Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a Malaysian pilot. He was the pilot-in-command of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 which disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia to its planned destination, Beijing Capital International Airport.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah was born on Monday, 31 July 1961 (age 52 years; at the time of the disappearance of MH370) in Penang, Malaysia. After attending Penang Free School in Malaysia, he followed his dreams and pursued a career in aviation.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah in his youth
Height (approx.): 5′ 8″
Hair Colour: Bald
Eye Colour: Black
Zaharie Ahmad Shah belonged to a Muslim family.
A family picture of Zaharie Ahmad Shah
Parents & Siblings
There is not much information about Zaharie’s parents. His sister’s name is Sakinab Shah, and his brother’s name is Rawanis Ahmad Shah.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s sister Sakinab Shah
Wife & Children
He was married to Faizah Khanum Mustafa Khan. He had three children, two sons, Ahmad Seth Zaharie and Ahmad Idris Zaharie, and a daughter, Aishah Zaharie.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah with his wife and children
Zaharie Ahmad Shah followed Islam.
He lived in a residential complex in Shah Alam outside Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s residential complex in Shah Alam, Malaysia
Zaharie Ahmad Shah joined Malaysia Airlines on 15 June 1981 as a Cadet Pilot under the sponsorship of Majlis Amanah Rakyat (MARA), a Malaysian government agency. Following this, he was sent to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, to undergo ab-initio pilot training. After completing the program, he obtained a Commercial Pilot License and Instrument Rating (CPL & IR) within two years. In 1983, Zaharie joined Malaysia Airlines as a Second Officer and began his initial airline flying experience on the F27. In 1985, Zaharie was assigned to the B737-400 as a First Officer, a position he held until October 1991. Later that year, he was promoted to Captain on the B737-400, where he served until December 1996. He then transitioned to the A330-300 and remained on that fleet until September 1998, when he was promoted to Captain on the B777-200 fleet. He remained on the B777-200 until the day of the event. Due to his exemplary performance and seniority, Zaharie was appointed as a Type Rated Instructor (TRI) and Type Rated Examiner (TRE) for the B777-200 fleet in November 2007. His last flight as an operating Captain was to Denpasar, Indonesia on 3 March 2014.
The Mysterious Flight: MH370
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, along with First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid, was on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia to its planned destination, Beijing Capital International Airport on 8 March 2014; however, the aircraft never landed.
7 March 2014
- 22:50 – Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah signed in for duty.
- 23:15 – First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid signed in for duty.
8 March 2014
- 00:00 – The aircraft’s Satellite Data Unit (SDU) logged onto the Inmarsat satellite communication network.
- 00:27 – ATC gave Flight 370 clearance to push back from the gate.
- 00:40:37 – ATC gave Flight 370 clearance to take off.
- 00:42 – Flight 370 took off from runway 32R at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
- 00:42:53 – ATC gave Flight 370 clearance to climb to Flight Level, an aircraft’s altitude at the standard air pressure, of 180 and proceed directly to waypoint IGARI, the point where responsibility for the flight is passed from Kuala Lumpur Area Control Centre (ACC) to Ho Chi Minh Area Control Centre (ACC).
- 00:46:39 – Flight 370 was transferred from the airport’s ATC to Lumpur Radar ATC. Both the airport and Lumpur Radar ATC are based at the Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre (KL ATCC).
- 00:46:58 – ATC gave Flight 370 clearance to climb to Flight Level 250; approximately 25,000 feet (7,600 metres).
- 00:50:08 – ATC gave Flight 370 clearance to climb to Flight Level 350; approximately 35,000 feet (11,000 metres).
- 01:01:17 – Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah informed ATC that Flight 370 has reached Flight Level 350.
- 01:07:48 – The final data transmission from Flight 370 using the Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) protocol was made.
- 01:07:48 – 02:03:41 – The satellite communication link was lost sometime during this period.
- 01:07:56 – Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah confirmed that Flight 370 was flying at Flight Level 350.
- 01:19:30 – Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control Centre (KL ATCC) instructed the crew to contact Ho Chi Minh Air Traffic Control Centre (HCM ATCC). The aircraft passed waypoint IGARI as the captain replied, “Good night. Malaysian three seven zero.” This was the final voice contact with Flight 370.
- 01:21:13 – The position symbol of Flight 370 disappeared from KL ATCC radar, indicating the aircraft’s transponder was no longer functioning. Malaysian military radar continued to track the aircraft, which “almost immediately” began a turn to the left until it was travelling in a south-westerly direction.
- 01:30 – Another aircraft tried to contact Flight 370 at the request of HCM ATCC. Mumbling and radio static was heard in reply.
- 01:37 – An expected half-hourly ACARS data transmission was not received.
