Co-pilot made last call from missing plane

Passengers remain in their seats onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH318, which replaces flight number MH370 as a mark of respect Picture: Reuters
Passengers remain in their seats onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH318, which replaces flight number MH370 as a mark of respect Picture: Reuters
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Aviation authorities yesterday confirmed that the final transmission to ground controllers from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane before it vanished came from the co-pilot.

Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage deepened further yesterday after investigators said the last radio message from the cockpit – an informal “all right, good night” – was spoken by Fariq Abdul Hamid.

Had it been a voice other than Fariq’s or that of the pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, it would have been the clearest indication yet of something amiss in the cockpit involving other parties before the flight went off course.

However, hijack has still not been ruled out. And last night the timeline of events became blurred.

Malaysian officials originally said those words came after one of the jetliner’s data communications systems – the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (Acars) – had been switched off, sharpening suspicion one or both of the pilots was involved in the plane’s disappearance.

However, yesterday afternoon investigators said that while the last data transmission from Acars – which monitors plane performance – came before that, it was still unclear at what point the system was switched off.

This has opened the possibility that both Acars and the plane’s transponders – which make the plane visible to civilian air traffic controllers – were severed later and at about the same time, possibly shifting suspicion away from the pilots.

No trace of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on 8 March with 239 people aboard. Investigators are increasingly convinced it was diverted thousands of miles off course by someone with expert knowledge.

The latest developments came as Australia took charge of scouring the southern Indian Ocean and Malaysia requested radar data from countries as far away as central Asia.

However, yesterday officials in Pakistan, India and Central Asia, as well as Taleban militants, said they knew nothing about the whereabouts of the jetliner.

Pakistani officials said they detected nothing suspicious in the skies after the plane vanished and Central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also said no unidentified planes had entered their air space on 
8 March.

Some observers suggested the plane might have flown under the radar to remote mountainous areas abutting Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan where Taleban militants are hiding out. However, a defence ministry official said: “The idea that the plane flew through Indian airspace for several hours without anyone noticing is bizarre.”

Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taleban in Afghanistan, said the missing plane had nothing to do with them.

A commander with the Pakistani Taleban – a separate entity fighting Pakistan’s government – said by telephone from the lawless North Waziristan region: “We wish we had an opportunity to hijack such a plane.”

Yesterday, French investigators arrived in Kuala Lumpur to lend expertise from the two-year search for an Air France jet that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

Investigators said they had not ruled out hijacking, sabotage, pilot suicide or mass murder, and were checking the backgrounds of the 12 crew members, and the ground crew.

Background checks were also being made on the 227 passengers on the flight, including Malaysian aviation engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, 29.

Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday that locating the plane was still the main focus of activities, and he did not rule out finding it intact. “The fact that there was no distress signal, no ransom notes, no parties claiming responsibility, there is always hope,” he said.