Missing MH370: Simulator could hold clues

PETALING JAYA, Malaysia - Police investigations into the disappearance of MH370 will likely zoom in on whether Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had practised landings on his home flight simulator at airports located in the two vast tracts of territory where the search is focused.

A pilot trainer with experience flying the Boeing 777-200 said off-the-shelf simulators such as the one Zaharie set up in his home could help a pilot familiarise himself with any airport in the two arcs that stretch from the southern part of the Indian Ocean up north to Kazakhstan.

"My guess is that the police, who have reconstructed his simulator, are trying to see if there is a flight path recorded in the simulator similar to the one where MH370 may have flown.

"Police could also be looking for any 'unusual' airport in the simulator that was used for landing practice," said the pilot trainer.

He was commenting on a report yesterday quoting a source saying that police found five airports on Captain Zaharie's simulator.

The airports were Male in Maldives, at the Diego Garcia United States air base, an airport in Sri Lanka and others in southern India, all of which have runways of at least 1km in length.

Diego Garcia is an atoll in the Indian Ocean where the United States Military has a naval base as well as an air base and runway able to accommodate large aircraft.

The report has not been confirmed but the pilot trainer said that if it was true that the five airports were found on the simulator, "then it doesn't look good for Captain Zaharie."

CNN reported on March 13 that Zaharie may have posted on the German online forum, X-Sim.de, that he had built a flight simulator himself in November 2012.

"About a month ago I finish assembly of FSX and FS9 with six monitors" in a message signed Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah BOEING 777 MALAYSIA AIRLINES.

FS9 and FSX are short for Micro­soft Flight Simulator (Version 9) and Flight Simulator X (Version), two of the most recent versions of a flight simulator which are popular among gamers and flight enthusiasts.

The current version FSX is marketed not just as a game for hobbyists but as a useful training aid for pilots. The simulator is able to re-create a B777-200 aircraft cockpit and flight from take off to landing.

The simulator can realistically re-create any one of 20,000 airports worldwide and all routes flown can be saved on a hard-disk.

Many of the controls are simplified, but the simulator provides basic features that recreate some of what an actual pilot experiences.

"Microsoft Flight Simulator X includes many features and capabilities that make it an ideal complement to formal flight training and real-world flying," read a descrip­­tion of the game's benefits on the Microsoft Flight Simulator X website.

The game website said that FSX is currently being used in various pilot training programmes including those conducted by US Navy, FlightSafety International, and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical Univ­ersity.