Identity of MH370 Mystery Caller Revealed

Kristin Shorten, a journalist working for The Australian newspaper, has published an article revealing that the aircraft engineer with whom MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had a 45-minute phone conversation prior to the missing flight was Shah’s cousin.

The call had been the subject of speculation since it was mentioned in the leaked Malaysian police report. Folder 4 of the report, entitled ‘SKMM Analysis’, states:

The analysis on the phone call made and received by MH370 Pilot showed that he received noticeably long call duration from 019-3394874, registered under Zuihaimi Wahidin, an aircraft engineer who works for Malaysian Airlines System Berhad. The call was made on 2 February 2014 at 9:49 am for 45 minutes. Further analysis showed no indication that the two have called each other from January to March 2014. Records also showed that Zulhaimi made an attempt to call the MH370 Pilot on 8 March 2014, when the aircraft is announced to be missing.

Who was Zuihaimi, and why did he call Shah before and after the plane’s disappearance? Had he, perhaps, provided Shah with the technical expertise needed to abscond with the plane?Shorten’s story puts paid to such speculation.

Speaking for the first time, former Malaysia Airlines engineer Zulhaimi Bin Wahidin ridiculed conspiracy theories that he had provided Zaharie with technical details to enable him to hijack his own aircraft. In an exclusive interview, Mr Zulhaimi told The Australian he was Zaharie’s first cousin, had been close to him all of his life, and insisted the experienced airline captain was not the sort of man who would take himself and 238 passengers and crew to their deaths.
Mr Zulhaimi last called Zaharie on February 2, 2014 — just weeks before MH370 vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Royal Malaysian Police interviewed Mr Zulhaimi “three or four” times at his home and police headquarters following the plane’s disappearance on March 8, 2014, because of their suspicion he had provided his cousin with the technical advice to hijack the Boeing 777.
“I was at police headquarters for three days. It spanned from morning to evening,” Mr Zulhaimi said. “I told them that Zaharie is a smart guy. He doesn’t need me to get all of the information.” Mr Zulhaimi noted that Zaharie was a highly experienced aviator who held licences to train and test other pilots. “So he knew a lot about the aircraft.”

Zulhaimi insisted that Shah could not have been responsible for hijacking the plane.

Mr Zulhaimi, who now works for a different airline, feels “uneasy” about his cousin’s “name being tarnished”.

“They’re trying to blame him for what happened and it’s very hard for me to swallow that because he’s not that kind of a person,” he said.

“He was a jovial person. He had a lot of money. He was enjoying his life. Why would he kill himself for no reason? He had a good family and a good life. Successful children. I don’t think people are crazy (enough) to kill themself for nothing. Of course (he is innocent).”

While most staff at Malaysia Airlines knew the men were related, police initially did not. “I asked them to get all of the information from the telco company to see how many times he has been calling me,” Mr Zul haimi said. “When they found that he had been calling me so many times for the last 10 years then they did not question me anymore. They knew it was a genuine relationship.”

The father of three said Zaharie was actually “like a brother”. “He’s my father’s younger brother’s son,” he said. “We share the same grandfather. So that was the reason why (we had that phone call). Nothing more than that.”

Shorten points out that questions about the call had been brought to the fore by the Independent Group.

Police suspicions about the phone call became public when their initial investigative report from May 2014 was leaked online. This information, including that Mr Zulhaimi had tried to call Zaharie’s mobile three times after the plane was announced missing, fuelled wild speculation about their conversation.

Late last year, members of an independent group of experts urged Malaysia to provide “confirmation of the role and technical area of expertise” of the aircraft engineer.

“What was the substance of that long conversation?” the experts had asked through the media. “And who made the three attempts to contact Captain Zaharie Shah later on the morning of the disappearance?”

Mr Zulhaimi said he tried to call Zaharie three times between 10.27am and 11.12am on the day of the flight’s disappearance because he was in disbelief that his cousin’s flight was missing.

There were already many reasons to believe that Shah was not responsible for taking MH370, not least the fact that he had neither a motive nor in all likelihood the knowledge necessary for turning off the plane’s Satellite Data Unit and then turning it back on again. The absence of wreckage on the seabed of the Southern Indian Ocean also suggests that Shah was not the culprit. This latest testimony, however, serves to considerably bolster that position.

