'My friend is not a terrorist': member of Malaysian opposition party defends captain of missing flight MH370
Captain of Malaysia Airlines jet a 'professional and dedicated pilot', says fellow member of Malaysian opposition party, ruling out terrorist link
A well-connected friend of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah has leapt to his defence as speculation mounts over who was responsible for the disappearance of the Boeing 777.
An aide to a Malaysian member of parliament with strong links to the most controversial figure in the country's politics in recent times - Anwar Ibrahim - has told the Sunday Morning Post that Zaharie is a close friend and fellow member of Anwar's opposition People's Justice Party.
Peter Chong, 51, secretary to People's Justice Party MP Sivarasa Rasiah, who represented Anwar in his recent sodomy court case, has described 53-year-old Zaharie as a "caring man and a professional and dedicated pilot" who always puts the safety of his passengers first.
Chong, who first met Zaharie two years ago, said they struck up a close relationship and spoke regularly. The last time he spoke to Zaharie was a week before the missing flight took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
"We basically ran into each other so we did not spend much time together, but we said we would meet after he returned from Beijing," he said. "There was nothing unusual about him that time, and nothing unusual in the recent few months also," Chong told the Post.
Chong describes Zaharie as a "confidant" and "fellow activist" on his Twitter account,
"The Malaysian government may play with his political membership with the opposition party, but I think it's got nothing to do with this. I hope to let the families of the passengers know their lives were in the hands of somebody good," he said.
He also told of the captain's home flight simulator. "One of his reasons to build a flight simulator in his home was to share the joy of flying with his friends. People have asked me if that means he'll also invite other people into the cockpit. The answer I think is 'no'. The law doesn't allow it," Chong said.
"So if his friends want to try their hands at flying, they can do it at his home. In fact, according to him, it's even more challenging than flying a real plane. Because when you fly a real plane, usually the weather condition isn't bad, but in the simulator you can create all kinds of snowstorms and wind.
"He's invited me many times but I haven't got to try it myself."
Video: Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah on how to save electricity on air conditioning
Penang-born Zaharie has amassed more than 18,000 flying hours during his 33-year career.
"He's a very caring and friendly person. If he were sitting with us, he would be the one moving things on the table making sure you have your food and coffee," Chong told the Post.
"And if he flies a plane, he would make sure his passengers are safe," he said, adding that that was why Malaysia Airlines picked him to train other pilots.
"Things are pointing towards [him] probably [being] the cause of the thing, terrorism and all that. I think that's not fair because nobody knows what's happening. That's why I decided to come forward and speak," he said.
"I don't blame people for exploring every angle. But until there is proof that he is a terrorist, I will not accept it," he said.
An anonymous writer has launched an information page for people to get to know Zaharie better in a bid to avoid a character assassination against his professional record.
Several current Malaysia Airlines flight personnel who knew Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid personally said they could not accept allegations made against their friends.
"The co-pilot was a close friend of mine. We used to go out together and he was always a good man who loved his profession," a female flight attendant said.
She said she could not reveal her name because the company had asked staff not to comment publicly on the incident.
"I saw them just a week before it happened, and they were both acting very normal. I can't accept claims that he's been having another life," she said.