Anshuman Daga & Yantoultra Ngui
The co-pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 spoke the last words heard from the cockpit, the chief executive of the airline said on Monday, as investigators considered suicide by the captain or his first officer as one possible explanation for the plane’s disappearance.
MH370 vanished on March 8 with 239 people aboard while on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur. Investigators are increasingly convinced it was diverted perhaps thousands of miles off course by someone with deep knowledge of the Boeing 777-200ER and commercial navigation.
A search unprecedented in its scale is now under way for the aircraft, covering an area stretching from the shores of the Caspian Sea in the north to deep in the southern Indian Ocean.
Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya also told a news conference that it was unclear exactly when one of the plane’s automatic tracking systems had been disabled, appearing to contradict the weekend comments of government ministers.
Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage had hardened further when officials said on Sunday that the last radio message from the plane — an informal “all right, good night” — was spoken after the system, called ACARS, was shut down.
“Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically spoke the last time it was recorded on tape,” Ahmad Jauhari said on Monday, when asked who it was believed had spoken those words.
That was a sign-off to air traffic controllers at 1.19 am, as the Beijing-bound plane left Malaysian airspace under the command of its captain, 53-year-old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid.
The last transmission from the ACARS system — a maintenance computer that relays data on the plane’s status — was received at 1.07 am, as the plane crossed Malaysia’s northeast coast and headed out over the Gulf of Thailand.
“We don’t know when the ACARS was switched off after that,” Ahmad Jauhari said. “It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from there, but that transmission did not come through.”
Satellite data suggests the plane could be anywhere in either of two vast corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north from Laos to the Caspian, the other south from west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra into the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia.
China, which has been vocal in its impatience with Malaysian efforts to find the plane, called on Kuala Lumpur to “immediately” expand and clarify the scope of the search. About two-thirds of the passengers aboard MH370 were Chinese.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak by telephone, and had offered more surveillance resources in continued…