Kuala Lumpur: The last spoken communication from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane came from the flight’s co-pilot, investigators believe.
But in their briefing yesterday, Malaysian officials appeared to backtrack on Sunday’s statement that the words “All right, goodnight” came after a communications system was turned off.
Hishammuddin Hussein, transport minister, said the first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, was believed to have uttered the last words to Malaysian air traffic controllers at 1.19am — two minutes before the plane’s transponder, which communicates with the civil radar system, stopped.
The minister said the last aircraft communications addressing and reporting system (Acars) transmission was at 1.07am, but added: “We do not know when it was switched off after that. It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from then, but that [subsequent] transmission never came through.”
Attention has focused on the crew — particularly the pilots — because of the difficulty of shutting off the systems and because of the way the plane navigated subsequently. Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said investigators were looking at mobile phone records to see whether anyone on board tried to make calls or send texts, but so far there was no evidence of attempted contact.
Officials said they were not aware of Malaysian media reports that the plane could have flown as low as 5,000 feet after diverting from its course, allowing it to avoid detection by radar.
In all, 26 countries are now involved in the search for the plane. Kazakhstan’s civil aviation authority told the BBC it was not possible for the plane to have reached its airspace undetected, noting that it would have had to fly over China, India, Pakistan and other countries.
Three French investigators have joined the multinational team in Kuala Lumpur. Investigators from the US, UK and China are already involved and Hishammuddin denied a New York Times report that Malaysia had refused to accept large-scale American assistance.