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Asia-pacific

‘Alright, good night’: final message from missing Malaysian jet

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-03-12

The last radio transmission from the cockpit of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was “Alright, good night”, it emerged in Beijing on Wednesday.

Malaysia’s ambassador to China, Iskandar Sarudi, said one of the pilots said “Alright, good night” as the flight switched from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace, according to Singapore’s “Straits Times” newspaper.

Meanwhile, authorities announced a third possible final sighting of the plane. Air force chief General Rodzali Daud said air defence radar showed an unidentified object at 2.15 am on Saturday about 200 miles (320 kilometers) northwest of Penang.

“I am not saying it’s flight MH370. We are still corroborating this. It was an unidentifiable plot,” he said.

This is the third reported sighting of possible evidence of the fate of the plane, which had earlier been reported to have turned back and flown west as far as the Strait of Malacca before vanishing.

It’s unlikely the plane would have flown across Malaysia without being detected by civilian radar unless its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be identified by radar, were either knocked out or turned off.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing with 239 passengers on board early Saturday morning. Initial reports said it fell off civilian radar screens at 1.30 am about 35,000 feet above the Gulf of Thailand, between Malaysia and southern Vietnam.

It sent no distress signals or any indication it was experiencing any problems and no confirmed wreckage has been found, despite a vast search.

Complex search

Malaysian authorities have defended their handling of the hunt for the missing Boeing 777 but acknowledged they still are unsure which direction the plane was headed when it disappeared.

Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the multinational search for the missing plane was an unprecedented and complicated effort. Some 43 ships and 39 aircraft from at least eight nations were scouring an area of 92,600 square kilometres (35,800 square miles).

“It’s not something that is easy. We are looking at so many vessels and aircraft, so many countries to coordinate, and a vast area for us to search,” he said. “But we will never give up. This we owe to the families.”

A total of 153 passengers on the aircraft are Chinese, and Malaysian officials spoke to passengers’ relatives and friends, who were clamouring for information, at a hotel in Beijing on Wednesday.

Confusion over whether the plane had turned back has prompted speculation that different arms of the government have different opinions about where the plane is most likely to be, or even that authorities are holding back information.

Asked about this, Hishammuddin said his government had been transparent from the start. “There is only confusion if you want to see confusion,” he said.

Possible causes

Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage and terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say what happened.

“I don’t believe it is anything to do with the serviceability or the design of the aircraft,” Neil Hansford, chairman of leading Australian airline consultancy Strategic Aviation Solutions, told AFP.

“The way I see it there are three scenarios. There was a bomb on board... the aircraft was hit by a military aircraft or a rogue missile; or...the captain is locked out of the cockpit and the plane is put in a dive,” he said.

The sudden disappearance could also point to a technical problem that could have led to a rapid descent. The reports from the Malaysian authorities that the jet may have made a sharp turn west before it lost contact, possibly pointing to the pilots struggling to rectify a problem, have bolstered this theory.

If the plane did crash, a combination of technical difficulties and pilot error would be a likely scenario, Frost & Sullivan Asia Pacific aerospace consultant Ravi Madavaram said.

The absence of debris around the intended flight path, the possibility that the flight turned back, and conflicting reports over whether the plane was spotted by Malaysian military way off course have added to speculation of a hijack, which has still not been ruled out by investigators.

But Madavaram believes several factors rule out a hijack, including a lack of a credible claim of responsibility and the difficulty in evading radars and witnesses.

CIA director John Brennan said a terror link had not been ruled out, although it was revealed on Tuesday that two suspect passengers travelling on stolen passports were probably just Iranian migrants.

Pilot suicide has also been raise as a possible cause but   the US Federal Aviation Administration says pilot suicides account for less than 0.5 percent of all fatal general aviation accidents.

Families ‘heartbroken’

Relatives of the missing told AFP a meeting with Malaysian authorities in Beijing had been “orderly”, in contrast to a meeting with Chinese officials on Monday, when reports said family members hurled abuse at government representatives.

But some attacked Beijing’s own response as the crisis entered its fifth day. “I think the Chinese government needs to be more active with this,” said a man surnamed Zhang, whose daughter was on board, coming back from a business trip.

Choi Tat Sang, a 74-year-old Malaysian man, said his family is still holding out hope that the plane and all on board are safe. His daughter-in-law, Goh Sock Lay, 45, is the chief stewardess on the flight. Her 14-year-old daughter, an only child, has been crying every day since the plane’s disappearance.

“We are heartbroken. We are continuing to pray for her safety and for everyone on the flight,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)
 

Date created : 2014-03-12

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