The pilot of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have been clinically depressed, leading him to starve the passengers of oxygen and then crash into the sea in a murder-suicide, according to a new account.

MH370 was on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board, when it vanished and became one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.

Friends of the the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, told aviation specialist William Langewiesche that he had become obsessed with two young models he had seen on the internet after his wife left him, and that he "spent a lot of time pacing empty rooms."

A fellow pilot said: "Zaharie’s marriage was bad. In the past he slept with some of the flight attendants. And so what? We all do. You’re flying all over the world with these beautiful girls in the back. But his wife knew."

There is a strong suspicion among investigators in the aviation and intelligence communities that he was clinically depressed.

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Mr Langewiesche wrote: "There is a strong suspicion among investigators in the aviation and intelligence communities that he was clinically depressed."

An electrical engineer quoted in the account in The Atlantic magazine said that, after depressurising the plane, the pilot probably made a climb which "accelerated the effects of depressurising, causing the rapid incapacitation and death of everyone in the cabin."

The oxygen masks in the main cabin were only designed to last 15 minutes in an emergency descent below 13,000ft.

The pilot would have had access to oxygen in the cockpit and could have flown for hours with the bodies of the passengers strapped into their seats.

Writing in the Atlantic, Mr Langewiesche said: "The cabin occupants would have become incapacitated within a couple of minutes, lost consciousness, and gently died without any choking or gasping for air."

In July last year investigators released a 495-page report, saying the plane’s controls were probably deliberately manipulated to take it off course but they were not able to determine who was responsible.

More than 30 bits of suspected washed up debris have been collected from various places around the world.

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