13 thoughts on “Identity of MH370 Mystery Caller Revealed”

  1. What strikes me as odd is that again this relationship seems to be (mostly) about the children. There’s definitely a pattern here:

    Zaharie often dropped by Mr Zulhaimi’s Selangor home to visit his cousin’s children, who are now in their teens.

    “He became much more closer to me, I think, because of my children,” Mr Zulhaimi said.

    “He was around the neighbourhood, around my area, so he dropped by to see my kids,” he said. “Just to say hello. We chitchat for a while, about half an hour or one hour.

    And this could be innocuous or creepy:
    “He’s a simulator instructor and the simulator is located near to my house. So each time when he wanted to go for simulator training, he would call me, ‘Are you in the house now? I want to visit you’.”

  2. These questions were asked by the IG in the article but they don’t appear to have been answered.
    What is the technical expertise of the engineer?
    What did he and Shah discuss for 45 minutes?
    New question – Where was the engineer when the fire broke out in the maintenance records?
    If he is ruling out suicide then that leaves foul play or accident. Foul play is the most probable.

    Maybe Boeing realized it was foul play and they decided that an investigation would not lead to any needed design changes in the plane, so they stayed in the background.

  3. @Trip

    What you’re talking about is the E/E bay. A posting on the 787 E/E bay may help;

    “I see that the new dreamliner may have a mechanism fitted to secure the electronics hatch in flight that requires special tools to access from the passenger compartment… unlike earlier aircraft this seems new.. ”

    Agreed if it’s not suicide then it’s foul play. The question then is what is the motive?

  4. @SteveBarratt, Very interesting quote about the 787 E/E bay hatch, was curious where you’d gotten it and turned this up after a quick Google search:
    https://www.pprune.org/archive/index.php/t-525372.html

    Look for a more authoritative source I found this in a Boeing publication:

    “On 747, 767, 777, and 787 models, the internal access panel is known as the internal electrical/electronics (E/E) bay access panel… All 747-8s, 777s, and 787s currently being delivered include hinged, self-closing E/E bay access panels…. Cabin crew and servicing personnel have been injured on airplanes prior to departure by falling through unprotected internal E/E bay access panel openings on 747, 767, and 777 airplanes. (There is no such access panel on the 737 or 757 or on McDonnell Douglas airplanes.) In those cases, the panel was removed from the cabin floor and set aside by a technician while the opening was left unprotected. To date, there have been no reported falls through an internal E/E bay access panel opening for the 787 model, which has a hinged, self-closing access panel door…. According to Boeing aircraft maintenance manuals (AMM), the internal E/E bay access panel is to be used for “access to the E/E bay while in flight.” This access may be needed for extreme emergencies, such as by the cabin crew to fight an E/E bay fire.”
    https://www.boeing.com/commercial/aeromagazine/articles/2014_q3/pdf/AERO_2014q3.pdf

    If the purpose of the hatch is to allow access in the event of a potentially catastrophic emergency, it doesn’t make sense that they would require a special tool to open it. The whole point would be to get in there quickly and easily.

  5. @Jeff Wise

    Yes what looks like a 2013 crew/engineer blog. Probably not very reliable! I did not include the subsequent paragraph which included the QF JQ references

  6. @ Jeff Wise
    Over on VI’s blog, Richard Godfrey has a link to a new paper he has written about how MH370 could have gone ‘dark’ and continued flying through the very busy airspace around Malaysia.
    One key point:
    – after going ‘dark’ and flying up the Malacca Strait, there was a ‘loiter’ over the Andaman Islands and the SATCOM may have been accidentally turned on when TCAS was powered up again to check on the surrounding air traffic. It was done at this location because the aircraft had safely escaped nearby Thai & Indonesian radars.

    And the obvious question being asked is, was MH370 visible as an ‘intruder’ on the TCAS of nearby aircraft?

    And also we now have a plausible explanation for the SATCOM reboot.

