Residents of a tiny island in the middle of the Indian Ocean say they saw a “low-flying jumbo jet’’ four hours after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished from radar for the last time, according to a report Tuesday.
The residents live on the remote island of Kudahuvadhoo in the Maldives — which has an international runway that was among five that the plane’s pilot had used for practice on his home flight simulator, according to the Malaysian daily newspaper Berita Harian.
Kudahuvadhoo residents told the paper that the massive plane they saw rumbling above them at around 6:20 a.m. March 8 had Malaysia Airlines’ trademark white body and red stripes.
“I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before,” one witness said. “I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.”
Malaysian officials denied the report on Wednesday.
Other major developments in what has turned into the largest, longest search for a missing passenger jet in history include:
• The missing jet’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, selected five runways to practice on on his home simulator: the Male International Airport in the Maldives, the US military base Diego Garcia to its south, and three airports in India and Sri Lanka, according to Berita Harian reports.
“We are not discounting the possibility that the plane landed on a runway that might not be heavily monitored, in addition to the theories that the plane landed on sea, in the hills, or in an open space,’’ an unidentified Malaysian official told the daily.
• Just 30 minutes after the airplane’s communication with Malaysian air traffic controllers was cut off, the jet was picked up on Thai military radar, but Thai authorities never told investigators until this week — arguing that they were never asked about it.
“We did not pay any attention to it,” sniffed Thailand air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn. “Anything that did not look like a threat to us, we simply look at it without taking actions.”
• The mind-boggling size of the search area for the missing Boeing 777, which carried 239 passengers and crew, now stands at nearly 3 million miles, north across Asia and west across the Indian Ocean — almost the size of the continental United States.
• Adding to the urgency of finding the aircraft is the fact that its black box can ping for only about a month, meaning it’s already lost about a third of its battery power.
Meanwhile, it emerged that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, had been planning to marry before he disappeared, according to a report in the Malaysian newspaper Daily Express.
Officials have yet to back off their theory that it was likely the pilot or co-pilot — or at least someone on board who was extremely knowledgeable about flying — who brought down the plane.
Early Wednesday, Malaysia’s defense minister said files were recently deleted from the pilot’s home flight simulator.
Hishammuddin Hussein told a news conference Wednesday that investigators are trying to retrieve the files. He also said that the pilot is innocent until proven guilty of any wrongdoing.
Hishammuddin said background checks have been received from overseas agencies for all foreign passengers on the plane except for those from Ukraine and Russia — which accounted for three passengers. He says none of the checks has turned up anything suspicious.