Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.
PETALING JAYA: The safety of his passengers would always have been uppermost in Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah's mind, says his friend Peter Chong.
Chong, an aide to Subang MP R. Sivarasa, feels that if there was any element of foul play in the form of a hijacking of missing flight MH370, then his friend Zaharie would have been a victim of it.
Chong was reacting to what he called the irresponsible journalism of British tabloid Daily Mail which published an article depicting Zaharie as a "political fanatic".
"When I first saw the report in Daily Mail, I let forth a stream of vulgar words," said Chong, who first met Zaharie more than two years ago at a community project.
"Zaharie is someone who is very passionate about flying and very aware of the great responsibility a pilot bears towards his passengers and crew."
"He is a management pilot, which means he doesn't just fly but is involved in training and examining other pilots."
"He took it very seriously and we used to joke that he is one of the lucky people who has made his job his hobby."
Chong was outraged by allegations implicating Zaharie in the disappearance of the flight.
"I think sometimes the media forget about the human element; the emotions of the families involved."
How can you irresponsibly cast such accusations on a man whose family is worried about his safety?"
Zaharie, 51, began flying with MAS in 1981. He is a father of three.
Zaharie did join Parti Keadilan Rakyat as a life member early last year, confirms Chong.
However, because he was very busy, Zaharie was considered to be a sleeper member, holding no posts in the party.
"When I first met him two years ago, he was helping to stack up chairs after a community project.
"He is a good man and humble despite his senior position as a pilot. He wanted to make a difference to the community.
"Over time I got to know him but because of our busy schedules we communicated more often through WhatsApp," he said.
According to Chong, the Daily Mail did contact him initially for some quotes, but once he saw what he considered to be a character assassination of his friend, he has declined further calls from Britain.
"I won't speak to sensationalist tabloids who just twist the truth to further their agenda.
"To be fair, aside from the Daily Mail no one else has done it, which is a little comforting.
"This is a time of national tragedy and by and large Malaysians have been united in their sympathy and concern over the missing flight. I would hate to have some irresponsible British journalist undermine our unity," said Chong.