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.

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Maamigili integrated water supply scheme launched

A project to bring an integrated water supply system to the island of Maamigili, Alif Dhaal atoll, was launched yesterday.

The project will provide desalinated water through reverse osmosis, and will also incorporate storage tanks for rainwater collection and connections to residents’ homes.

The foundation stone was laid yesterday by Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim and local MP and businessman Gasim Ibrahim.

The Ministry of Environment has revealed that the project will cost around MVR50 million and should be completed by the end of the year. The scheme will be implemented by the Malé Water and Sewerage Company.

Following the introduction of a pioneering desalination project in Kaafu atoll last week, Minister of State for Environment and Energy Abdul Matheen Mohamed told Minivan News that the government was emphasising integrated systems in order to make the best use of the resources currently available on the islands.

In January, the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development chose the Maldives from amongst 80 applicants to receive concessionary loans worth US$6 million (MVR92 million) for a clean energy project which could produce up to 62 million litres of desalinated water per year.

Scarce fresh water supplies have become a growing problem in the Maldives, particularly since the contamination of much of the country’s groundwater following the 2004 tsunami. While rainwater is collected and stored for drinking on the islands, seasonal dry periods often leave locals reliant on outside sources for consistent supply of fresh water.

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Nasheed hits campaign trail in Gasim’s constituency, highlights track record on Islamic affairs

Former President Mohamed Nasheed returned to the campaign trail yesterday (November 12) in Alif Dhaal atoll – where Jumhooree Party (JP) candidate Gasim Ibrahim secured 50 percent of the vote – stressing the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP’s) track record on Islamic affairs.

Addressing the people of Thohdoo in Alif Alif atoll in his first stop, Nasheed slammed opponents for “using Islam to play with people’s hearts” and reiterated that other religions will not be allowed under an MDP government.

“When they make false allegations against us and create doubt and suspicion in the hearts of the people, in my view it is not damaging to me but damaging to the Maldives and our future,” he said.

Rival parties have persistently accused the MDP of being “irreligious” and pursuing a “secularisation agenda,” contending that the country’s independence, sovereignty and 100 percent Muslim status would be threatened by a Nasheed presidency.

Highlighting the previous administration’s track record, Nasheed meanwhile noted that an Islamic Ministry was formed, scholars were offered unprecedented freedom to preach, and a Shariah-compliant Islamic Bank was established.

In contrast, Nasheed said, religious scholars were persecuted and jailed during former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

The MDP government secured an investment of MVR127 million (US$8.2 million) to set up the Islamic Bank, he added, while repeated calls for Islamic finance were unheeded by President Gayoom.

Nasheed also noted that a Fiqh academy was set up in 2009: “This was never done in President Gayoom’s government. He kept saying no one would know religion better than me, so we don’t need a Fiqh academy here. But we saw that there should be discussions about Islamic matters and scholars should be able to give moral advice.”

In addition, Nasheed continued, a first-ever symposium of local scholars took place, foreign financial assistance was secured to upgrade the Faculty of Shariah and Law, a new building was constructed for the Arabiyya School, Islam and Quran teachers were trained for 150 schools, and 42 new mosques were built.

Three days after assuming office in November 2008, Nasheed said the government authorised preachers to deliver their own Friday sermons.

“It was [previously] prohibited to preach anything other than the sermon that [the government] wrote and gave and if they did they would be arrested,” he said.

Courting Gasim

Nasheed emerged the frontrunner in the November 9 revote with 46.93 percent while Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen polled 29.73 percent. Gasim finished third with 23.34 percent of the vote.

As neither reached the required 50 percent plus one vote, Nasheed will face Yameen in a run-off election on Saturday, November 16.

Although Gasim announced that the JP council had decided not to back either candidate, both parties have been seeking the business tycoon’s endorsement this week. Following a visit by former President Gayoom yesterday, Gasim told the press that he would ask the JP’s national executive council to reconsider its decision.

A council meeting is scheduled for 4:00pm today.

Following his meeting with Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid and MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Monday night, Gasim told reporters that Nasheed had “cleared up” doubts concerning the MDP’s stance on religion.

Gasim referred to Nasheed’s appearance on the state broadcaster the same night, during which he vowed that “nothing will happen under our government that could weaken Maldivians’ Islamic faith”.

“I don’t like to posture as a religious person, but I am also an ordinary Maldivian raised by loving parents with religious instruction just like any other person,” he said.

Nasheed also said that only Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari had “veto power” in his cabinet.

The former president apologised for Gasim’s arrest in 2010 on charges of bribery and treason and appealed for his support in the run-off election.

Maamigili

Following visits to Thohdoo and Mahibadhoo, Nasheed went to Maamigili for a campaign rally in Gasim’s native island and parliament constituency.

The JP candidate won 862 votes from the island while Nasheed received 334 votes. PPM candidate Yameen trailed behind with 45 votes.

Alif Dhaal atoll was also one of two atolls where the MDP failed to garner the most number of votes. Gasim secured 3,234 votes from the atoll to Nasheed’s 2,060 votes.

Speaking in last night’s rally, Nasheed alleged that former President Gayoom “did nothing” to instil Islamic values in younger generations.

Nasheed pledged to build more than 100 smaller “neighbourhood mosques” for the elderly, who were unable to walk long distances five times a day.

Nasheed also referred to the MDP’s 2013 “costed and budgeted“manifesto, which included the construction of an “Islamic Knowledge Centre” for MVR 200 million (US$13 million) with a library, lecture halls and a mosque with a capacity of 5,000 worshippers.

Other pledges include conducting an international Islamic conference at an estimated cost of MVR 25 million (US$1.6 million) with the participation of renowned foreign scholars, training 300 Quran teachers to first degree level, and allocating MVR 36 million (US$2.3 million) for renovating mosques across the country.

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Run-off parties seek JP leader Gasim’s endorsement

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – have met Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim, seeking the third-placed candidate’s endorsement ahead of Saturday’s presidential run-off.

Speaking to press after meeting the MDP leaders at his residence in Male’ last night, Gasim said the party’s presidential candidate had also called asking for his support in the poll against PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen.

“I said [to Nasheed] we have made our statement on behalf of our party. There have been no further developments to say anything at the moment against our statement, [which was] to not support any presidential candidate, under the present circumstances. Nonetheless, we are close friends, we are not enemies,” Gasim said.

Nasheed emerged the frontrunner in the November 9 revote with 46.93 percent while Yameen polled 29.73 percent. The JP candidate finished third with 23.34 percent of the vote.

As no candidate reached the required 50 percent plus one vote, a run-off election has been scheduled for November 16.

While Gasim announced on Sunday night (November 10) that the JP council had decided not to back either candidate, he told reporters last night that “everything is subject to change”.

“Not that I’m saying it will change. What they mentioned is a request of theirs. Each of us should believe that taking the right steps always after thinking about the nation is the best way. So what I have to say is that I can’t make a definite statement, even personally on my own, at the moment,” said Gasim.

“But there are possibilities of saying later what I wish or think, isn’t there? So there is no enmity. There is close friendship. With everyone. There is no personal problem,” he said.

Meeting with Gayoom

In a message aired on his Villa Television on Sunday, Gasim had said the JP had decided not to back either candidate “because, based on past experiences, people who worked to bring [a candidate] to power gets blamed and feels shame due to certain things that the president does while in power.”

The JP national council reportedly voted against a proposal to support the PPM candidate.

PPM candidate Yameen had visited Gasim shortly before the provisional results were announced and claimed at a press conference that Gasim “has expressed his support for us.” The party told local media yesterday that it was still hoping to persuade Gasim to back its candidate in the run-off.

Gasim received former President Gayoom at his residence this afternoon and told the press that he would ask the JP council to reconsider its decision not to support either candidate.

Gayoom told reporters that respect for Gasim among the public would increase if he decided to endorse Yameen.

Doubts

Referring to Nasheed’s appearance on the state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) last night, during which he defended the party’s Islamic credentials, Gasim said that the MDP candidate had dispelled “doubts and suspicions concerning Islam.”

“He has said that Islamic norms and principles will be followed in his government. That was something that people had been talking about repeatedly. He has cleared up something that we had also misconceived,” he said.

Speaker Shahid – who joined the MDP in April – thanked Gasim for his remarks.

“False allegations” regarding religion had been made against the MDP to create doubts among the public, Shahid said.

MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih noted that the party “began our efforts for reform with Gasim.”

“What we learned after today’s discussion is that we can work with Gasim again like we did before. Both sides have that assurance. There is no difference between our thinking and ideology to develop the country and Gasim’s,” he said.

Gasim concurred with the Hinnavaru MP and noted that he had “praised President Nasheed’s economic policy,” which was “nearly identical” to the JP’s policy.

“I would like to believe that I am more of a reformist than a politician,” he added.

Past history

Gasim was a founder member of the MDP and served as the Speaker of the Special Majlis convened in June 2004 to revise the constitution.

Following his brief imprisonment on August 13, 2004 in the wake of a crackdown on an unprecedented pro-democracy gathering, Gasim was appointed finance minister during the final years of President Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Gasim resigned from Gayoom’s cabinet in July 2008 saying he did not want to take the blame for failed budgets and ran for president on the JP ticket.

After coming fourth in the first multi-party democratic election in October 2008, Gasim backed MDP candidate Nasheed against the incumbent.

However, the MDP-led coalition quickly disintegrated and Gasim resigned as Nasheed’s home minister 21 days into the new administration.

Speaking in a TVM programme on October 14 about pro-government parties fielding one candidate against Nasheed, Gasim said a survey of his supporters showed that 60 percent would not vote for Yameen even if he endorsed the PPM candidate.

“Not all of the people in the Jumhooree Party are anti-MDP people. There are people who support President Nasheed or MDP among us,” Gasim had said.
Yellow flags were put up outside the JP’s main headquarters in Male’ last night, with Gasim’s slogans painted over.
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Maamigili MP opens first private airport with personal airline Flyme

The Maldives’ first private airport opened today in Alif Dhaal atoll Maamigili with Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim’s own ‘Flyme’ airline beginning operations from Male.

The first commercial ‘Flyme’ flight left Male this morning with 16 tourists, Gasim, his family, and senior Villa officials on board, Haveeru reports. The airline has two aircraft with a capacity of 46 passengers each.

Maldives Association of Tourism Industries (MATI) is said to have provided support for the airport’s construction. Gasim said the airport includes private jet parking, and there are plans to use more aircraft to service Gaaf Dhaal atoll Kaadehdhoo and Seenu atoll Gan.

CEO of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, Andrew Harrison, has expressed support for the airline.

Flyme airlines scheduled 10 flights for its opening day, however it did not disclose ticket prices.

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