News Asia-Pacific

Thursday 2 October 2014

Mystery over who flew missing jet as co-pilot utters last words

Jonathan Pearlman, Kuala Lumpur

Published 18/03/2014 | 00:02

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Residents of Boeung Kak Lake light candles to spell "MH370" during a Buddhist ceremony, praying for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Residents of Boeung Kak Lake light candles to spell "MH370" during a Buddhist ceremony, praying for the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Selamat Omar shows a picture of his son, flight engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat who was onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Putrajaya, Malaysia
Selamat Omar shows a picture of his son, flight engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat who was onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, in Putrajaya, Malaysia

The co-pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been identified as the last person to communicate from the cockpit, apparently after the communications system was shut off.

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Clarification that the voice was most likely that of First Officer Fariq Abdul Hamid came as Malaysian officials hit back at “irresponsible” suggestions that they had misled the public – and passenger's relatives – over what happened to Flight MH370.

As land, air and sea searches fanned out across two vast corridors totalling 30 million square miles and reaching from Uzbekistan to Australia, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid, have become a primary focus of the investigation – with one of the key questions being who was in control of the aircraft when it veered off course about an hour into its flight to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The cause of the plane's unusual change of course and subsequent silent flight for up to eight hours turns on the crucial minutes around 1.19am, when Hamid gave his final nonchalant message: “All right, good night”.

Speculation

Two minutes later – and 40 minutes after take-off – the plane disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers.

Adding to speculation that the flight was hijacked, media reports in Malaysia said the Boeing 777 flew as low as 5,000 feet and used “terrain masking” to avoid radar detection for almost eight hours after it was apparently seized.

Using a manoeuvre typically deployed by combat aircraft, the plane dropped altitude to avoid commercial radars but would have burnt far more fuel flying in the denser lower air, according to Malaysia's ‘New Straits Times’, a newspaper with close connections to the government.

The Malaysian authorities insisted the report was unconfirmed and it was not aware whether the plane was flying low.

Hamid (27), was the oldest of four children from a well-to-do family in Kuala Lumpur.

His father is a senior civil servant who is a devout attendee of the nearby Surau Al Mawaddah mosque.

Hamid had plans to marry his girlfriend, Nadira Ramli (26), a pilot with the budget airline AirAsia and the daughter of another Malaysia Airlines pilot.

The couple studied at the same pilot school. He appears to have been heavily focused on his cars – a new BMW and a four-year-old Audi – and his high-flying job.

Last week it emerged that in 2011 he invited two blonde South African tourists into the cockpit for a flight.

A neighbour of the Hamid family, a taxi driver, said last night: “I don't think Fariq can hijack the plane.

“He loves cars so much, just like I do . . . I didn't see anything strange happening in his family, for example before the plane went missing.”

Authorities in Malaysia still believe the communications system was disabled prior to Hamid's final message but appeared to throw their finding into doubt yesterday, when they confirmed that the system could have been disabled at any time between its last regular signal at 1.07am and 1.37am, when it failed to emit its next scheduled update.

The aircraft's final hourly satellite ping was received at 8.11am and it had enough fuel to fly for a further 30 minutes, according to Malaysia Airlines. “We don't know when the ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) system was switched off,” said Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the head of Malaysia Airlines.

But the admission seemed to refute the claim on Sunday by Hishammuddin Hussein, the defence minister, who had said the system was disabled at 1.07am.

Asked to clarify, Mr Hussein said: “What I said yesterday was based on fact, corroborated and verified.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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