Home | News | Regional | Revealed: Malaysian Airlines pilot had high-security US base Diego Garcia programmed into his homemade flight simulator and deleted data just before taking control of missing plane

Revealed: Malaysian Airlines pilot had high-security US base Diego Garcia programmed into his homemade flight simulator and deleted data just before taking control of missing plane

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  • Investigating whether pilot had practised landing at Diego Garcia
  • The island is south of the Maldives occupied by the US navy
  • Seized simulator from his home outside Kuala Lumpur at the weekend
  • Reassembled it at police headquarters, hoping for information
  • Investigators said today data had been deleted and they are retrieving it
  • Best friend tells MailOnline simulator is 'nothing special, just a hobby'

By Jill Reilly

PUBLISHED: 05:19 EST, 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 08:08 EST, 19 March 2014

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Investigators are trying to restore files deleted last month from the home flight simulator of the pilot aboard the missing Malaysian plane to see if they shed any light on the disappearance.

Malaysia's defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference that the pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is considered innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing, and that members of his family are cooperating in the investigation.

Files containing records of simulations carried out on the program were deleted February 3, Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu said.

Diego Garcia, a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a runway long enough to land a Boeing 777 was programmed into the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, it has been revealed

Diego Garcia, a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a runway long enough to land a Boeing 777 was programmed into the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, it has been revealed

Police are now urgently investigating whether Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practised landing at Diego Garcia, an island south of the Maldives occupied by the US navy

Police are now urgently investigating whether Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practised landing at Diego Garcia, an island south of the Maldives occupied by the US navy

Deleting files would not necessarily represent anything unusual, especially if it were to free up memory space, but investigators would want to check the files for any signs of unusual flight paths that could help explain where the missing plane went.

Today it was also revealed that a remote island in the middle of the Indian Ocean with a runway long enough to land a Boeing 777 was programmed into the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane.

Police are now urgently investigating whether Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practised landing at Diego Garcia, an island south of the Maldives occupied by the US navy.

People on the island of Kuda Huvadhoo reported seeing ''low flying jumbo jet' on the morning of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370

People on the island of Kuda Huvadhoo reported seeing ''low flying jumbo jet' on the morning of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370

Police seized the simulator from his home outside Kuala Lumpur over the weekend and reassembled it at police headquarters, hoping for information on the flight's fate.

The investigation into the Diego Garcia, an overseas territory of the UK, which is rented to the US and is now a huge American naval base follows fresh eyewitness accounts of a 'low flying jumbo jet' being spotted in the Maldives.

People on the island of Kuda Huvadhoo reported seeing a plane on the morning of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, according to a Haveeru, a news website in the Maldives.

Islanders said a white aircraft with red stripes across it - which would match the missing plane - was seen travelling North to South-East towards Addu, the southern tip of the Maldives.

An eyewitness told the website: 'I've never seen a jet flying so low over our island before. We've seen seaplanes, but I'm sure that this was not one of those. I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.

'It's not just me either, several other residents have reported seeing the exact same thing. Some people got out of their houses to see what was causing the tremendous noise too.'

Captain Shah, a father-of-three, was passionate about his simulator, which he built using off-the-shelf parts.

Police seized simulator (pictured) from Zaharie's home outside Kuala Lumpur over the weekend and reassembled it at police headquarters, hoping for information on the flight's fate

Police seized simulator (pictured) from Zaharie's home outside Kuala Lumpur over the weekend and reassembled it at police headquarters, hoping for information on the flight's fate

Peter Chong holds up his smartphone to show a photo of himself with best friend Captain Zaharie. He told MailOnline: 'His hobby was flying. It's nothing special. He loves flying and he wants to share with my his friends. He was open to his friends'

Peter Chong holds up his smartphone to show a photo of himself with best friend Captain Zaharie. He told MailOnline: 'His hobby was flying. It's nothing special. He loves flying and he wants to share with my his friends. He was open to his friends'

His best friend Peter Chong insisted the simulator was just for fun and told MailOnline: 'His hobby was flying. It’s nothing special. He loves flying and he wants to share with my his friends. He was open to his friends.’

Capt Zaharie had joined an online flight simulator community called X-Sim and after making his simulator, in November 2012 he posted a message about its 'awesome view' inviting 'buddies' to get in touch so they could take the simulator 'to the next level of simulation. Motion!'

'Elo guys, zaharie here,' says the post.

'Awesome view on 3 panasonic 32 in. LCD HDMI and and 3 touchscreen Dell 21 inches for main (MCP) , center pedestal, overhead panel.

'Time to take to the next level of simulation.Motion! looking for buddies to share this passion.

'Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah, BOEING 777 MALAYSIA AIRLINES.'

Police have raided the luxury home of Fariq Abdul Hamid in Kuala Lumpur
Activist: Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah

Probe: Police in Malaysia searched the home of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah (right) and Fariq Abdul Hamid (left) after officials confirmed the plane was taken over by a 'deliberate act'

Investigators probing the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines jetliner with 239 people on board believe it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean, a source close to the investigation said today.