- 01:39 – Ho Chi Minh Air Traffic Control Centre (HCM ATCC) contacted KL ATCC to inquire about Flight 370 as verbal contact was not established and said that Flight 370 disappeared from its radar screens near waypoint BITOD, a waypoint after IGARI within the Ho Chi Minh Flight Infomation Region (FIR). KL ATCC responded that Flight 370 did not return to its frequency after passing the waypoint IGARI.
- 01:46 – HCM ATCC contacted KL ATCC and informed them that radar contact with Flight 370 was established near IGARI but lost near BITOD and that verbal contact was never established.
- 01:52 – Flight 370 reached the southern end of Penang Island, which is part of the state of Penang on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid’s cellphone was registered with a cell tower below; however, no other data was transmitted. Flight 370 then turned towards the northwest along the Strait of Malacca, a narrow stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula to the northeast and the Indonesian island of Sumatra to the southwest, connecting the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea.
- 01:57 – Despite attempts on various frequencies and with aircraft in the vicinity, HCM ATCC notified KL ATCC that there had been no contact with Flight 370.
- 02:03:41 – Malaysia Airlines dispatch centre sent a message to the cockpit instructing pilots to contact Vietnam ATC; however, there was no response. Multiple ground-to-aircraft ACARS data requests were transmitted between 02:03-02:05, but the aircraft’s satellite data unit failed to acknowledge them.
- 02:03:48 – After receiving information from Malaysia Airlines’ operations centre, KL ATCC contacted HCM ATCC and conveyed that Flight 370 had entered Cambodian airspace.
- 02:15 – Upon querying Malaysia Airlines’ operations centre, KL ATCC received a response that they were able to establish signal communication with Flight 370, which was confirmed to be in Cambodian airspace.
- 02:18 – KL ATCC contacted HCM ATCC to inquire about Flight 370’s planned route through Cambodian airspace. In response, HCM ATCC confirmed that Flight 370’s intended path did not involve Cambodian airspace and they had verified that Cambodia had no information or contact with the aircraft.
- 02:22 –Malaysian military made the final primary radar contact with Flight 370, 200 nautical miles (370 km; 230 mi) northwest of Penang.
- 02:25 – After experiencing a loss of communication lasting between 22 to 68 minutes, Flight 370 sent a “log-on request” to the Inmarsat satellite communications network via its satellite communication link. This event is sometimes incorrectly referred to as the first hourly “handshake” following the flight’s radar disappearance.
- 02:34 – KL ATCC contacted Malaysia Airlines’ operations centre to inquire about the communication status with Flight 370, but the centre was uncertain whether a message sent to the aircraft had been successfully transmitted.
- 02:35 – Based on signals received from the aircraft at 18:33 UTC in Northern Vietnam, Malaysia Airlines’ operations centre notified KL ATCC that Flight 370 was in normal condition. KL ATCC then conveyed this information to HCM ATCC.
- 02:39 – An attempt to establish a ground-to-aircraft telephone call via the aircraft’s satellite link was unsuccessful as there was no response from the aircraft.
- 03:30 – KL ATCC received notification from Malaysia Airlines’ operations centre that the position information for Flight 370 was based on flight projection, and therefore not reliable for aircraft tracking. Subsequently, between 03:30 and 04:25, both KL and HCM ATCCs contacted Chinese air traffic control to seek further information.
- 03:41 – The aircraft and Inmarsat satellite communication network exchanged hourly automated handshakes.
- 04:41 – The aircraft and the Inmarsat satellite communication network had an automated handshake exchange every hour.
- 05:09 – Information about Flight 370 was requested from Singapore ACC.
- 05:41 – The aircraft and Inmarsat satellite communication network exchanged hourly automated handshakes.
- 06:30 – Flight 370 failed to arrive at its scheduled destination, Beijing Capital International Airport.
- 06:32 – The Kuala Lumpur Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC) was put into action.
- o6:41 – The aircraft and Inmarsat satellite communication network exchanged hourly automated handshakes.
- 07:13 – Malaysia Airlines placed a ground-to-aircraft telephone call through the aircraft’s satellite link, however, no response was received from the aircraft.
- 07:24 – Malaysia Airlines released a press statement declaring the disappearance of Flight 370.
- 08:11 – The final automated hourly handshake with the Inmarsat satellite communication network was successfully established.
- 08:19:29 – The aircraft sent a “log-on request” signal to a satellite, as per the investigators. The aircraft’s engines stopped functioning when it depleted its fuel supply, leading investigators to suspect a possible power failure. However, the emergency power generator’s activation allowed the aircraft to resume operations and send the “log-on request” or “partial handshake” signal to the satellite.
- 08:19:37 – The aircraft sent a “log-on acknowledgement” message at 08:19:37.443 in response to a communication from the ground station. This was the last signal received from Flight 370.
- 09:15 – The hourly handshake was attempted; however, Flight 370 did not respond.
