Kudahuvadhoo islanders spotted low-flying mystery aircraft in hours after MH370 disappearance

With additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer and Ahmed Rilwan

Residents of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaal atoll have reported seeing a low flying aircraft heading in a south-easterly direction in the morning of March 8, prompting speculation that it could have been the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

“It was about 6:30am in the morning, I heard a loud noise and went out to see what it was,” Adam Saeed, a teacher at Kudahuvadhoo school, told Minivan News.

“I saw a flight flying very low and it had a red straight line in the middle of it. The flight was traveling north-west to south-east.”

While Saeed’s sighting has been corroborated by a number of witnesses, others remain skeptical that the aircraft could have been the missing jet, whilst aviation authorities maintain that they have no “credible” evidence to support the claims.

Police have confirmed they are looking into the reports without providing further comment.

Co-author of the original story Ahmed Naif explained that Haveeru had been receiving similar reports since March 9, but had been concerned about the credibility of the sightings.

“Later we were getting so many comments that we contacted the island and they said it was true,” explained Naif.

One islander, who identified himself as Hamzath, told Minivan News that had also seen a low-flying plane heading from north-west to south-east, though he remained wary of jumping to conclusions.

“People started talking about it when they realised that the flight that we saw had the same characteristics as of the missing plane,” he said. ”We are still not saying it is the same plane, we just wanted to report it just in case.”

Another witness – who wished to remain anonymous – confirmed a similar height and direction but did not see the plane’s colours, while another suggested that the reports had been exaggerated.

“A plane did fly near the island,” said the anonymous witness. “It wasn’t that big, as big as people say.”

“These days people will be out fishing every morning. Around thirty people would always be there in the morning – but no one talked about it then. If it was that noticeable, loud and big, people would talk.”

Caution urged

Investigators are currently searching an area spanning 2.24 million nautical miles, with two corridor arcs – one stretching between Thailand and Kazakhstan, the other south between Indonesia and the southern Indian Ocean.

The arcs were determined locational ‘pings’ detected by a satellite revealing the flight’s last known location at 8:11am Malaysian time (5:11am Maldives time). Witness reports received by Minivan News and Haveeru put the time of the sighting between 6:15am and 8am.

While the Maldives appears to have been ruled out of the ever-widening search for the missing Boeing 777 and the 239 people on board, reports this morning brought further mention of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

A simulator featuring five airports in the Indian Ocean region was discovered in the home of flight Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah today, as investigators remain convinced the plane’s disappearance was deliberate. A senior Malaysian police officer told Reuters, however, that such simulators are likely to feature hundreds of runways.

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport was featured on the simulator, as were three runways in Indian and Sri Lanka, as well as the US military base in Diego Garcia.

Although the Maldives receives over one million tourists every year, visitors to isolated islands are normally transported by seaplane from Malé’s airport.

When asked about the possibility of a plane of this size landing on an isolated airstrip in the atolls, Maldives National Defence Force spokesman Major Hussain Ali said this was not possible.

“If you are asking are there any landing strips outside of the main commercial airports, the answer is no,” said Hussain.

Contacted following the emergence of the Kudahuvadhoo sightings, neither Hussain not the President’s Office were responding to calls at the time of press.

Spokesman for the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) Hassan Areef has urged caution regarding the reported sightings in Kudahuvadhoo.

“We have no credible information about the plane in terms of radar or sightings,” said Areef.

“There are so many conspiracy theories – we have no credible information that the plane has come to us.”

One such conspiracy theory has the base at Diego Garcia – which lies around 700 miles south of Kudahuvadhoo – as a potential landing site for the plane, though Malaysian authorities are said to have dismissed this rumour.

Haveeru today quoted a local aviation expert, who considered it unlikely that a commercial carrier would have been flying over the island at that time.

While some witnesses at first assumed that the flight must have come from Maamagili airport, 55 miles to the north, MACL’s published schedule shows no flights from the airport until 7:20am on Saturdays, with all subsequent flights headed to the capital Malé – north-east of Maamigilli.

Maamigili airport is the hub for the domestic carrier Flyme which operates a fleet of 75ft, 50 seater ATR 42-500 aircraft. The Boeing 777 model of the missing Malaysian jet is around 200 feet long with a carrying capacity in excess of three hundred.


Airport staff strike over bad food and bad bonuses

Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) employees working at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) went on strike today over the low quality of food served at the staff cafeteria as well as cuts to the annual company bonus.

The protest began early this morning and continued until around noon. At around 10:30am, the managing director of the company arranged a meeting with a five member group representing staff, as well as with the CEO Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem.

While the protesters estimated that approximately 250 – 300 employs were ready to go on full strike, the situation was resolved following the meeting after employees were assured that solutions would soon be found for all their concerns.

Speaking to Minivan News, one of the five staff negotiators said that the main two demands of the protesters were the improvement of the conditions of the staff restaurant ‘Beach Rest Cafe’, and the resumption of the annual company bonus for employees – which has been “discontinued for the past two years”.

When disbursed by India’s GMR – the previous company that managed the airport – some would receive a bonus of MVR1500 while others would receive as much as MVR30,000, said the staff negotiator.

“It started with the Beach Rest issue. Even today they served rotten curry. This has been going on for a while now. We cant eat the food they prepare,” he explained.

MACL Corporate Communications Manager Hassan Areef said that the situation was resolved shortly after negotiating with protesters.

“Beach Rest is not run by the company, but we will talk to them and address the issue immediately,” he said.

When asked about the company bonus, he said that information would be revealed on that as progress is made, but assured that the company would this issue also.

“When the situation was resolved the staff were happy, they went back to work immediately,” Areef said.

Ibrahim Rasheed, a protester who took part in the dialogue, said that staff were promised the cafeteria issue would be addressed immediately and that another cafeteria would be established within two or three months.

Another protester said that the CEO had assured them the annual bonus would also be arranged shortly.

“He said it will be arranged very soon – as soon as the ongoing audit is completed. We were told that the bonus will be even better than before,” he said.

According to MACL staff concerned about the bonus, the issue has been taken to senior management several times within the past two years without any response.

In 2010, the GMR Male International Airport Pvt Ltd (GMIAL) – a consortium of the Indian GMR Group (77%) and the Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad (23%) — was awarded a concession contract to manage the airport for a period of 25 years.

However, President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government prematurely terminated the agreement and the airport was handed over to the 100% government owned MACL in December 2012.

GMR later filed a compensation claim of US$1.4 billion for “wrongful termination”.