  7. @CliffG: Godfrey’s paper makes the assumption that the Left Main AC bus is repowered to make TCAS available. There is no explanation for the Left Main AC bus having been depowered. TCAS requires the ATC transponder and is inoperative with the ATC transponder switch set to Standby near IGARI.

  8. @Gysbreght, @CliffG, Among those who are convinced that Zaharie is the culprit there is an ongoing struggle to explain both the reboot and the turn to the north between 18:22 and 18:25. The most popular approach for the latter is to imagine that the plane turned north off the airway, then eastward to fly parallel to it, in an offset maneuver to avoid oncoming traffic. This would explain why a pilot intending to fly south would instead turn north, but it relies on the idea that it would be necessary to avoid heavy oncoming traffic. In reality, of course, there was very little traffic at the time, and avoiding it with 100 percent safety would be as easy as flying at a nonstandard altitude. But this “must avoid heavy traffic” idea appears to have been recycled by Godfrey in his attempt to explain the reboot–though, as you point out, it doesn’t do anything to explain why the entire left AC bus would be depowered in the first place.

    Lest anyone find themselves attracted to the “offset” idea, I should underline that no subsequent turn to the east was actually observed, it was only hypothetical.

  9. @Trip
    ….Maybe Boeing realized it was foul play…”

    A few months ago, Victor Iannello posted a lecture by airline safety author/consultant George Bibel, who said he feels the whole industry realizes MH370 was a crimninal act (see 53:00 minute mark). So my thought is Boeing has realized since the beginning this accident was most likely a hijacking. By “criminal act” I think George Bibel means, probably not a fire or mechanical issue, and probably not an international terrorism incident. Rather it looks like a Malaysian home grown crime. Note that Malaysia is not blaming Boeing or any other country, which if Malaysia were blaming anyone, then there would be a need to find the wreck to try to find the cause. Malaysia is happy to say (1) we take full charge of the investigation, (2) we report there is no known cause, and (3) everyone should go home and forget about MH370.

    https://www.c-span.org/video/?444934-1/plane-crash

  10. @TBill: For understanding ADS-B and Mode-S message format I found this useful:

    https://mode-s.org/decode/

    “In each ADS-B message, the sender (originating aircraft) can be identified using the ICAO address. It is located from 9 to 32 bits in binary (or 3 to 8 in hexadecimal). In the example above, it is 4840D6 or 010010000100 .

    An unique ICAO address is assigned to each Mode-S transponder of an aircraft. Thus this is a unique identifier for each aircraft. You can use the query tool (World Aircraft Database) from mode-s.org to find out more about the aircraft with a given ICAO address.

    For instance, using the previous ICAO 4840D6 example, it will return the result of a Fokker 70 with registration of PH-KZD .” /blockquote

    That source also explains that there are several types of ADS-B messages. For example, “Airborne position” messages contain the XYZ position (latitude, longitude and altitude), and “Airborne velocities” messages contain the xyz components (horizontal and vertical) of velocity. That helps a lot to better understand the FR24 log of MH370 ADS-B messages that I discussed earlier on this and the other blog.

  11. Apologies – that should read:

    @TBill: For understanding ADS-B and Mode-S message format I found this useful:

    https://mode-s.org/decode/

    “In each ADS-B message, the sender (originating aircraft) can be identified using the ICAO address. It is located from 9 to 32 bits in binary (or 3 to 8 in hexadecimal). In the example above, it is 4840D6 or 010010000100 .

    An unique ICAO address is assigned to each Mode-S transponder of an aircraft. Thus this is a unique identifier for each aircraft. You can use the query tool (World Aircraft Database) from mode-s.org to find out more about the aircraft with a given ICAO address.

    For instance, using the previous ICAO 4840D6 example, it will return the result of a Fokker 70 with registration of PH-KZD .”

    That source also explains that there are several types of ADS-B messages. For example, “Airborne position” messages contain the XYZ position (latitude, longitude and altitude), and “Airborne velocities” messages contain the xyz components of (horizontal and vertical) velocity. That helps a lot to better understand the FR24 log of MH370 ADS-B messages that I discussed earlier on this and the other blog.

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