The co-pilot of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 attempted to make a mid-flight call from his mobile phone just before the plane vanished from radar screens, a Malaysian newspaper reported yesterday, citing unnamed investigators.
The call ended abruptly possibly "because the aircraft was fast moving away from the [telecommunications] tower", the New Straits Times quoted a source as saying.
But the report also quoted another source saying that while Fariq Abdul Hamid's "line was reattached", there was no certainty that a call was made.
The report - titled a "Desperate call for help" - did not say whom he was trying to contact.
Meanwhile the search for the plane continued in the southern Indian Ocean as Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott appeared to step back from his comments on Friday when he voiced great confidence that signals from the "black box" had been detected.
Abbott repeated his confidence in the search, but stressed the difficulties remaining.
"We do have a high degree of confidence the transmissions we have been picking up are from flight MH370," Abbott said in Beijing on the last day of a visit to China. But he added: "No one should underestimate the difficulties of the task ahead of us.
"Yes, we have very considerably narrowed down the search area but trying to locate anything 4.5 kilometres beneath the surface of the ocean about a thousand kilometres from land is a massive, massive task and it is likely to continue for a long time to come."
The search area now covers 41,393 square kilometres and the core of the search zone lies 2,330 kilometres northwest of Perth.
The Malaysia Airlines flight disappeared soon after taking off on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.
Fariq and Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah came under intense scrutiny after the plane vanished.
The NST report said flight 370 flew low enough near Penang island on Malaysia's west coast for a telecommunications tower to pick up the co-pilot's phone signal. The phone line was "reattached" between the time the plane veered off course and blipped off the radar.
Malaysia's Transport Ministry said it was examining the report.