Skip to main content

MH 370 pilot: Home flight simulator seized in hope of clues

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN
updated 8:32 AM EDT, Wed March 19, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • MH370 pilot's home flight simulator seized as part of investigation
  • Police examining data in hope it will yield some clues as to the fate of missing plane
  • Flight simulators are commonly used by pilots in their downtime
  • Shah's equipment unlikely to help him learn complex or difficult maneuvers

(CNN) -- Like an over-keen online gamer, there appears nothing in Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's post on a flight simulator forum that suggests anything more untoward than exaggerated geekiness.

"Elo guys, zaharie here," says the post on a simulator forum. "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."

See officials remove screaming mothers
Who was in command of missing airplane?
Watch flight simulator attempt theory

However, Malaysian police this week confiscated the flight simulator and reassembled it at Bukit Aman police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, hoping it could reveal some clues as to the whereabouts of the plane.

China shortens list of possible suspects

While police have yet to release any information on its contents, speculation has been rife that its program could reveal anything from a hijacking dry run to practicing how to fly the aircraft undetected.

For many in the airline industry, however, the fact that Captain Zaharie had an off-the-shelf -- albeit elaborate -- flight simulator at home is nothing out of the ordinary.

"Realistically speaking, having a simulator means absolutely nothing," Julian D'Arcy, the flight operations and training manager at Pacific Simulators, told CNN. "The only reason I can see that the simulator is under investigation is just to see if he happened to fly that route on his simulator history which might point to where it is.

"It'd be the same if he just had a Nintendo -- it makes no sense."

Could flight have slipped by radar?

Operating for fun

He said that while Zaharie's flight simulator might look complex to the uninitiated, its plastic pedals and desktop steering yoke could be bought at any gaming store or electronics shop.

"Most pilots would have some version of a Microsoft flight simulator on their home computers -- you can practice instrument flying and systems knowledge, they're great for that, but you can't teach someone to fly a plane from scratch."

Families not getting enough support
Why were no calls made from Flight 370?
Examining MH370 conspiracy theories

Pilots, he said, often use flight simulators in their spare time, for their own satisfaction, to improve their flight skills and to contribute to an online community of simulation enthusiasts.

"Aviation is one of those things you're born with -- a lot of people do it from when they're little kids. Pilots (operate simulators) for fun and like to the help the community.

"I know a lot of pilots, when they get home will take a remote-control helicopter out of their car boot and fly it around their backyard. It's in the blood -- it's not so much a job as a life."

Satellite signals can confirm a plane's identity

Pilots, passengers probed

Aviation expert Jim Tilmon says the simulator is a useful tool for pilots: "I didn't read anything into it in the beginning, because some pilots do like to have that to tinker with and if they're going to be flying the next month into an airport they haven't been in before, they can program that and get some experience in doing that and practice.

"But then I rethought it," he adds. "And I wondered if this pilot really had some plan in mind about what it was going to be that was going to deviate from all the things that he had been taught, for example duck under the radar and fly at 500 feet off the ground or whatever else. He would need to practice. And he's got the equipment to do that with."

Malaysia's Transport Ministry said in a statement that police had started their investigation on all the crew of the missing Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, including the pilot and co-pilot, as well as ground staff who had handled the plane.

On Monday authorities said Malaysian flight engineer Mohammed Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, who was a passenger on MH370, was being investigated as officials probe anyone on board who had aviation skills.

Most pilots would have some version of a Microsoft flight simulator on their home computers.
Julian D'Arcy, Pacific Simulators

His father, Selamat Bin Omar, told CNN he was confident his son was not involved in the disappearance of the flight.

"They are welcome to investigate me and my family," he said. "He went Beijing to repair a plane and was going to bring it back here."

An airline industry source who regularly flies Boeing aircraft said the flight simulator was unlikely to reveal many clues.

"The idea that he was using a home simulator as a means to train himself to hijack the plane is ludicrous," he said. "Plenty of aviation enthusiasts have 'sims' at home.

"Pilots don't necessarily have them because they fly all the time -- it might be like a journalist writing an article for fun in his spare time -- but I guess if its your passion maybe that's what you'd do."

He said it was unlikely the simulator would be used, as has been speculated, to test run a landing at an undetected airstrip.

"Really, if he is an airline pilot like the rest of us, he already has that skillset -- he doesn't need a simulator to practice.

"His little home sim isn't going to train him to land on a smaller runway."

READ: Experts answer #370Qs tweets about missing Malaysian flight

READ: Why were there no phone calls from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

READ: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: How do passenger jets change flight paths?

READ: Politician: Pilot supported me, but was no hijacker

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:11 PM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
The search for MH370 is moving to an area farther south in the Indian Ocean, said the Australian Deputy Prime Minister.
updated 8:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Wed June 18, 2014
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
updated 9:22 AM EDT, Tue June 17, 2014
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Mon June 16, 2014
Families are desperate for results as the search for MH370 reaches a grim milestone. Anna Coren reports from Beijing.
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
updated 3:31 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
updated 11:36 AM EDT, Fri May 30, 2014
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
updated 6:29 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
updated 5:05 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014
Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
updated 7:34 AM EDT, Thu May 29, 2014
Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
updated 10:21 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
There is one fundamental question which continues to swirl: Has Inmarsat got its numbers right?
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Data from communications between satellites and missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was released
updated 3:42 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Family members of the people aboard missing plane want independent investigators to review the newly released satellite data.
updated 7:47 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest explains what kind of information should be contained in the Inmarsat data from Flight MH370.
updated 8:46 PM EDT, Mon May 26, 2014
The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Mon May 19, 2014
Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
updated 3:25 PM EDT, Tue May 6, 2014
The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.
ADVERTISEMENT