Missing jet's pilots had firm community ties

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 14, 2014 at 1:04 pm •  Published: March 14, 2014
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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — One was passionate enough about flying to build his own flight simulator in his home. The other was a 27-year-old contemplating marriage after having just graduated to the cockpit of a Boeing 777.

As speculation intensified Friday that the missing Malaysia Airlines plane might have been commandeered by someone with aviation skills, a picture began to emerge of the two pilots.

Police have said they are looking at their psychological background, their family life and connections as a line of inquiry into what happened to Flight MH370, which vanished early March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. There is no evidence linking them to any wrongdoing.

Pilots Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid were described as respectable, community-minded men.

Fariq has drawn the greatest scrutiny after the revelation that in 2011, he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for a flight from Phuket, Thailand, to Kuala Lumpur.

During the flight, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, said in an interview broadcast by Australia's Nine Network. The claims were backed up with numerous photos showing Roos and her friend posing in the cockpit.

Although initially thrilled by the experience, Roos also described it as "possibly a little bit sleazy."

Malaysia Airlines said it was shocked by the report and was investigating.

Fariq was a "good boy, a good Muslim, humble and quiet," said Ahmad Sarafi Ali Asrah, the head of a mosque near Fariq's two-story home in a middle-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

"I don't think he is a playboy. But I don't know about his personal life." the imam added,

He described Fariq's parents as distraught over the missing plane and said the community was solidly supporting the family with prayers.

Fariq, the son of a high-ranking civil servant in Selangor state, joined Malaysia Airlines in 2007. With 2,763 hours of flight experience, he had only recently started co-piloting the sophisticated Boeing 777.

"His father still cries when he talks about Fariq. His mother too," Ahmad Sarafi saod.

Fariq had a brush with fame when he was filmed recently by a crew from "CNN Business Traveler," and reporter Richard Quest described it as a perfect landing of a Boeing 777-200, the same model as the plane that vanished. An online tribute page to the pilots shows a photo of Fariq in the cockpit with Quest, both smiling.