The last words from a Malaysian passenger jet missing for 10 days were spoken by the co-pilot, the airline said yesterday, providing a new glimpse into the crucial period when the plane was deliberately diverted.
Confirmation that the voice was First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid’s came during a press conference at which Malaysian officials hit back at “irresponsible” suggestions that they had misled the public — and passengers’ relatives — over what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370.
China has led some harsh criticism of the Malaysian authorities, suggesting they withheld important information and were slow to act, hampering the search for the Boeing 777 in its crucial early days.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot Hamid have become a primary focus of the investigation, with one of the key questions being who was in control of the aircraft when it was deliberately taken off course about an hour into its flight to Beijing.
The last message from the cockpit — “All right, good night” — came around the time that two of the plane’s crucial signaling systems were manually disabled.
“Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically spoke,” Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told reporters.
The last signal from the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was received 12 minutes before the co-pilot’s seemingly nonchalant final words.
ACARS transmits key information on a plane’s condition.
The plane’s transponder — which relays the plane’s location — was switched off just two minutes after the voice message.
US intelligence efforts have also focused on the cockpit crew, a senior US lawmaker said.
The plane went missing early on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard, spawning a massive international search across Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean that has turned up no trace of wreckage.
Two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese, and state-controlled media in China attacked Malaysia anew on Monday.
“The contradictory and piecemeal information Malaysia Airlines and its government have provided has made search efforts difficult and the entire incident even more mysterious,” the state-controlled China Daily wrote in an editorial.
At yesterday’s press briefing, Malaysian Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein reacted angrily when a foreign journalist suggested Malaysia should apologize for its handling of the crisis.
“That’s purely erroneous. I’ve also got a lot of feedback that, in the circumstances we have been facing, that we have been very responsible in our actions,” he said.
Twenty-six countries were involved in searching for the jet after satellite and military radar data projected two dauntingly large corridors the plane might have flown through.