KUALA LUMPUR: An investigation into the pilots of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 intensified on Monday as officials confirmed that the last words spoken from the cockpit came after a key signalling system was manually disabled.
United States (US) intelligence efforts also were focusing on Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid, according to a senior US lawmaker.
“I think from all the information I’ve been briefed on from, you know, high levels within homeland security, national counterterrorism center, intelligence community, that something was going on with the pilot,” said Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“I think this all leads towards the cockpit, with the pilot himself, and co-pilot,” McCaul said on Fox News on Sunday.
Malaysia’s Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein confirmed that an apparently relaxed final voice communication from the cockpit—“All right, good night”—came after the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) had been deliberately shut down.
ACARS transmits to the ground key information on a plane’s condition.
It has not been confirmed who gave that final voice message. But the assumption is the person would have known the ACARS system had been disabled.
The plane’s transponder—which relays radar information on the plane’s location—was switched off 14 minutes after ACARS went down.
Shortly afterwards the plane disappeared from civilian radar. It continued to show up as a blip on military radar, but was not immediately identified as the same flight.
The plane went missing early in the morning of 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 on board the flight were Chinese, and state media in China attacked Malaysia anew on Monday for its handling of the crisis.
“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 newspaper wrote in an editorial.
For relatives of those on board, a hijacking scenario provides a slim hope that the plane might have landed undetected somewhere.
“If they found the wreckage of the plane then that would be finalized because there’s no hope,” said Australian David Lawton, whose brother was on the plane.
“But while you’ve got hope, you’ve got worries too. Because if they’re alive, are they being treated well, or what’s happening?” he told Fairfax media.
The number of countries involved in the physical search for the jet has nearly doubled over the past two days to 26, after satellite and military radar data projected two dauntingly large corridors the plane might have flown through.
The northern corridor stretches in an arc over south and central Asia, while the other swoops deep into the southern Indian Ocean toward Australia.