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.

53 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.

  12. It seems to me that there is little to draw out of a 45-minute call–in any direction–occurring a full month before the a/c went missing. What am I missing?

  13. @Truman S. Barwell, You’re right, of course. It’s a measure of how little dirt exists on Zaharie that even a small ambiguous detail can generate excitement as a potential indication of malfeasance.

  14. @Mirabel Loches, I understand your frustration. I think the subtext for this story’s tepid reception is that few people take it seriously as a legitimate development in the case.

  15. I was always puzzled by the Royal Navy reporting that submarine HMS Tireless was searching.

    The RN don’t usually admit where the submarines have been with few exceptions.

    It always felt like the information was just to lend credence to the SIO location.

  16. @PSOther: Searching for the (acoustic) signal emitted by the Underwater Locator Beacons (ULB’s) of CVR and FDR requires close coördination between participating ships.

  17. @Gysbreght

    Thank you. So “a big passenger plane disappeared” might be one of the”few exceptions ” where Navies do admit positions of subs.

  18. Blimey the daily ‘high quality newspaper’ mail is so low on ideas that they kick the dead cat for the umpteenth time? Where do they find those next generation crackpots I wonder? Aside from the implausibility of those people remembering that stuff *now*, the plane crashing in the strait of Malacca is a priori absurd. But I guess they achieved their aim, namely some people read the article, and now we’re talking about it, ARGH. If there’s anything we can learn from this, first of all it’s noteworthy that the plane still is so utterly vanished, and maybe if we want to be particularly conspiratorial we might interpret this unprompted article in a major UK paper as implying that there definitely is no western government involvement (if that was even remotely plausible to begin with). Even more speculatively we might ponder whether some people want to once again shake the tree a little, in the sense of “don’t feel too comfortable, we can drop this anytime we want “. Again, far fetched. Most likely, it’s simply the daily mail being out of ideas. I still wonder what it would take for the tree to be really and effectively shaken.

  19. ICJ: The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius

    The judgment represents a significant defeat for the UK on virtually every point it contested in the hearing last September.
    By a majority of 13 to one, the court found that the decolonisation of Mauritius had not been lawfully completed and that it must be completed “as rapidly as possible”. The only judge dissenting from the main opinion was an American.
    A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “This is an advisory opinion, not a judgment. Of course, we will look at the detail of it carefully. The defence facilities on the British Indian Ocean Territory help to protect people here in Britain and around the world from terrorist threats, organised crime and piracy.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/25/un-court-rejects-uk-claim-to-sovereignty-over-chagos-islands

  20. @All

    Recent article on the disappearance of 9M-MRO in the Australian by Journalist Ean Higgins suggesting an expansion of the search area based of a conscious pilot at the end;

    https://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/mh370-the-plane-truth-is-out-there/news-story/98b9fb866f1f26dfd7a133f3e6738d96

    Behind a paywall. He has written a book on the subject published today (9M-MRO).

    However the singular lack of activity at highest of levels suggests that 9M-MRO may not be in the SIO.

  21. @SteveBarrat, Thanks for this, if this article is like the one that ran in the Sun then Higgins’ idea is beyond ridiculous and actually pretty offensive.

    But I agree, there’s little chance a seabed search will be relaunched.

  22. @Jeff Wise
    MH370’s Wikipedia page has a summary ‘box’ on the right with the following information:
    Occupants- 239
    Passengers- 227
    Crew- 12
    Fatalities – 239 (presumed)
    Survivors – 0 (presumed)

    Given that there were no survivors, qualifying the total number of fatalities with the word ‘presumed’ is reasonable. But then, isn’t seeing the word ‘presumed’ next to the number of survivors make both statements seem to appear self-referential?

    What am I missing here?

  23. @CliffG

    We strictly speaking don’t know for certain whether there are survivors. The people who were on board have disappeared. There are no bodies. Theoretically, the plane could have landed somewhere and those on board been imprisoned/ taken hostage. “Presumed” implies that most mainstream hypotheses regarding the plane’s disappearance have “everyone dead” as their outcome. Certainly that would be the case for the SIO-crash-theories, and also likely for variants of JW’s “northern arc”-theories. A hypothesis has been proposed where the plane would have been taken mostly along its intended flight plan to a location in China. Under such a scenario it would be fairly plausible that at least some of those on board would have been alive for at least a while after the disappearance. Obviously such a scenario is far from mainstream and requires things that many would regard as conspiratorial and unrealistic.

