As search crews continue to scour the Indian Ocean for any signs of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, questions once again have been raised about the veteran pilot at the controls of MH370 and his state of mind at the time of the flight.
A reporter from the New Zealand Herald has filed a story from Kuala Lumpur claiming to have spoken to one of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah's friends, a fellow pilot, who said the 52-year-old was going through a number of relationship problems and felt that his life was crumbling at the time of the ill-fated flight on March 8.
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MH370 pilot 'in no state of mind to fly'
A friend of the missing plane's captain says Zaharie Ahmad Shah had been in a bad way ahead of the ill-fated flight, due to relationship problems.
The friend spoke to the New Zealand Herald on the condition of anonymity. Fairfax Media hasn't been able to independently verify the claims.
The Herald report suggested Captain Zaharie may have taken the Boeing 777 for a "last joyride", doing things in a plane he had previously only been able to do on a simulator, before crashing into the Indian Ocean.
"He's one of the finest pilots around and I'm no medical expert, but with all that was happening in his life Zaharie was probably in no state of mind to be flying," the friend told the newspaper.
His comments contrast with official statements from Malaysian authorities, who have said that the focus of the investigation was moving away from Captain Zaharie and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.
The friend claimed that Captain Zaharie was "terribly upset" when his wife, Faizah Khan, told him she was leaving. The couple have three children and, although they had separated, had been living in the same Kuala Lumpur house.
The friend also claimed that Captain Zaharie was experiencing relationship problems with another woman he was seeing.
He claimed Captain Zaharie may have incapacitated the co-pilot and other flight crew to keep them out of the cockpit before taking the Malaysia Airlines plane to a part of the world he had never flown in before.
"It is very possible that neither the passengers nor the other crew onboard knew what was happening until it was too late," the friend told the Herald.
Malaysian police have been scrutinising the life of Captain Zaharie, his co-pilot, and the 10 cabin crew.
Sources close to the investigation in Kuala Lumpur have told Fairfax Media that while pilot suicide had not been ruled out, the focus has now veered away from a hijacking or terrorist attack to the possibility of a mechanical failure, explosion or fire on board.
Malaysian police have described as “mere speculation” a recent report in a British tabloid newspaper that Captain Zaharie spoke on his phone to an unknown woman from the cockpit of the plane before departure.
They have not commented on two separate British media reports in the past day which suggest that the plane was deliberately crashed in a suicide mission.
Britain's The Daily Telegraph reported on its front page on Tuesday that investigators believed that no malfunction or fire was capable of causing the Boeing 777's unusual flight path after taking off from Kuala Lumpur, or the disabling of its communications systems.
Rather, they believed it must have been a deliberate - and therefore suicidal - act, the newspaper reported.
British tabloid The Daily Mail also claimed that investigators were examining whether the chief pilot deliberately sabotaged the aircraft in a carefully planned suicide bid.
The newspaper claimed the jet was tracked by military radar flying at between 43,000 feet and 45,000 feet shortly after the last communication from the cockpit.
Passengers and crew are feared to have suffocated when oxygen levels ran out as it spent 23 minutes at up to 45,000 feet, the Daily Mail reported.
Captain Zaharie's family members have not spoken publicly since the plane disappeared, while friends have defended him and produced a YouTube tribute.
Neighbours quoted Captain Zaharie's youngest son, who they called Seth, as saying he hoped his father's body could be recovered so the family could have closure.
Mohamed Nasir Asim, a neighbour who lives two doors from the Captain Zaharie's house in a gated suburb of Kuala Lumpur, said he saw Seth, in his 20s, after the announcement by Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak on Monday night that the plane had crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
“Many of his friends and several neighbours also dropped by his home to console him,” Mr Nasir told the New Straits Times newspaper.
“I told him to be strong in the face of this challenge … he told us that he wished the authorities would recover his father's body and bring it back for burial.”
Captain Zaharie has another son, Ahmad Idris and a daughter Aishah, 27 who was educated in Melbourne.
Little has been reported in the Malaysia media about his wife, although friends have released a photograph of her to the local media.
Malaysia's acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein has stressed that all people on board the plane remained innocent until proven guilty.
Background checks on all the passengers and crew have failed to reveal anything suspicious.
smh.com.au with Lindsay Murdoch