’s son has come under scrutiny from investigators because of his job as an aviation mechanic. Officials have been prising open the backgrounds of all of those who boarded the Boeing 777, trying to unlock the riddle over its disappearance.

They have reportedly found nobody with flying experience but looked hard at Mr Selamat’s son because of his experience with aircraft. “The focus is on anyone else who might have had aviation skills on that plane,” a senior police official recently told the Reuters news agency.

At the Everly hotel in Putrajaya, an administrative satellite town south of Kuala Lumpur, Mr Selamat told a small group of reporters that police had not questioned him about his son, but that the family was happy to help if needed. 

As a boy, his son had enjoyed sport, especially football, and he supported both Liverpool and Manchester United, he said. But his son had always wanted to be an an engineer and Mr Selamat had taken out a loan to put him through school and then college. He said his son was married, to Erny, and that he had a 15-month-old grandson, Hizat.

A message of support lights up the side of a building in Kuala Lumpur (Reuters) A message of support lights up the side of a building in Kuala Lumpur (Reuters)
For the past three years his son had been working for the Malaysian branch of the Swiss-based ExecuJet Aviation Group, which sells and charters aircraft.

According to the company’s managing director, Graeme Duckworth, Mr Selamat’s son worked as as an airframe and engine engineer. He often worked on Learjet and Bombardier Challenger planes. “He is an excellent employee, well respected,” Mr Duckworth told The Independent.

Mr Selamat, who comes from Pahang state, to the north-east of Kuala Lumpur, said that in the days since Flight MH370 went missing he had tried to maintain a routine, getting up early and switching on the television news and then going for a walk. “I am waiting for the latest news,” he said, dressed in a short-sleeved pink shirt. “ If I go home, I will not be able to get the latest news.”

He said he had been told that Malaysian Airlines, which is currently paying for the family members to stay in the hotel, had said they would end these payments on Friday. A spokesman for the airline said the matter was still being decided.

Mr Selamat said he made his living off a small piece of agricultural land given to him as part of a government scheme in the 1980s. The land was used to grow palm oil, and he got a percentage of the profits. He had left the hotel just once since 8 March.

“I have a good rest or walk,” he said, explaining his typical day in the hotel, where the air conditioning was turned up fiercely cold and the theme tune from Titanic piped from hidden speakers. “I walk around the hotel. I feel more comfortable if I move around because there are people I know.”

Mr Selamat’s son had been dispatched to Beijing to work on a jet. His father said he and the 10 or so family members with him, told themselves that if the plane had crashed, some piece of wreckage would have been found by now. “We still have hope. We are praying that all the passengers are safe.”

He said that a government psychologist, Dr Abdul Halim Mohommaed Hussin, dispatched by the prime minister’s office, came to speak to them with regular updates about twists in the search operation. “He also gives us some emotional support.”

There are hundreds of relatives in a similar position to Mr Selamat, all waiting for a scrap of information, many trying to contain both anger and grief.

Some of that anger poured over today when two relatives of Chinese passengers on the plane waved a banner outside a press conference about to be addressed by Malaysia’s Transport Minister.

The Chinese families have been stridently critical of the Malaysian authorities for the lack of information. Those who have flown to Kuala Lumpur have been put up at a separate hotel, where police are said to have kept reporters at bay.

At the Everly hotel, a banner bearing a prayer for the passengers and crew of MH370 was attached to the wall. As the days since it was placed there have steadily slipped past, so the number of relatives remaining at the hotel has fallen. Most of those who do, do not wish to speak.

“As you know, the other family members are not willing to face the media,” said Mr Selamat. “For me, if I’m not talking to the media, nobody will know how I am feeling.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Portfolio Administrator

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company has become known a...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical and Electrical Engineer - Midlands

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrig...

Recruitment Genius: Sales / Account Manager

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales / Account Manager is re...

Ashdown Group: Application Developer - C#.Net, ASP.Net - Cambridgeshire

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Software Application Developer (C# & ASP.Net, SQL S...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot