Portland man defends Malaysian pilot, his longtime friend

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by Heather Graf / KING 5 News and KGW News

Bio | Email | Follow: @HeatherGrafK5

KING5.com

Posted on March 17, 2014 at 8:49 PM

Updated Monday, Mar 17 at 10:49 PM

PORTLAND -- An Oregon man is defending one of the pilots from the missing Malaysian airliner. He said they were longtime friends. 

"It just wouldn't make any sense that he would have anything to do with any sort of deliberate action," said Chris Nissen.

The Portland man once worked in Malaysia, as a tech consultant in the airline industry.  He says he knew Captain Zahiri Ahmed Shah for 18 years and lived right across the street from him for six years.

The two men had children who were close to the same age, and the families often spent time together.

"He was hired by Malaysia Airlines directly out of school and trained by Malaysia Airlines," said Nissen. "I think he would do anything he could to preserve the lives of his passengers."

This weekend, investigators in Malaysia seized a flight simulator from Zahiri's home. The captain's friend says Zahiri bought the simulator several years ago.

"He had his flight simulator going, even when we were there. He enjoyed showing the kids how to fly airplanes on the simulator," Nissen said.  

The pilot was not an extremist, according to his friend.

"Zahari was a very fun-loving, nice, family oriented guy," said Nissen. 

It's a description that doesn't quite match up with recent revelations about the plane's disappearance.  Investigators say the Boeing 777 was deliberately diverted, and are looking at both the pilot and co-pilot.

Nissen has been in contact with Zahari's family, including the pilot's adult son. He says they are upset about not knowing what has happened to their father. The pain is compounded by accusations and suspicions.

"They're feeling pretty isolated I think, and betrayed," he said.

Nissen says he will stand by his friend, even as the investigation moves forward. 

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