Malaysia shoots down report of midflight phone call from MH370 cockpit

AFP-JIJI

Malaysia on Sunday rejected claims that phone calls were made from missing Flight MH370 before it vanished, but refused to rule out any possibility in a so far fruitless investigation over the cause of the jet’s disappearance.

The New Straits Times, quoting an anonymous source, had reported Saturday that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid made a call that ended abruptly, possibly “because the aircraft was fast moving away from the (telecommunications) tower.”

There had also been unconfirmed reports of calls by the Malaysia Airlines plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, before or during the flight.

Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters Sunday that authorities had no knowledge of any calls made from the jet’s cockpit.

“As far as I know, no,” he said when asked if any calls had been made.

However, he added that he did not want to speculate on “the realm of the police and other international agencies” investigating the case.

“I do not want to disrupt the investigations that are being done now not only by the Malaysian police but the FBI, MI6, Chinese intelligence and other intelligence agencies,” he said at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

Hishammuddin also said no passenger on the plane had been cleared in the criminal investigation into the fate of the flight, clarifying an earlier indication from Malaysia’s police chief.

“The inspector general of police said at that particular point in time there is nothing to find suspicion with the passenger manifesto but . . . unless we find more information, specifically the data in the ‘black box,’ I don’t think any chief of police will be in a position to say they have been cleared.”

The police chief also clarified last week that passengers had not categorically been cleared as the investigation was ongoing.

Pilots Fariq and Zaharie have come under intense scrutiny since the plane vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board on March 8, with still no clue as to the cause of the disappearance.

Investigators last month indicated that the flight was deliberately diverted and its communication systems manually switched off as it was leaving Malaysian airspace, triggering a criminal investigation by police that has revealed little so far.

A number of theories have been put forward, including hijacking, a terrorist plot or a pilot gone rogue, with authorities grasping at straws as to the fate of the plane without crucial data from the jet’s black box, which has yet to be located, and no wreckage found.

Several sonic pings that authorities have said are consistent with a black box have been detected by ships in the search area in the remote southern Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Australia.

But Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, which is leading the search for the plane, said Sunday that another 24 hours had passed without a confirmed signal, increasing fears that batteries in the beacons attached to the plane’s two black boxes may now have run out.

The last pings were detected Tuesday.

There were 12 aircraft and 14 ships combing a 57,506 sq/ km (22,200 sq. mile) region of the Indian Ocean on Sunday, 2,200 km northwest of Perth, including Australia’s Ocean Shield, which is using a U.S. Navy towed pinger locator to pick up the hoped for black box signals.