|(Flight MH370) Malaysian pilots under scrutiny
The captain of a missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 is said to be an engineering buff who assembled his own flight simulator, while friends of the co-pilot are defending his reputation after one report portrayed him as a cockpit Casanova.
The incident has brought Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and his First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, under scrutiny, AFP reports.
An Australian television report embarrassed the state-owned Malaysian carrier this week by broadcasting an interview with a young South African woman who said Fariq and another pilot colleague invited she and her friend into the cockpit of a flight he co-piloted from Phuket, Thailand to Kuala Lumpur in 2011.
Fariq, who joined the airline at the age of 20, studied at a flight school on the Malaysian resort island of Langkawi.
The son of a high-ranking official in the public works department of a Malaysian state, he is a mild-mannered “good boy'' who regularly visited his neighborhood mosque outside Kuala Lumpur, said the mosque's imam, or spiritual leader.
Fariq also attended occasional Islamic courses, said Ahmad Sharafi Ali Asrah.
“This story doesn't make sense and I feel it's just an effort to discredit Fariq or the airlines,'' Ahmad Sharafi said. “He is a good boy and keeps a low profile.''
The far more seasoned Zaharie joined MAS in 1981 and had logged 18,365 hours of flying time.
Online tributes in Malaysia portray a man so fond of flying that he assembled his own flight simulator so that he could indulge his passion at home.
The webpage, which has garnered more than 400 comments largely from well-wishers, shows pictures of the complex set-up including Zaharie posing in front of it.
Zaharie also has a YouTube channel to which he has uploaded videos showing him cheerfully explaining how to fix an air-conditioner, patch damaged windows, and other DIY projects.
Malaysian media reports have quoted colleagues as calling Zaharie a “superb pilot,’’ who also served as an examiner, authorized by the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department, to conduct simulator tests for pilots.
Malaysia Airlines has declined to offer details on the two men, and no other red flags have emerged publicly. Authorities have denied media reports that investigators raided their homes .