Malaysian Officials Say Files Were Deleted From Pilot's Custom-Built Flight Simulator

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 19 2014 10:10 AM

Malaysian Officials Say Files Were Deleted From Pilot's Custom-Built Flight Simulator

In this handout provided by the U.S. Navy, A Sailor assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 46 prepares to launch a P-3C Orion Monday, March 17, 2014 before its mission to assist in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on March 17, 2014

Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric A. Pastor/U.S. Navy via Getty Images

As the search goes on (and on) for Flight 370, Malaysian officials on Wednesday revealed that at least some data was deleted last month from the custom-built flight simulator found in the home of Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, the pilot of the missing jetliner, via the New York Times:

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

At a news briefing Wednesday... officials said that investigators had recruited “local and international expertise” to examine the flight simulator taken from the home of the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah. They discovered that its data records had been cleared on Feb. 3, more than a month before the March 8 flight that vanished with 239 people on board after veering off its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“The experts are looking at what are the logs, what has been cleared,” said Tan Sri Khalid Bin Abu Bakar, inspector general of the police, who declined to comment further. Flight simulators, computer programs often used in pilot training, can often replicate specific airports and flight paths.

Officials say they are hoping to restore the deleted files, although it remains unclear whether that will be possible. [Update: The FBI is on the case.] It's somewhat difficult to know how much to make of the news. As the Associated Press notes, it's not yet even clear whether investigators think the deleting of files was all that unusual. Likewise, there's some dispute over just how much to make of the fact that the pilot built his own flight simulator in the first place. (His friends have described him as a something of an aviation geek, and other pilots have suggested having a personal simulator is relatively common in the industry.)

Regardless, the simulator—along with its owner and the rest of his crew—appear to be chief among investigators' current interests as they attempt to piece together just what happened on board the 777 after it disappeared from air traffic control radar and turned west across the Malaysian peninsula. Officials said Wednesday that they have received background checks on all of the passengers on board the plane except for those from Ukraine and Russia (which together accounted for three passengers). "So far, no information of significance on any passengers has been found," Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's defense minister, told reporters.

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