The transport minister appeared to be responding to a report published last month in New York magazine.
The pilot of the Malaysia Airlines jetliner that mysteriously vanished more than two years ago had used his personal flight simulator to practice a path over the remote southern Indian Ocean, where the aircraft is believed to have crashed, the country’s transport minister said Thursday.
The remarks by the minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, represented the first time the Malaysian government had acknowledged that the flight simulator belonging to the pilot of Flight 370, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, contained such a path, leading far from any route his airline flew.
The minister did not say when the pilot might have practiced that route, and he emphasized that it was one of many found on the simulator, which the pilot kept at his home. The minister also said it would be premature to draw any conclusions from the disclosure.
Nonetheless, it added to telltale indications that the aircraft, a Boeing 777-200 jet carrying 239 passengers and crew members, might have been deliberately crashed into the sea by Zaharie after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8, 2014.
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“Yes, there is simulation showing it flew to many parts of the world,” the minister was quoted by Malaysia’s Bernama News Agency as saying at a monthly Transport Ministry briefing. The remote southern Indian Ocean route was “one of many,” he said.
The minister appeared to be responding to a report published July 22 by New York magazine, which said it had obtained a confidential document from a Malaysian police investigation showing that Zaharie had practiced the route on his simulator less than a month before Flight 370 disappeared “under uncannily similar circumstances.”
The magazine called the revelation, which was not in the Malaysia government’s public report on the Flight 370 investigation, the strongest evidence yet that the pilot had “made off with the plane in a premeditated act of mass murder-suicide.”
Flight 370’s deviation from its planned route, taking the aircraft thousands of miles off course, remains a mystery of modern civil aviation. One of the working theories is that the plane flew for hours on autopilot with its crew dead or incapacitated and then crashed when its fuel ran out.
Technical signals sent by the plane suggested it might have wound up in a 46,000-square-mile area of the southern Indian Ocean, but aircraft and ships have scoured the area without turning up a sign of the aircraft. Last month, the three countries leading the search — Australia, China and Malaysia — said they would suspend the operation, but would revive it if “credible new information” emerged about the plane’s whereabouts.
A small amount of debris believed to be from the plane has been found thousands of miles to the west. The most significant pieces appeared to be a wing part known as a flaperon — discovered last year on Réunion, an island near Madagascar that is part of France — and another wing segment found more recently near the coast of Tanzania.
A prominent crash investigator caused a stir last weekend by asserting that the flaperon appeared to have been placed in an extended position when it hit the water, and that it had to have been done deliberately. The assertion by the investigator, Larry Vance, who led an inquiry into the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111 in the Atlantic Ocean, has not been confirmed by officials in charge of the Flight 370 inquiry.
“Somebody was flying the airplane at the end of its flight,” Vance said in an interview on Australia’s “60 Minutes” program. “Somebody was flying the airplane into the water. There is no other alternate theory that you can follow.”