  24. @DG, Thanks for the link… story says they’ll consider reopening “if interested companies came forward with viable proposals or credible leads.” That’s an extremely huge if! If anyone could make credible case for a new search area in the southern Indian Ocean I think they would have made it by now.

  25. @SteveBarratt, I don’t quite understand this story; if these are the pieces of debris that Malaysia has described pretty extensively, what is significant about the fact that they are being held in a vault? What is it they hope to learn? Did it all amount to something, or are we waiting for a big reveal? Anyway, thanks for the link!

  26. Re: the Z phone conversation:

    Surely if Z or his cousin, or anyone else for that matter, were gonna pull off a hijack this big, they’d be using burner phones not they’re own regular numbers, right? So I’d say its a bit nonsensical to draw any conclusions from what Z’s main phone did or didn’t contain (regardless of his complicity/non-complicity in a hijack)

  27. Just seen the 60 minutes documentary. Not much new but it was interesting to me that:

    * PM Mahathir seemed to start touching on the supernatural almost (we don’t know if the passengers are ‘dead or alive’ and the plane ‘just vanished’ which was repeated a few times). He is clearly dumbfounded and fascinated at the same time, like us all.

    * Danica Weeks: I’m afraid behind all her tears and pleas I just cannot forget how bizarre it is that her husband left his wedding ring and told her to look after the children if anything happened… it seems all a bit Blaine Gibson-eque to me for want of a better analogy.

    * MH370 will reveal itself when the time comes is what this documentary concluded? All very other-wordly…

  28. @ Jeff

    Cheers, no worries.

    Re the fault:
    60 Minutes were pushing it as pilot suicide, the gist being the Malaysians not wanting to accept/admit pilot culpability/suicide nearly 5 years on. Reasons given – not wanting to tarnish the national (government-owned) carrier (ie their own pilot killing 239 people) and secondly, the Asian culture of saving face was also mentioned

    The best question the Aussie anchor asked, was to the guy who was in charge of the initial investigation was the sim data. The investigator conceded that out of a 1000 journeys, only 1 of them ended in the SIO. Pushed as to how this could’ve be a coincidence, he simply stated ‘we don’t know.’

    The pro-Z argument from the Malaysian side was equally convincing, however: ie how could a man of known good character, a family man of 30 years flying experience even begin to think of killing 239 people. And why would he need to? Basically it doesn’t add up

    The only momentary seed of doubt I did notice in his close friend when pushed on the sim data. But he said ‘it could’ve simply been a training flight on rough waters’ etc

    It wasn’t a bad performance by the anchor who stated there seems to be a new openness in Malaysia about discussing MH370 which wasn’t there before.

    I enjoyed the ‘dead or alive’ part from PM Mahathir, he still seems fascinated by the disapperance.

    Sorry for the waffle!

  29. @Sajid, You wrote, “The investigator conceded that out of a 1000 journeys, only 1 of them ended in the SIO.” Are you saying that they found 1000 journeys on Zaharie’s flight simulator? And only one of them ended in the southern Indian Ocean?

    If that’s the case, then I would read the situation as, the guy made so many flights of different kinds, to so many different places in so many directions, that it’s not surprising one of them wound up looking like the situation that they think happened. You know what I mean?

    But I also think that maybe this is not what he was saying.

  30. @ Jeff

    Yeah he did say a thousand were found. To his credit he didn’t try to downplay it or explain it away. Here’s that part of the interview transcribed word-for-word:

    Anchor introduction: Senior Malaysian officials still maintain there was nothing suspicious about Zaharie’s flight simulator, even though for the first time tonight, they admit it did stand out among the thousand other flight simulations recovered from his computer

    Investigator: Nothing unusual for pilots to have simulators at home, and they use that for training.

    Anchor:Why do you think he would’ve tracked a course deep into the SIO?

