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Report: MH370 pilot texted lady friend two days before tragedy

Published:  |  Modified:

The pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 had reportedly messaged a married woman with three children about a "personal matter" two days before the flight disappeared on March 8, 2014.

Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had grown close to Fatima Pardi in the months before his disappearance, with their friendship quickly developing to the point where the captain played a fatherly role to her three children, one of whom has severe cerebral palsy.

However, their friendship had cooled at Zaharie's instigation a few weeks before the ill-fated flight.

Fatima also would not reveal the subject of their last WhatsApp discussion before flight MH370.

"That last conversation was just between me and him. I don't want to talk about it.

"I'm afraid what I say will be misunderstood. It was a personal matter, a private issue," she said, as reported by The Australian.

Fatima, 35, is a former kindergarten teacher who now works for an opposition party.

She had been interviewed four times by investigators of flight MH370 which went missing with 239 people onboard.

The Australian reported that Fatima grew close to Zaharie after meeting as political volunteers on the previous general election day in 2013.

She said the 53-year-old pilot had regularly visited her house and often bore gifts for her children.

However, she said they were not having an affair and her decision to speak on this matter publicly was because she wanted to counter speculation that Zaharie might have hijacked the plane.

"This is not a lovey-dovey story. He was a friend of mine. We were friends.

"He told me he saw potential in me and that he would help me build a better future for myself and my children," she said.

She had refused all interviews since the fateful day in 2014, she said, because she was afraid she would be misinterpreted and it might hurt the feelings of Zaharie's family.

Conceding that there were rumours of the nature of their relationship, she insisted the two of them were close because her children loved him.

"I don't believe that he loved me. I believe that he loved my children. Whatever my children said 'We want this, we want that', he would buy for them.

"I said to him he should stop doing that because I don’t pamper my children. He would say, ‘She’s just a kid’. So what could I conclude? That he loves children," she said.

There was a pilot murder-suicide theory raised in trying to explain the disappearance of flight MH370 when New York Magazine leaked information from the investigation in July.

They alleged that Zaharie had plotted a similar, though not identical, path to the one MH370 is believed to have taken to the southern Indian Ocean on his flight simulator less than a month earlier.

Authorities have confirmed the leaked information but said the simulated route showed only the "possibility of planning".

Last week, New York Magazine author Jeff Wise had also corrected the story in a personal blog post, saying it was more likely that the information was from "two or possibly three separate flights", and not one single flight plot.

Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said that "hopes are fading" that the airliner can be found and confirmed with The Australian that if nothing new came to light, the search will soon be wrapped up.

Not convinced with simulator theory

However, retired Malaysia Airlines chief pilot Nik Huzlan, who was a friend of Zaharie's, said he was not convinced by the simulator theory.

He said in the immediate aftermath of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, "every pilot with a flight simulator programmed in New York and tried to crash into the twin towers".

"You don't get a flight simulator to do the mundane things you can do in the real thing," he said.

The plane likely disappeared as a result of "human intervention", Huzlan believed, and Zaharie was the "most likely" culprit by process of elimination.

"The captain is the person best placed to have both the opportunity and capability.

"Then it goes down to the first officer, chief steward, No 1 cabin guy, then so on and so forth down the pecking order of the aeroplane staff and then passengers.

“No professional pilot who has followed this case can deny this possibility, or come up with an alternative theory that convinces them it is not human intervention. You just can’t dismiss it.

“The human heart harbours deep secrets," he said.

The critical factor, he said, was that things began to go wrong on the flight only in the 90 seconds of unsupervised airtime after Zaharie had signed off from Malaysian air traffic control and was due to sign in with Ho Chi Minh ground staff.

Someone was still flying the plane, judging by the multiple unscheduled turns it took, but two data messaging systems, the transponder and the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System, all failed.

Fatima said there is no way a man so motivated by the desire to do good could be responsible for the deaths of so many other people.

"He was a nice person, a good person. We both wanted to make a change for our country. That's why we were involved in politics.

“He always encouraged me to look after my children. Sometimes having a disabled child makes you so sad because you can’t do anything for your child, but he gave me advice and inner strength.

“If I ever complained that I was tired or too busy at work, he would say, ‘You should not complain because my work is harder than yours. I can’t afford to make any mistakes because one mistake could ruin everything'," she said.

Though they had become close, the two saw each other less frequently from January 2014 because of a "personal matter" she would not elaborate on.

However, Zaharie continued to visit her children after she urged him not to "let the children become victims of this separation".

Though Zaharie's wife and children have not commented publicly on the speculation about the state of his marriage, close relatives insisted there were no problems so serious that would cause Zaharie to snap.

An interim report into the disappearance of the flight released in March last year found Zaharie's ability to handle stress at home and at work was "good", and there was nothing unusual in his financial affairs.

The report made no mention of Zaharie's friendship with Fatima or that their relationship was considered significant enough to warrant four interviews with investigators.

Fatima said she once asked him why he wanted to be so involved in her children's lives and he had replied, "I just want to be close to them".

Her youngest daughter, who was only three when MH370 went missing, was particularly close to Zaharie, she said, and the now six-year-old had finally accepted he was not coming back.

“She kept asking, ‘Where is he, why is the plane not coming back, what happened to the plane?’ I just tell her to pray for him to come back and she prays every day for him," Fatima said.

Though Fatima will not reveal their final exchange, she said if she could have the conversation again, she would tell Zaharie: “I will continue your dreams for me. He wanted me to be serious about politics. Now, in my career, every time a chance comes to me of course I will think ‘This was his prayer for me’.”

Asked whether she thought that the last conversation might hold a clue to the mystery of the missing flight MH370, Fatima replied: “I don’t know.”

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