GEORGE TOWN: Abdul Rahman Bistamam last received a WhatsApp message from Capt Zaharie Ahmad Shah at 11.41am on March 6, about 36 hours before he took off with MH370.
The pilot sent a picture of a zombie talking on the phone with the caption: “Mandi hadas ala bertamayum, tak yah berbedak lagi. Handsome abg!!!” which poked fun at the current water crisis. (Figuratively, the message meant: “Even if you don’t wash or put on powder, you will look handsome, elder brother!!!”)
“It was just a joke about the water crisis. He sends me jokes from time to time.
“He would also enquire about happenings in Penang and also about the Sungai Pinang folks,” said the 64-year-old freelance photographer at his house in Jalan Maqbul, off Jalan Sungai Pinang here.
Said Abdul Rahman, who has known Zaharie, 53, since he was a child living in the area: “We live next to each other and he calls me Pak Man (Uncle Man).”
He rubbished the British report in The Mail on Sunday that Zaharie was a political fanatic.
“Ari’s political knowledge is almost zero. He is not up-to-date with the current news, and politics is never his topic of conversation,” said Abdul Rahman, referring to Zaharie by his pet name.
“Ari is a humble person who doesn’t like to show off or splurge on luxury items,” said Abdul Rahman, who last met Zaharie in 2010 when the latter returned for Abdul Rahman’s wife’s funeral.
Another childhood friend, neighbour and former schoolmate Amir Shaharuddin Mohd Hassan, 51, spoke of fond memories of playing with Zaharie, a “kind boy who was willing to share his toys such as his car and aeroplane models”.
“We went to the same primary and secondary schools. He loved aeroplanes and it was his childhood dream to be a pilot,” Amir Shaharuddin said.
He added that Zaharie was not very active in co-curricular activities back in Penang Free School (PFS) but focused mainly on studies.
“He was in 5 Science II, a class of smart students. His life back then revolved around studying and aeroplanes,” he said.
Humble and soft spoken, Zaharie had a lot of friends, said Amir Shaharuddin.
“There is no way he will sabotage his own flight. He is a person who will not harm others but will go the extra mile to ensure that others are safe,” he said, adding that Zaharie is known to be a meticulous person who strives for perfection in everything he undertakes.