MH370: Captain’s home simulator had Indian Ocean course plotted

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The home flight simulator belonging to the pilot of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 had a route plotted into it which ended in the Indian Ocean, officials have confirmed.

“The MH370 captain’s flight simulator showed someone had plotted a course to the southern Indian Ocean,” Joint Agency Coordination Center (JACC) spokesman Scott Mashford confirmed to CNN in an email. He did not elaborate on who may have plotted the route.

The confirmation corroborates earlier reports that the device had programmed in it a route similar to the one which investigators believe the doomed flight took on its final voyage.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the chief pilot on the plane that disappeared without a trace in March 2014, had been a pilot with Malaysia Airlines since 1981 and had flown 777s for more than 15 years.

He was exceptionally experienced — a training captain who was paired with 27-year-old first officer Fariq Ab Hamid.

What this means for the search

The JACC maintains that the so-called “seventh arc” search area in the southern Indian Ocean, calculated by using satellite communications, aircraft systems, data modeling and accident investigation in collaboration with a number of governmental bodies and private companies, remains the best guess of where the plane ultimately went down.

Although small pieces of debris believed to be from the plane have washed ashore in various places, the bulk of the aircraft still has not been found.

“For the purposes of defining the underwater search area, the relevant facts and analysis most closely match a scenario in which there was no pilot intervening in the latter stages of the flight,” the latest JACC media release says.

“The simulator information shows only the possibility of planning. It does not reveal what happened on the night of the aircraft’s disappearance, nor where the aircraft is located.”

The simulator data’s usefulness in the search for the plane will be minimal, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau implied in a statement issued earlier this week. In the statement, the ATSB referred to reports about the data without explicitly confirming that a course to the southern Indian Ocean had been plotted in the simulator.

“While the … data provides a piece of the information, the best available evidence of the aircraft’s location is based on what we know from the last satellite communications with the aircraft,” the ATSB said Monday. “This is indeed the consensus of international satellite and aircraft specialists.”

Last week New York magazine reported that files created just weeks before the ill-fated MH370 flight, which never arrived in Beijing as scheduled, were discovered on Zaharie’s home simulator, an elaborate setup that the pilot had used in his downtime.

According to the magazine, the FBI analyzed hard drives from a flight simulator the pilot had built using Microsoft Flight Simulator X software. The FBI was able to recover data points from the program that pointed to the southern Indian Ocean.

Searchers have scoured about 110,000 square miles in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean, hunting for traces of the passenger jet and the 239 people it was carrying. The multimillion-dollar effort involved several ships with special equipment scanning sections of the sea floor.

Pieces of debris have been recovered off the coast of Reunion Island, which sits east of Madagascar, and in Mauritius, South Africa and Mozambique. The search continues.

Sister: He’s been made a scapegoat

Sakinab Shah, the captain’s sister, continues to defend him amid the reports that he took the plane down in an elaborate murder-suicide.

Even though an investigation by Malaysian police found no evidence that Zaharie Shah, a vastly experienced pilot, was suffering any personal or financial stresses at the time, she told CNN that he remains a “scapegoat” and that she has to defend him.

Sakinab dismissed last week’s media reports, saying they were a “fabrication.”

“They did their tests in 2014, there was nothing incriminating in his activities,” she told CNN just days after the initial revelations were published.

“The FBI did their tests … if there was anything, the police would be the first people to know. That’s why this story has been dismissed.”

“He’s been made a scapegoat from the beginning. This latest accusation? Oh my God. Heaven forbid.”

Sakinab said that, according to Zaharie’s wife and children, the simulator had not been working for at least a year before MH370’s final flight. The family could not be reached for comment.