Note: The time mentioned above is according to Malaysia Time (MYT).
The Finding of Flight 370
Soon after the disappearance of Flight 370, a search and rescue mission was initiated in Southeast Asia. The search team was relocated to the Southern Indian Ocean after the communication between Flight 370 and the satellite was analysed.
11 April 2014: Captain Flt. Lt. Tim McAlevey of the Royal New Zealand Air Force while flying a P-3 Orion in search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 over the Indian Ocean
On 29 July 2015, some pieces of marine debris (also known as marine litter) were discovered on the African coast and nearby Indian Ocean islands. The fragments were believed to be remains of flight MH370.
Key pieces of debris of MH370 displayed during a ‘Day of Remembrance for MH370’ event in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The search for Flight MH370 was one of the most expensive searches in aviation history. The search operation covered the Gulf of Thailand, where the plane’s radar was last detected, as well as the Andaman Sea, where the military signal last picked it up. Despite numerous search operations, the location of Flight 370 and its passengers could not be tracked and the disappearance of this aircraft and people remained one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history.
In 2015, the Government of Malaysia declared all of the people including 227 passengers and 12 crew members of Flight 370 presumed dead. While announcing this at a media conference, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director-General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said,
It is therefore, with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that, on behalf of the Government of Malaysia, we officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident in accordance with the Standards of Annexes 12 and 13 to the Chicago Convention and that all 239 of the passengers and crew on board MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives.”
DCA Director-General Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman while officially declaring Flight MH370 as an accident and all the 239 passengers and crew members on board as presumed dead in 2015
- He was fondly called ‘Ari’ by his family members.
- Shah had a YouTube channel where he shared multiple videos, providing helpful tips to viewers on how to optimize the performance of their domestic devices. These videos included advice on how to reduce electricity consumption by tuning air-conditioners, maintaining ice makers and window seals, and more. He followed and admired the content created by an American YouTuber named Taras Kulakov, who goes by the name CrazyRussianHacker on his channel. Kulakov’s engaging demonstrations such as cutting a bottle in half with fire and string had garnered Shah’s admiration.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s YouTube channel
- His passion for flying was not limited to the skies. In addition to being an experienced pilot, he was known to have a flight simulator at home. He would often share updates about new software packages that he had acquired on Facebook.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah with his homemade flight simulator
- Shah enjoyed flying radio-controlled aircraft models and was pictured with friends in July 2012, enjoying an outing by the lake to fly a plane. Not only did he have a fascination for planes, but he also had fun experimenting with a model aircraft along with his friends.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah (centre) while experimenting with a remote-controlled aircraft model near a lake along with his friends in July 2012
- Zaharie Ahmad Shah followed a non-vegetarian diet and had a great love for cooking. He frequently shared pictures on social media of himself cooking and enjoying meals with his loved ones. He had a particular fondness for noodle dishes. His photos showcase his dedication to refining his culinary artistry and exploring new possibilities in the kitchen.
Zaharie Ahmad Shah while cooking a non-vegetarian dish
- Zaharie was a supporter of Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, who faced accusations of sodomy in 2008, 2010, and 2011 and spent several years in jail as a result. Although he was acquitted of all charges in January 2012, the Court of Appeal overturned the acquittal on 7 March 2014, sentencing him to five years imprisonment. The timing of the verdict, just hours before the plane disappeared, led to speculation that the two events were connected, but Ibrahim denied any connection in an interview. Anwar Ibrahim, in an interview, mentioned that Zaharie was a relative of his daughter-in-law and Zaharie and he used to meet each frequently. In 2016, some sources claimed that Shah attended the court hearing of Anwar Ibrahim, but no evidence of the same could be found to support this claim.
- Reportedly, the behaviour of Shah before his boarding on Flight 370 was unusual. The guards stationed outside Shah’s colony claimed that he greeted them with a military-style salute instead of his customary Muslim salutation. Additionally, Shah opted to drive himself to the airport in his personal BMW 5 series car, instead of using the airline cab. His wife, Faizah Khanum Mustafa Khan, accompanied him in the car and returned home alone a week after the disappearance of Flight 370 was suspected.
- The investigation of MH370 took a turn when police officials began to suspect criminal activity. According to Malaysian authorities, the criminal investigation into flight MH370 centred around the cabin crew and pilots of the plane, Zaharie Ahmad Shah and Fariq. As per reports, the police later cleared all 239 passengers, including 12 crew members, of any involvement in the case.
- In 2023, a Netflix docuseries titled ‘MH370: The Plane That Disappeared’ based on the 2014 disappearance of Flight 370 was released. The streaming of the docuseries began on the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of the flight, i.e., on 8 March 2023.
A poster of the docuseries ‘MH370 The Plane That Disappeared’ (2023)