The co-pilot of missing flight MH370 made a call from his mobile phone while the aircraft flew low over the west coast of Malaysia, it was revealed today as the U.S. denied reports the plane landed at a military base on the remote island of Diego Garcia.
Investigators have learned that the call was made from Fariq Abdul Hamid’s mobile phone as the Boeing 777 flew low near the island of Penang, on the north of Malaysia’s west coast.
The New Straits Times reported the aircraft, with 239 people on board, was flying low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up Fariq’s signal.
The call ended abrupty, however it has been learned that contact was definitely established with a telecommunications sub-station in Penang state.
The paper said it had been unable to ascertain who Fariq was trying to call ‘as sources chose not to divulge details of the investigation.’
It added: ‘The telco’s (telecommunications company’s) tower established the call that he was trying to make.
‘On why the call was cut off, it was likely because the aircraft was fast moving away from the tower and had not come under the coverage of the next one,’ the paper said, quoting ‘sources’.
The paper added that it had also been established that Fariq’s last communication was through the WhatsApp Messenger app and that it had been made at about 11.30pm on March 7, shortly before he boarded the aircraft for the six-hour flight to Beijing.
The New Straits Times said it had been told checks on Fariq’s phone history showed that the last person he spoke to was ‘one of his regular contacts – ‘a number that frequently appears on his outgoing phone logs’.
That last call, said the paper, was made no more than two hours before the flight took off 12.41am on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Separate sources told the paper that checks on Fariq’s phone showed that connection to the phone when he made that last call before he boarded the plane had been ‘detached’.
Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777. Click to enlarge
‘This is usually the result of the phone being switched off.
‘At one point, however, when the airplane was airborne, between waypoint Igari and the spot near Penang (just before the aircraft went missing from radar), the line was “reattached”.’
The paper said that a reattachment does not necessarily meant that a call was made. It could also be the result of the phone being switched on again.
The revelation came as the U.S. denied claims the missing flight had landed at its military base on the remote island of Diego Garcia.
There had been rumours that the jetliner could have headed for the small coral atoll in the Indian Ocean after it veered off course while travelling between Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Beijing, China on March 8.
However, a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in the Malaysian capital denied the allegation.
According to Malaysia’s Star newspaper, the spokesman said: ‘There was no indication that MH370 flew anywhere near the Maldives or Diego Garcia.
‘MH370 did not land in Diego Garcia.’
Diego Garcia is about 3,500km from Malaysia.
Meanwhile experts said today that it was possible for a mobile phone to be connected to a telecommunications tower at an altitude of 7,000 feet – which is low for a large jet like the Boeing 777 unless it was flying at high speed to maintain height.
The New Straits Times said that Fariq’s cousin, Nursyafiqah Kamarudin, 18, had said recently that the 28-year-old co-pilot was very close to his mother.
‘If Fariq could make one call before the plane disappeared, it would have been to her,’ said the cousin.
Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said earlier in the week that investigators had obtained ‘some clues’ as to what might have happened, based on the statements from 176 people who had been interviewed.
The crew, he said, were the main subjects of the investigation, a probe which has focused on four possible areas – hijack, sabotage, and personal and psychological problems among the crew or passengers.
The dramatic revelation that Fariq tried to make a phone call after regular communication from the aircraft to ground control was lost opens up a new field of speculation – and more questions about the mysterious disappearance of the jet.
If Fariq was able to make a call, why was there no attempt by the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, to also make a mobile phone call?
Did Fariq know he was going to die and had, as his cousin had suggested, tried to phone his mother to say goodbye?
An email received by the Mail recently suggested that the aircraft had been hijacked and that the pilots had been ordered to fly around Malaysian and Indonesian air space while negotiations were carried out.
Those negotiations, said the email – from a source in Malaysia which could not be verified – demanded the dropping of a jail sentence imposed on Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.
The hijackers, said the email, gave government negotiators five hours to meet their demands or the plane would be destroyed.
Last night Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister said he could not comment on the report in the New Straits Times adding that ‘if it is true, we would have known about it much earlier.’
Mr Hishammuddin Hussein made his remarks to the Malaysian news agency, Bernama, pointing out that he had adopted the approach not to confirm anything without any corroboration or verification from the time when the aircraft was reported missing.
The Star newspaper, which is in opposition to the New Straits Times, interpreted Mr Hishammuddin’s remarks as refuting the report about co-pilot Fariq attempting to make a mobile phone call.
The Minister, who is also Defence Minister, told the news agency that he hoped the public understood what he was going through because such ‘baseless information’ not only affected operations but also the families of the passengers and the crew of the aircraft.
Mr Hishamuddin made his comments after performing prayers at a mosque in Kluang, Malaysia, earlier in the day.
Yesterday, it looked like the black box may had been located deep in the Indian Ocean.
Perth radio station 6PR tweeted the discovery, citing aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas, who revealed the flight recorder had finally been found more than a month after the Boeing 777 went missing.
Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who is in China, said searchers are ‘very confident’ the signals detected were from the black box were from MH370.
‘I really don’t want to give any more information than that at this stage…as a sign of respect to the Chinese people and their families.’
Speaking from Shanghai, China, Mr Abbott added that today’s discovery was a huge step in solving the mystery – and even claimed that officials believe they can now pinpoint the position of the missing black box flight recorder to ‘within some kilometres’.
‘This is probably the most difficult search in human history,’ he said. ‘
Among tragedy, however, there is hope. We are confident we know the position of the black box to the nearest kilometre.
‘But confidence in the position is not the same as recovering the wreckage from more than 4.5km beneath the sea and finally determining all that happened on that flight.’
The fact that Mr Abbott has reportedly used the word ‘confident’ suggests that searchers are finally convinced that weeks of scouring the Indian Ocean might now have resulted in the discovery of the missing Boeing 777.
Mr Abbott’s announcement came after a fifth ping was detected around 1,500 miles north west of Perth, in western Australia.
The signal was captured on Thursday by a Royal Australian Air Force Orion P-3 aircraft, which had been dropping sonar buoys into the water at the time.
Yesterday’s breakthrough came as black box manufacturer Dukane Seacom said batteries powering the beacon could last for 40 days rather than the 30 previously thought.