'All right, good night' said by co-pilot
THE last words spoken from the cockpit of the Malaysian passenger jet that went missing 10 days ago were believed to have been spoken by the co-pilot, the airline's top executive said yesterday, as investigators considered suicide by the captain or first officer as one possible explanation for the plane's disappearance.
"Initial investigations indicate it was the co-pilot who basically spoke," Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told a news briefing.
The last message from the cockpit - "All right, good night" - came around the time that two of the missing plane's crucial signalling systems were switched off.
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and his first officer, Mr Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27, have become the primary focus of the investigation into the fate of Flight 370, with one of the key questions being who was controlling the aircraft when the communications systems were disabled.
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, spoken at 1.19am.
Acars transmits key information on a plane's condition to the ground every half an hour.
The plane's transponder - which relays radar information on the plane's location - was switched off just two minutes after the voice message.
Suspicions of hijacking or sabotage had hardened on Sunday after officials said the last radio message from the cockpit was spoken after someone had begun disabling Acars.
But some doubt was cast on the sequence of events yesterday as it emerged that Acars could have been switched off any time between 1.07am, when it sent its last signal, and half an hour later, when it failed to send the next.
"We don't know when the Acars was switched off after that," Mr Ahmad Jauhari said. "It was supposed to transmit 30 minutes from there, but that transmission did not come through."
Asked if pilot or co-pilot suicide was a line of inquiry, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: "We are looking at it." But he added that it was only one of the possibilities under investigation.
Electronic signals the plane continued to exchange with satellites suggest it could have continued flying for about six hours after moving out of range of Malaysian military radar.
A search unprecedented in its scale is now under way for the plane, covering an area stretching from the shores of the Caspian Sea in the north to deep in the southern Indian Ocean.
The satellite data suggests the plane could be anywhere in either of two vast corridors that arc through much of Asia: one stretching north from northern Thailand to Kazakhstan, the other south from Indonesia into the Indian Ocean west of Australia.
Mr Hishammuddin said diplomatic notes had been sent to all countries along the northern and southern search corridors, requesting radar and satellite information, as well as land, sea and air search operations.
While analysts have said that the plane was more likely to have evaded detection if it flew south, Malaysian newspaper The New Straits Times quoted sources close to the investigation as saying data collected was pointing instead towards the northern corridor.
The paper said that the plane dropped to an altitude of 5,000 ft or lower, using a low-flying technique known as "terrain masking" to defeat civilian radar coverage after turning back from its scheduled flight path.
Investigators were also looking at disused airfields in the region with runways capable of handling a large passenger aircraft such as the Boeing 777, the paper said.
Yet another expert cautioned against jumping to conclusions.
Mr Bill Palmer, an Airbus A330 captain for a major airline, wrote on CNN.com that the erratic behaviour of the plane could be a result of the plane flying completely unattended, with the autopilot off.
This could have happened if the pilots had been incapacitated.