Pilot's MH370 'copycat' flight — (stuff.co.nz)

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Last updated 05:00 04/05/2014

 MISSING: Pilot Daroish Kraidy is missing, feared dead, after disappearing on a solo flight on March 25.

The similarities are chilling. The radar transponders of both planes were switched off soon after take-off, no distress messages were sent and the planes simply disappeared, leaving investigators baffled.

But the fallout could not have been more different. Malaysia Airlines flight 370, which disappeared after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, has transfixed the world ever since, the story leading news bulletins and angry relatives of the 239 passengers and crew demanding answers. Hundreds of millions of dollars are likely to be spent on a search in the southern Indian Ocean that could take months or even years.

Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s family have been reported as saying he was acting strangely in recent months, and investigators are hoping if the plane’s black boxes are found, they may reveal whether he deliberately steered the aircraft off course.

Just over two weeks after MH370 disappeared, Daroish Kraidy took off from Ardmore airport in South Auckland in his home-built Acrosport II aerobatic plane and also vanished.

There were sightings of his plane flying low and fast along the eastern coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Nothing was found and sea and land searches were suspended after a week.

The case remains a mystery and police say they are investigating a number of possible scenarios, but Kraidy’s family fear he deliberately disappeared.

Judy Kraidy says they might as well have called the search off after a day – she believes her husband, who had fuel for a 300km trip, kept flying straight out to sea until he crashed. She doubts the wreckage will be found.

Daroish, 53, was in a “dark place”, she says, having battled depression for years.

“With the Malaysia Air plane disappearing I think that put the idea into his head – just disappear – and he knew he could do it,” says Judy, who was separated from Daroish.

“He was a very precise, clinical, clean person, everything had to be down to perfection. He’s either going to crash on land or into water. If he crashes on land the plane would explode . . . if he goes out to sea, he disappears, it’s clean, no-one has to clean up the mess.”

Buzz Braatvedt, who flew with Kraidy in the South African airforce, spoke with his friend by phone two nights before he disappeared and they discussed MH370.

“Daroish and I were discussing it at length,” Brisbane-based Braatvedt says.

“We were discussing different theories, we still hadn’t ruled out theft, because one of the guys on our [air force] course became a mercenary and stole a 727.”

Braatvedt, who flew helicopter gunships during the Angolan border war, says Kraidy was intrigued by MH370 and talked about how pilot Shah had “found a corridor down south”.

It was too much of a coincidence for their phone conversation and Kraidy’s disappearance not to be connected, he says. “When I heard that his transponder had been switched off I thought ‘oh my God, this is too much like a copycat’.”

Back in their airforce days, they would turn off the transponders in their jets if they wanted to do daredevil flying, Braatvedt says, to avoid having their “arses chewed” for flying low and fast.

The fact Kraidy had been seen flying low suggests “he knew what he was up to. The weather was pretty good . . . there’s no way he would have got lost there, it was his playground.”

Braatvedt says Kraidy seemed “positive” during the conversation, but prior to that had been ignoring his phone and email messages. Kraidy didn’t know whether to move to Australia or return to South Africa after separating from Judy, Braatvedt says.

Little is known about such cases, other than that they are rare. Asked for comment, the Civil Aviation Authority said “we don’t collect this sort of information”.

A report by the Federal Aviation Administration this year found that 23 American pilots intentionally crashed their aircraft over the past two decades. All were male and middle-aged.

Depression appears to be the leading cause of such incidents and in 2010, the FAA did away with a ban on pilots taking anti-depressants.

It has been reported that, like Kraidy, Shah had been having relationship troubles and had separated from his wife before his last, fatal flight.

Everyone agrees Kraidy was a brilliant pilot. He flew for South Africa and then New Zealand in the the World Precision Flying Championships, his citizenship being fast-tracked so he could represent his adopted country. He won two silver medals at the 1999 championships held in Hamilton.

He taught his wife how to fly. “On my second solo flight I had a critical incident to deal with and I believe it was his brilliant instruction that made me figure out what to do to save myself,” Judy Kraidy says.

Kraidy began building the Acrosport II in South Africa in 1993 and finished it after the couple moved to New Zealand with their children, Clint and Krystle, in 1997. The built a hangar for the plane at Ardmore.

Kraidy was a “fanatical hobbyist” who built his first remote-controlled plane at age 9, so it was natural that he and Judy should buy a model shop, Hobby City, in Mt Wellington, which is full of machines he built over the years.

Judy Kraidy says her husband suffered from depression most of his life, and after their separation in 2012 he deteriorated.

She found it “bizarre” that under New Zealand marriage law, they had to wait two years to be able to divorce.

“I believe if we had been able to divorce immediately, he would have got closure on me. I believe it

would have helped him move forward. But because we weren’t divorced he kept holding on to the idea that we would miraculously get back together. He just couldn’t let go.”

She had moved to Port Douglas, Queensland, to live and was about to get on a plane to South Africa when she got news that Daroish’s plane had disappeared.

“I knew immediately what had happened.”

His daughter, Krystle, who lives in Melbourne, says she spoke to her father the Tuesday morning that he disappeared. He asked for her bank account number. “I thought there was something strange about how he was talking. I said ‘are you OK, what’s going on?’. He said ‘no I’m not OK’, but I’d been through that a lot with dad.”

Krystle says that while her father was always interested in aircraft disasters, she believes the MH370 disappearance was just coincidence and he’d been planning his own disappearance for a while. Unlike her mother, she believes he crashed on land. She took comfort in the fact that no-one else was hurt.

“It’s almost like it went perfectly to plan, to just disappear.”

Krystle says her father didn’t take control of his depression, failing to stick to his medication or see a professional, and she hopes his story encourages others with depression to get help.

Judy, Clint and Krystle flew to Wellington last week to be taken through the entire search effort by the Rescue Co-ordination Centre. “We are totally satisfied that with all the information available, and with all resources available, every effort was made to find Daroish and his plane,” Judy Kraidy says. “How far out do you search? It’s a very, very big ocean.”

Friends and family gathered at Hobby City on Thursday night for a wake.

Although they believe they know why Daroish died, there are still painful questions.

“We’ll never know what time exactly did he die, where did he die, where is he now?” Judy Kraidy says. “It’s harrowing and upsetting, I cry every day. We’re all in extreme pain.”

Constable Dale Blyde of Glen Innes police says the case remains open and is still being investigated. A number of different scenarios are being considered, he says, which he can’t comment on.

Kraidy is officially a missing person. But the family knows they will never see him again.

Judy Kraidy: “He never believed in the afterlife, but he said if there is one, he’d like to come back as an eagle.”