A day after an investigation report concluded that someone steered Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 — and the 239 people on board — onto a doomed course, the country's civil aviation chief announced his resignation Tuesday over the shortcomings of the country's air traffic control center.
The report, released by the MH370 safety investigation team on Monday, does not identify a culprit, but it ruled out a mechanical or computer failure as the reason the plane disappeared without a trace on March 8, 2014.
It is an admission that someone managed to thwart the systems and processes designed to keep fliers safe.
“Therefore, it is with regret and after much thought and contemplation that I have decided to resign as the Chairman of Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia effective 14 days from the date of the resignation notice which I have served today,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said Tuesday in his resignation letter, which did not suggest that the authority was to blame for the plane's disappearance.
Azharuddin, an engineer, has headed the aviation authority since 2008.
Authorities believe the airplane crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. Everyone aboard is presumed dead in what has become the greatest airline mystery since the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.
Only a scattered few pieces of wreckage — and none of the victims' bodies — have been found despite two massive searches that have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
The 495-page MH370 report highlighted the lapses of Malaysia's Air Traffic Control, which did not monitor radar continuously or determine that an emergency was occurring until well after MH370 was gone.
“There were uncertainties on the position of MH370 by both Kuala Lumpur [air traffic control center] and Ho Chi Minh [air traffic control center]," the report concluded.
Controllers in Ho Chi Minh City did not notify their counterparts in Kuala Lumpur or the air force when the aircraft did not enter southern Vietnam's airspace as planned — one of the first signs that something was wrong.
“The Air Traffic controllers did not initiate, in a timely manner, the three standard emergency phases in accordance with the standard operating procedures,” the report said.
The last contact that controllers had with the plane was when Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shad radioed them, “Good night, Malaysian three seven zero.”
A short time later, the plane changed its flight path in a way that “probably resulted from manual inputs,” the government's report said. A system malfunction alone could not account for sudden shifts in the direction of the plane.
Investigators with the Australian Transport Safety Bureau have said that everybody on the plane — the captain, his co-pilot, passengers and crew — was unconscious as the uncontrolled craft ran out of fuel and plunged into the Indian Ocean.
The Malaysian investigation report revealed someone controlled the craft for at least some of the time after Zaharie said good night.
Zaharie and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid were prime suspects in the plane's disappearance from the beginning, according to news.com.au. Although both have been cleared by the Australian government's investigation, there were rumors that Zaharie's marriage was falling apart and that he downed the plane after learning that his wife was about to leave him, the news site said.
Zaharie is also at the center of a chilling theory posited by a team of experts gathered by the news show “60 Minutes: Australia.”
The show's experts claim a suicidal Zaharie put on an oxygen mask and depressurized the Boeing 777, rendering everyone else unconscious from a lack of oxygen — and helpless to interfere with his fatal plot.
The modern aircraft tracked by satellites and radar disappeared because Zaharie wanted it to, the experts said. And the veteran pilot, who had nearly 20,000 hours of flight experience and had built a flight simulator in his home, knew exactly how to do it.
For example, at one point, he flew near the border of Malaysia and Thailand, crisscrossing into the airspace of both, Simon Hardy, a Boeing 777 senior pilot and instructor, said on “60 Minutes.” But neither country was likely to see the plane as a threat because it was on the edge of their airspace.
Zaharie's suspected suicide might explain an oddity about the plane's final flight path: an unexpected turn to the left.
“Captain Zaharie dipped his wing to see Penang, his hometown,” Hardy said. “It might be a long, emotional goodbye. Or a short, emotional goodbye to his hometown.”
Zaharie's family members have defended him and said they were glad the official investigation cleared him of blame.
There are other theories. Some have claimed Zaharie hijacked the plane to protest the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim, who was then the opposition leader in Malaysia, or that it was an act of terrorism.
This post initially gave an incorrect date for the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. The post has been corrected and updated.