No wreckage has been found from Flight MH370, which vanished from air traffic control screens off Malaysia's east coast at 1:21 a.m. local time on March 8 (1721 GMT March 7), less than an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

An unprecedented search for the Boeing 777-200ER is under way involving 26 nations in two vast search 'corridors': one arcing north overland from Laos towards the Caspian Sea, the other curving south across the Indian Ocean from west of Indonesia's Sumatra island to west of Australia.

'The working assumption is that it went south, and furthermore that it went to the southern end of that corridor,' said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The view is based on the lack of any evidence from countries along the northern corridor that the plane entered their airspace, and the failure to find any trace of wreckage in searches in the upper part of the southern corridor.

A relative of a Chinese passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 shows a paper reading 'Hunger strike protest, Respect life, Return my relative, Don't want become victim of politics, Tell the truth'

A relative of a Chinese passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 shows a paper reading 'Hunger strike protest, Respect life, Return my relative, Don't want become victim of politics, Tell the truth'

Families of the passengers aboard the missing plane decided to organize a hunger strike to express their anger and disappointment at the handling of the situation by authorities

Families of the passengers aboard the missing plane decided to organize a hunger strike to express their anger and disappointment at the handling of the situation by authorities

China, which is leading the northern corridor search with Kazakhstan, said it had not yet found any sign of the aircraft crossing into its territory.

Malaysian and U.S. officials believe the aircraft was deliberately diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course, but an exhaustive background search of the passengers and crew aboard has not yielded anything that might explain why.

The minister in charge of the operation said the multinational search team was deploying the most sophisticated equipment available to find the plane.

'It probably is the largest peacetime armada of assets and satellite information-sharing that we have ever seen for a rescue and search operation,' Malaysia's Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said.

Officials believe that someone with detailed knowledge of both the Boeing 777 and commercial aviation navigation switched off two vital datalinks: the ACARS system, which relays maintenance data back to the ground, and the transponder, which enables the plane to be seen by civilian radar.

The source close to the investigation said that it was thought 'highly probable that ACARS was switched off prior to the final verbal message' received for the cockpit.

A pilot of an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft scanning the surface of the sea during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to the west of Peninsula Malaysia

A pilot of an AP-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft scanning the surface of the sea during a search operation for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 to the west of Peninsula Malaysia

Two RAAF Orions have been assigned to the Malaysian-coordinated search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370
Two RAAF Orions have been assigned to the Malaysian-coordinated search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370

Two RAAF Orions have been assigned to the Malaysian-coordinated search for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370

That message, an informal 'all right, good night' radioed to Malaysian air traffic controllers to acknowledge their handover of the plane to Vietnamese airspace, was believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline said earlier this week.

Investigators piecing together patchy data from military radar and satellites believe that minutes later the plane turned sharply west, re-crossing the Malay Peninsula and following an established commercial route towards India.

After that, ephemeral pings picked up by one commercial satellite suggest the aircraft flew on for at least six hours. The data from the satellite placed the plane somewhere in one of the two corridors when the final signal was sent at 8:11 a.m.

The methodical shutdown of the communications systems, together with the fact that the plane appeared to be following a planned course after turning back, have been interpreted as suggesting strongly that foul play, rather than some kind of technical failure, was behind the disappearance.

Last week, a source familiar with official U.S. assessments said it was thought most likely the plane flew south, where it presumably would have run out of fuel and crashed into the sea.
On board: Student Firman Siregar, pictured centre with his family, was one of the 239 aboard Flight MH370

On board: Student Firman Siregar, pictured centre with his family, was one of the 239 aboard Flight MH370

Peter Chong (left) with best friend Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. He is pictured in a T-shirt with a Democracy is Dead slogan as police investigate claims he could have hijacked the plane as an anti-government protest

Peter Chong (left) with best friend Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane. He is pictured in a T-shirt with a Democracy is Dead slogan as police investigate claims he could have hijacked the plane as an anti-government protest

If it did indeed end up in the southern Indian Ocean, one of the remotest places on Earth and also one of the deepest seas, it increases the chance it may never be found - and investigators may never know for sure what happened on board.

U.S. government sources said intelligence agencies had extensively analysed people on the flight but came up with no connections to terrorism or possible criminal motives.

A senior U.S. official said he was 'not aware of any stones left unturned'. China has said there is no evidence that Chinese passengers, who made up over two-thirds of those on board, were involved in a hijack or act of sabotage.

Australia is leading the search of the southern part of the southern corridor, with assistance from the U.S. Navy.

It has shrunk its search field based on satellite tracking data and analysis of weather and currents, but it still covers an area of 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles), roughly the size of Spain and Portugal.

The U.S. Navy said it had switched mainly to using P-8A Poseidon and P-3 Orion aircraft to search for the missing plane instead of ships and helicopters.

'The maritime patrol aircraft are much more suited for this type of operation,' said Navy Lieutenant David Levy, who is on board the USS Blue Ridge. '...It's just a much more efficient way to search.'

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