19:51 GMT14 April 2021
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    For the first time, Malaysia has acknowledged that a pilot on board disappeared Malaysia Airlines’ Flight 370 had plotted a course on his home flight simulator to the missing jet’s suspected crash site in the southern Indian Ocean.

    Last month, Australian officials overseeing the search for the plane’s remains said that data recovered from Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah's simulator indicated a flight path to the southern Indian Ocean. At the time Malaysian officials would not confirm the findings.

    Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told local journalists on Thursday that the path had, in fact, been found on Zaharie’s simulator. He pointed out that there were “thousands” of routes on the simulator and that there was, as yet, no evidence that the pilot crashed the plane on purpose or flew the plane to that area. 

    According to a report published last month in New York Magazine, an FBI analysis of the simulator showed that Zaharie had plotted a flight to the southern Indian Ocean less than a month before Flight 370 disappeared along a similar path. The magazine interpreted this as evidence that Zaharie committed a premeditated act of murder-suicide.

    Liow said, "Until today, this theory is still under investigation. There is no evidence to prove that Captain Zaharie flew the plane into the southern Indian Ocean. Yes, there is the simulator but the (route) was one of thousands to many parts of the world. We cannot just base on that to confirm (he did it)."

    Families of the victims believe that Malaysia is engaging in a cover-up to disguise incompetence.

    Li Xinmao, whose son-in-law, Luo Wei, and daughter Li Yan were among Chinese passengers on the flight said, "It is sheer nonsense! I don't believe it at all. We were told in the past that both the plane and the pilots had no problem and now we are told there was something wrong with the pilot," adding, "It is another irresponsible thing the Malaysian government has done to try to fool the relatives and cover up the truth and the conspiracy. We relatives strongly protest it and strongly demand the discovery of our loved ones." 

    Jacquita Gonzales, whose husband, Patrick Gomes, was a crew member on the ill-fated flight, said that it wasn’t clear Zaharie flew the route on his simulator. She highlighted a private investigator’s report that a small section of the aircraft washed up on Reunion Island, near East Africa last year, was broken off, indicating that the plane was intentionally ditched. 

    "I am not blaming the pilot, but the government should be more forthcoming with information. Why is France still not releasing details on the flaperon after so long?" Gonzales said. "It's very frustrating. We are like a yoyo going up and down all the time."

    Damien Kingsbury, professor of international politics at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, said, "There is no clear reason why the Malaysian government is doing this, but it does seem to be connected with wanting the disaster to have as little impact as possible on the standing of the airline, which is already in deep financial trouble." 

    Officials from China, Malaysia and Australia announced last month that the search for the plane would be suspended once the current 120,000-square-kilometer search area had been covered. Search crews have less than 10,000 square kilometers, left to scan, and the sweep should be completed by the year end.


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