When Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 suddenly disappeared from radar screens on March 8, 2014 in one of the biggest aviation mysteries in history, public attention was focused on the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
The last contact with MH370 occurred when it entered Vietnamese airspace in the early hours of March 8, after which the flight changed course. The Boeing 777 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing at the time of its disappearance.
The event is the subject of a new Netflix documentary entitled MH370: The Missing Plane, which explores multiple theories, including Shah’s role in what happened.
After the plane’s last communication, it suddenly made a sharp left turn and flew over the Indian Ocean for nearly six hours before completely falling off radar.
One theory touted after the disappearance was that Shah was responsible for a mass murder-suicide.
Shah’s home flight simulator seemed to indicate that he had been practicing flying a similar route. The theory goes that he manually turned off radar communications and depressurized the cabin, leaving the plane on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
However, in an official Malaysian government report on the disappearance in July 2018, lead investigator Kok Soo Chon dismissed this theory.
He said: “We have evaluated the pilot and first officer and are very pleased with their background, training and mental health.
“We do not believe it could be an incident committed by the pilot.”
Shah’s family have also denied that he could have been responsible, saying he was incapable of such action.
Speaking to the BBC in 2016 about her brother, the pilot’s sister Sakinab Shah said of their childhood: “We grew up in a very decent family. A simple village boy from a poor background, and he became a commercial pilot a dream come true.
“He stayed with Malaysia Airlines for 30 years and logged over 18,000 flight hours. Not a bad record, nothing unusual. He was only a few years away from retirement. Do you think he would want to throw it all away?”
Sakinab Shah said her brother had “no money issues, no mental health issues, no marital issues, no drug or alcohol issues, no history of odd behavior” at the time of the plane’s disappearance.
However, friends of Zaharie Shah claimed the pilot was “lonely and sad” and believed to be “clinically depressed”. The Atlantic reported.
Shah’s sister told that Guardian: “Until and until we have evidence, tangible evidence, I maintain his innocence. Simply put, the suicide story is just another story. My brother loved life, he loved his lifestyle, period.”
The publication also shared details of a note Shah’s sister wrote, in which she said her brother has a “passion for life, for family and most importantly for flying,” adding, “I want that the world knows that here is a loving man who will stop at nothing to provide help when it is needed.”
Shah was married and had two sons, a daughter and a grandson at the time of MH370’s disappearance.
Shah’s wife and children have not spoken publicly, but his sister said so Guardian that the allegations against him had had a tremendously negative impact on his family.
She said: “Sad is an understatement. No one can even begin to understand our feelings about MH370 and our beloved brother who is accused of bad faith.”
MH370: The Missing Plane is now available on Netflix.