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 on Monday.
“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 and his first officer Fariq Abdul Hamid have become a 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.
ACARS transmits key information on a plane’s condition to the ground.
The plane’s transponder – which relays radar information on the plane’s location – was switched off just two minutes after the voice message.
The revelation came as Malaysian authorities announced that 26 countries were now involved in the search for MH370, which disappeared 10 days ago.
Malaysia’s transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier confirmed that the apparently relaxed final voice communication from the jet came after the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was deliberately shut down. ACARS transmits to the ground key information on a plane’s condition.
He said every crew member on board and all ground crew working with the plane were being investigated.
In addition both pilots' families had been interviewed.
Watch: MH370 Captain and co-pilot last time on camera
Fourteen minutes later, the plane's transponder, which relays radar information on the plane's location, was also switched off.
Shortly afterwards the plane disappeared from civilian radar, but Malaysia has since confirmed that the air force tracked it for hours on military radar -- without taking action.
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.
“We will do what we can in the future to assist Malaysia to locate the aircraft in whatever state it is in,” Australian Defence Minister David Johnston told China's Xinhua News Agency.
Two Australian P-3C Orion aircraft have participated in the search since March 9, said Johnston. One aircraft is searching in the Indian Ocean to the north and west of the Cocos Islands, and the other one will continue its operation west of Malaysia, he said.
The vast search area was focusing on two corridors: one stretching from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, and the other from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
USS Kidd, the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, is stepping up search efforts in the Indian Ocean, said a statement issued by the US 7th Fleet. Extra lookouts have been posted, and the two MH-60R helicopters on board the warship are flying additional sorties each day.
Countries assisting in the search range from the former Soviet central Asian republics in the north to Australia in the south, along with France, which administers a scattering of islands.
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia had requested further satellite data from the United States, China, France and other countries.
"We are asking countries that have satellite assets ... to provide further satellite data. And we are contacting additional countries who may be able to contribute specific assets relevant to the search and rescue operation," he said.
After suspending its search operations in the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal on Sunday, India said that it may provide further assistance. A statement from India’s Defense Ministry said “a strategy for further searches is being formulated”.
The revelation of the last message suggests that the person who delivered the message was aware that Acars had been manually shut down.
Experts said it would have taken specialist knowledge to disable the communications system, intensifying scrutiny of captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his first officer, Fariq Abdul Hamid.
Watch: Hunting MH370: A needle in a growing haystack
Police searched the homes of the pilots on Saturday and dismantled and reassembled a flight simulator belonging to the captain, the country's police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, said.
Khalid stressed the probe was covering "all" the 239 passengers and crew, as well as engineers who may have had contact with the aircraft before take-off.
With no clear motive established as to why someone diverted the plane, all possibilities - hijack, sabotage or personal or psychological problems of someone on board - were being investigated.
Hishammuddin said authorities had not received any ransom or other demand.
Background checks of passengers on the flight have not found anything suspicious, but not every country whose nationals were on board has responded to requests for information, Khalid said.
Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse