There were 12 crew and 227 passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared about 40 minutes into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. They were from far-flung parts of the world: 14 nationalities that included New Zealanders, Iranians, Americans and Indonesians. Two thirds of the passengers were from China. These are the stories of some of those on board.
— EXPERIENCED CAPTAIN
The flight’s pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flight experience. People who knew Zaharie from his involvement in opposition political circles in Malaysia and other areas of his life described him as sociable, humble, caring and dedicated to his job.
His Facebook page showed an aviation enthusiast who built his own flight simulator at home and flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.
Born in northern Penang state, the captain and grandfather was an enthusiastic handyman and proud home cook. As part of what he called “community service,” he had posted several YouTube videos including how to make air conditioners more efficient to cut electricity bills, how to waterproof window panes, and how to repair a refrigerator icemaker.
“Likes” and other activity on Zaharie’s YouTube account showed approval of atheist views, an unusual admission in predominantly Muslim Malaysia.
— COCKPIT CONTROVERSY
Described by the imam of his local mosque as a “good boy” and by neighbors as pious, co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was dubbed a playboy by foreign media after the revelation he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for an international flight in 2011. During the journey, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, said in an interview broadcast by Australia’s Nine Network.
Fariq, 27, was filmed recently by a crew from “CNN Business Traveler,” and reporter Richard Quest described the experience 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.
Fariq, however, was new to the 777 and had 2,763 flight hours overall.
Neighbor Ayop Jantan said he had heard that Fariq was engaged and planning his wedding. The eldest of five children, Fariq’s professional achievements were a source of pride for his father, Ayop said.
— DESTINATION NORTH KOREA
Chemistry lecturer Kranti Shirsath was on her way to North Korea via Beijing to visit her husband Prahlad, who was close to completing a three-year contract with nonprofit group Concern Worldwide. She was planning to help him pack for the move home to India, where she lived with the couple’s two sons in the western city of Pune.
Over the past 17 years, the couple lived in many countries, including Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as Prahlad took assignments with different NGOs. But she stayed behind with the children when he took up the post in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang.
Prahlad was among family members who traveled to Kuala Lumpur after hearing that the plane had gone missing. After spending four fruitless days in Kuala Lumpur, Prahlad has returned to Pune to be with his sons.
“Apart from no news of the aircraft, what is even more painful are the conspiracy theories,” Prahlad Shirsath told reporters in Pune.
— FETED CALLIGRAPHER