    Investigator: Okay. He also tracked a thousand other flights…

    Anchor:Mmhmm. Did any of them end in the middle of nowhere?

    Investigator: No, only one of the thousand flights was in the Southern Indian Ocean

    Anchor:To land nowhere? Does that make sense?

    Investigator: I do not know. I cannot explain to you why one particular flight landed in the Southern Indian Ocean, but if you are trying to lead me… that he tried to ditch the aircraft, I wouldn’t want to buy that

  31. @Sajid, Thank you, really, really interesting. If what the investigator is saying here is true — and before putting much weight on it, I’d really like to look into it — then I think this makes the flight sim data look much LESS significant, though the anchor seems trying hard to make it seem the other way. A while ago, Victor (who I think has some connection to investigators) implied that the SIO flight was one of only a handful of saved flights. I think that would be much more damning to Zaharie.

    Of course, I think there are two other important things to bear in mind about the context in which this simulated flight took place:
    1) Not a shred of any other evidence that would cast Zaharie as someone who might kill 238 people along with himself.
    2) In the month after he made this flight, he did a bunch of other flights that had nothing to do with flying a 777 into the remote ocean–he played around with a DC-3, among other things. I just don’t see someone who’s going to off himself in a really slow and macabre way trying out his death flight on a lark, then goofing around different things for fun.

  32. @Sajid, I found the clip and watched it — hard to watch, it’s so idiotic. The interviewer appears to not understand the point that the investigator is clearly trying to make. As I commented earlier, he’s clearly making the point that if you do 1000 simulator runs, it’s not surprising that one of them might have any given configuration.

    Of course there’s the more egregious problem that 60 Minutes is giving a platform to folks like Ean Higgins and Larry Vance–it’s really a national disgrace for Australia. But anyway here’s the link should anyone be interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IooUYvy5h0o&app=desktop

  33. Haha, 60 minutes a national disgrace?

    Do you think they are looking after their ratings and advertising revenue or worrying about disgracing a nation. Same deal for “The Australian” newspaper.

    I would be surprised from the detail published thus far that 1000 or so flights were found on his puter. I agree, more weight needs to be put on that to stand the sniff test, it’s a bit pongy atm.

    Z reportedly had a quite an elaborate sim setup, although somewhat broken at the time of disappearance. On that point alone, you would expect he uses it a bit (when working) for all manner of simulated flights and often. 1000 or sims isn’t extraordinary, it’s just there is no evidence to support it, apart from one interview on a mainstream, commercially funded, rating driven TV show. 60 minutes ain’t what it used to be.

  34. @sharkcaver: The RMP report has details on the numbers of various types of files found on the 5 disk drives in Z’s computer. Some of those files apparently come with the program at installation.

  35. @Gysbreght, In an earlier post (http://jeffwise.net/2017/11/21/does-the-mh370-captains-flight-simulator-prove-his-guilt/) I wrote:

    If it’s true that Shah was practicing emergency procedures on February 2, rather than planning his demise, it must be acknowledged as a freakish coincidence that the simulated flight’s end so eerily foreshadowed MH370’s presumed end. But there are mitigating factors. For one thing, Shah was a flight-sim enthusiast who flew many kinds of aircraft in many locations under many circumstances. Investigators found data files for more than 600 simulated flights on various hard drives in his home. Given that number, it would frankly be surprising if one or two of them didn’t resemble the accident flight in some way.

    I can’t at the moment remember what the source was for the “600” number, I think it was one of the Malaysian reports. I know that Victor has said that a many of those are preinstalled, but I don’t think he’s substantiated that claim. At any rate, I very much doubt that there were hundreds of flights in the month or so prior to the disappearance, which is a more useful span of time to consider, I would think.

  36. @Jeff Wise: That’s a great post you wrote back in September 2017!

    The RMP report says that the disk drive ‘MK25’ that had the Shadow volume contained 348 files of type .FLT, and 62 files of type .PLN. All drives and types combined the computer contained 714 files generated by the MSFS program.

  37. @Gysbreght, Thank you! You know, as I read your comment, I realize that since I installed the same Flight Simulator program and 777 add-on that Zaharie used, I should be able to go in and search for all .flt files and see how many turn up. Another thing for the to-do list…

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