MH370 went missing on March 8, 2014, while travelling from Kuala Lumpur Airport to Beijing, China, with 239 people on board. Captain Zaharie Shah was in control of the plane when it last communicated with air traffic control at 1:19am over the South China Sea. However, moments later, the plane vanished from civilian radar screens following a routine handover from Malaysian to Vietnamese channels.
Days later, it was reported that Maldives islanders saw a “low flying jumbo jet” at around 6:15am, flying south-west.
The plane was said to be donning red and blue colours, similar to that of Malaysia Airlines.
One told the local Haveeru site at the time: “I’ve never seen a jet flying so low over our island before.
“We’ve seen seaplanes but I’m sure that this was not one of those.
MH370 may have been spotted by islanders
MH370 went missing in 2014
I have seen pictures of the missing plane — I believe that I saw that plane
“I could even make out the doors on the plane clearly.”
However, one year later, journalists working for The Western Australian visited the island of Kuda Havadhoo to speak to those who made the claims.
If they are correct, the final resting place of the plane could be over 3,100 miles away from where the official search was carried out.
Abdu Rasheed Ibrahim, 47, a court official told the publication: “It was unusual, very unusual – it was big and flying low.
“First, I saw the plane flying towards me over water, when it was over my head I saw it starting to turn away.
“At first glance, I did not know it was a missing plane. I didn’t know that a plane was missing.
“I went straight home and told my wife about it, I told my family, ‘I saw this strange plane’.
“My family said, ‘It might be the Malaysian plane’ – I have seen pictures of the missing plane — I believe that I saw that plane.”
Humaam Dhonmamk, 16, a student, added: “I saw the blue and red on a bit of the side.
“I heard the loud noise of it after it went over.
It was reportedly spotted in a Maldives island
MH370 had 239 people onboard
“I told the police this too.”
Ahmed Shiyaam, 34, an IT manager at the local medical clinic detailed: “I’m very sure of what I saw on a very clear and bright day, and what I saw was not normal — the plane was very big, and low.
“I did not know until later that other people saw it too.”
Ahmed Ibrahim, 40, said: “This was not a normal sight — the plane was different. It was very big, very noisy, flying low.
“Later that afternoon on the beach I was told the news about the missing plane. I think this is the same flight.”
Six of the key witnesses they spoke to were interviewed by police and their accounts were regarded as truthful and consistent, the newspaper claimed.
Despite their claims, the Maldives National Defence Force, responsible for guarding the security and sovereignty of the low-lying country, issued a statement in March last year ruling out any such aircraft movement over its air space.
The Islanders were both shocked and humiliated, claiming the defence chiefs were avoiding admitting the limitations of their equipment to detect the flight.
In 2016, Australian officials confirmed Mr Shah had practised a route where the plane is said to have vanished using an in-flight simulator he built at home.
However, these practice routes did not end up with the plane at the bottom of the ocean, it has been claimed.
An unnamed source told Malaysian newspaper Berita Harian in 2014: “The simulation programmes are based on runways at the Valana International Airport in the Maldives, an airport owned by the United States (Diego Garcia), and three other runways in India and Sri Lanka, all have runway lengths of 1,000 metres.
“We are not discounting the possibility that the plane landed on a runway that might not be heavily monitored, in addition to the theories that the plane landed on the sea, in the hills, or in an open space.”
However, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) did not think the find was significant.
A spokesman said: “The simulator information shows only the possibility of planning.
“It does not reveal what happened on the night of its disappearance nor where the aircraft is located.
“For the purposes of defining the underwater search area, the relevant facts and analysis most closely match a scenario in which there was no pilot intervening in the latter stages of the flight.”