Leading air safety experts have concluded that the captain of flight MH370 deliberately crashed the plane. They include the man who spent two years heading the search, who now says Captain Zaharie Amad Shah carefully planned a murder-suicide mission.
The Malaysia Airlines jet was on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board when it disappeared.
Analysis of satellite data indicates it ran out of fuel and crashed in the Indian Ocean west of Australia, thousands of miles from its intended destination.
Some debris from the Boeing 777 has been washed up on Indian Ocean beaches. But the biggest underwater search in history, coordinated by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), was called off in January 2017 after two years.
The seabed search was led by Martin Dolan, who told a special edition of the 60 Minutes Australia programme: “This was planned, this was deliberate, and it was done over an extended period of time.”
Captain Zaharie, 53, was accompanied on the flight deck by an inexperienced first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid – who was on his first 777 flight without a training captain overseeing him.
Six days after the aircraft disappeared, their homes in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, were searched, and computer equipment taken away. It contained evidence suggesting Captain Zaharie had used flight simulation software to prepare for diverting the aircraft.
Captain Simon Harvey, a British pilot who has flown the 777 widely in Asia, said the mission was “planned meticulously to make the aircraft disappear”, including flying along the Thai-Malaysian frontier to avoid either side taking action.
“If you were commissioning me to make a 777 disappear, I would do exactly the same thing,” he told the programme.
A Canadian air-crash investigator, Larry Vance, said he believed that Captain Zaharie put on an oxygen mask before depressurising the plane to render the passengers and crew unconscious: “There is no reason not to believe that the pilot did not depressurise the cabin to incapacitate the passengers.”
Mr Dolan dismissed the possibility that terrorism was involved. “If this had been a terrorist event, it’s almost invariable that a terrorist organisation will claim credit for the event. There was no such claim made.”
The panel disagreed about whether Captain Zaharie was in control of the aircraft at the time it hit the ocean.
Mr Vance said he believed the pilot “ditched it deliberately to keep it as intact as possible”, while Mr Dolan said the evidence was that “the aircraft spiralled into the ocean and crashed”.
There have been several confirmed cases of murder-suicide committed by pilots, including Germanwings flight 9525 in 2015.
All 150 passengers and crew on board the Airbus A320 from Barcelona to Dusseldorf died when the first officer Andreas Lubitz deliberately crashed the plane into the French Alps. He had previously been declared unfit for work by his doctor.
A second search of a wider area of the Indian Ocean seabed for the remains of MH370 began in January, conducted by a private firm called Ocean Infinity. The underwater search in an area north of the previous zone has so far found nothing related to the missing aircraft. The current search is likely to end in June.
In the absence of firm proof of what happened to MH370, many possible explanations have been proposed. A surprisingly popular theory is that the aircraft was downed by a missile from North Korea – even though the rogue state is 2,000 miles away from the area in which the aircraft was lost.
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