Pilot of missing Flight 370 must not be made scapegoat, family says

Published: Thursday 3rd March 2016 by The News Editor

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The family of the senior pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has said he must not be made a scapegoat for its disappearance.

A search for the plane in the southern Indian Ocean, where it was believed to have crashed, has turned up nothing so far after nearly two years.

A flaperon wing part was found washed ashore on France’s Reunion Island last July, and officials said on Wednesday that a piece of aircraft debris that washed ashore in Mozambique also appears to belong to a Boeing 777.

The family of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah must cope not only with his loss but with the theory that he was to blame.

Allegations that he was a jihadist, or suicidal over a marital breakup, or that he crashed the plane in a political protest do not square with his family’s memories of a kind, generous and happy man.

The “rogue pilot” theory has been a focus of investigations after the Malaysian government said the plane was deliberately steered off course, but authorities have found no evidence linking Capt Zaharie or his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, to any wrongdoing.

“When the search (for the plane) revealed nothing, they came back to this theory, but it’s only a theory,” said Capt Zaharie’s eldest sister Sakinab Shah.

“If you have nothing tangible and nothing by way of evidence, it’s tantamount to predicting he is guilty until proven innocent. This sets us back in the Dark Ages.”

She said it was “very convenient” to make her brother th e scapegoat to absolve the airline from claims or protect the Malaysian government from possible cover-ups and US airline manufacturer Boeing from losing business.

“Please do not judge him based on theories …. don’t blame him unless there is evidence. I want to say that (he’s) innocent until proven guilty. That is the mantra of modern civilisation,” she said.

Capt Zaharie was 53 when the Boeing 777 jet he was piloting disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A detailed report by an independent investigation team released a year after the plane vanished confirmed the family’s assertion that he had no known history of anxiety or irritability.

Ms Sakinab said she was excited by the new finding but did not want to give herself false hope, noting there was some scepticism about it, in part because the piece was not encrusted in barnacles as the flaperon was.

She said she and her siblings find it hard to believe that investigators with sophisticated equipment have been able to find no trace of the plane.

Flight 370 is believed to be in an area of the Indian Ocean where the sea floor is a few miles underwater, making the search effort especially challenging.

The Australian-led search of the 46,000-square-mile area where the plane is believed to be is expected to be completed in the middle of the year, and will not be expanded in the absence of fresh leads.

Published: Thursday 3rd March 2016 by The News Editor

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