The case of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has taken yet another turn after it was revealed that the last words from the cockpit to ground control were not what Malaysian authorities announced nearly three weeks ago.
It was initially reported that the last message from the Boeing 777-200 before it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 was, “All right, good night.” It was later confirmed that the words had come from the plane’s co-pilot.
In a statement on Monday night, however, Malaysia’s civil aviation department said that the final exchange between the plane and air traffic controllers was in fact, “Good night Malaysian three seven zero.”
No explanation was given for the discrepancy by authorities, who also claim that they no longer know whether the message came from the plane’s co-pilot or captain.
While aviation experts say there is nothing suspicious about the new version of the cockpit’s final communication, the unexplained correction is expected to add to the simmering frustration in China towards the airline and the Malaysian government over the way the search and investigation has been handled.
Relatives of the 153 Chinese nationals on board the flight have already staged a demonstration in Beijing at the Malaysian embassy to protest the confusing and contradictory statements released since the plane’s disappearance, which have sparked accusations of incompetence and even a cover-up. The families are particularly angry at the declaration of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak that the jet had “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean with the loss all 239 on board before a single piece of debris had been recovered.
Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Monday that authorities are not hiding anything by declining to release some details of the missing flight, adding that these details are part of ongoing investigations.
“We are not hiding anything,” he said. “We are just following the procedure that is being set.”
Investigators remain convinced that the plane’s unusual turns off course and sudden changes in altitude after it “deliberately” switched off its communications systems is a “criminal act,” either by one of the two pilots or someone else with strong flying skills and knowledge of the aircraft.
Detailed probes into the backgrounds of the flight’s passenger and crew, however, have so far failed to turn up anything concrete that suggests a motive or provides an explanation as to why the plane, according to complex satellite analysis, ended up on the other side of the planet and supposedly crashed into the sea after running out of fuel.
On Monday, the daughter of the plane’s 53-year-old captain and the prime suspect in the crash, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, accused the UK’s Daily Mail of “making up” an article which quoted her as saying that her father was mentally unstable before the flight.
Aishah Zaharie, 28, reportedly wrote on her Facebook page: “Dear Daily Mail, You should consider making movies since you are so good at making up stories and scripts out of thin air. May god have mercy on your souls. You can bet your ass I will not forgive you.”
The tabloid said that the “disturbed” captain was “on the brink” of divorcing his wife of 30 years and had “retreated into a shell” shortly before the flight, though those who know him continue to insist that there is no way he would hijack the flight or commit pilot suicide.
The search for the debris belonging to the jet continues off the west coast of Australia in a search area that has been narrowed to 254,000 square kilometers.
On Sunday, nine military aircraft, one civilian aircraft and 11 ships traveled to the region and made visual sightings of a total of 10 potential objects, which the Chinese ship Haixun will be tasked with retrieving. Five objects recovered on Saturday were found to be unrelated to MH370.
Australian coordination chief Angus Houston told reporters that the search for the missing flight could drag on for a long time, adding that it is the “most challenging one” he has ever seen.
Prime minister Razak will travel to Perth, where the search is being coordinated, on Wednesday to see the operation first hand and to thank the personnel involved in the multinational search, Hishammuddin Hussein said Monday.
“And I promised the families that Malaysia, working with our international partners, will not give up hope. We will continue with all our efforts to find MH370,” he said. “This is a promise that Malaysia intends to keep. We will continue searching, and we will keep investigating, and we will never give up until we find out what happened to MH370.”