UK & World News
Plane Mystery: Pilot's Simulator 'Key'
The pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane invested vast amounts of time and money in an ultra-realistic flight simulator that is being pored over by investigators trying to solve the mystery of the jet's disappearance.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah spent thousands of hours in the virtual cockpit of the machine playing flying games and boosting its capabilities.
The state-of-the-art setup is a key part of the investigation into flight MH370, which has been missing for more than two weeks.
There is no evidence Mr†Zaharie was responsible for the loss of the jet, and it is not uncommon for pilots to enjoy flying so much they have simulators at home.
In a post on an online message board in 2012 he posted a picture of his finished simulator, calling it "awesome" and adding it was his "passion".
The simulator was seized from the 53-year-old's home west of Kuala Lumpur by police last week, and its capabilities are extraordinary.
Mr Zaharie's simulator setup included a motion controller, which made the chair pitch and turn like in a real cockpit in order to simulate the climbs, descents and banked turns of a real plane.
There was also a centre pedestal, where aircraft controls are located, and an overhead panel.
The software would have allowed him to practise landing at more than 33,000 airports, on aircraft carriers, oil rigs, frigates and helipads on top of buildings.
Mr Zaharie would also have been able to use the internet to fly with friends and simulate "a lot of malfunctions, emergencies, go-arounds, return-to-base or divert with fairly exact procedures", said Naoya Fujiwara, a flight simulator expert from Japan.
Mr Fujiwara added he could have simulated weather conditions and even downloaded real weather, wind and temperature information from a professional server.
One thing he could not have simulated was evading radar. There has been speculation the jet could have flown as low as 5,000ft using "terrain masking" to try to avoid radar, claims Malaysian authorities have rejected.
Investigators are looking at the games he was running, including Microsoft's "Flight Simulator" series and the latest "X-plane" title.
"Looking through the flight logs in these simulator games is a key part of the investigation," an official with direct knowledge of the investigation said.
"X-plane 10 was interesting to investigators because it was the latest thing Zaharie bought. Also it is the most advanced out there and had all sorts of emergency and combat scenarios."
The authorities in the country have also asked the FBI for help with memory recovery after discovering some data was deleted from the simulator on February 3.
Given the large amount of memory computers have, it is unclear why this happened. It could have been part of a regular maintenance routine or to help improve the simulator's performance, other users say.
The exact cost of Mr Zaharie's simulator is not known, but a rough estimate puts the sum at several thousands of pounds.
Costs vary on the parts used. A replica Boeing-737 seat from Flight Simulator Centre, a website which sells simulators, costs almost £3,000 ($5,000). An overhead panel listed on another website costs £400 ($800).