Flight MH370: Final minutes of cockpit communication revealed

Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah (left) and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid (right). (Photo courtesy Polaris)

The last 54 minutes of cockpit communication aboard the missing Malaysian airline has given more weight to the theory the plane was intentionally taken over, according to a transcript released by Britain's The Telegraph.

While analysts say the transcript, translated from Mandarin, appears to be “perfectly routine,” there were two features that raised red flags.

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The conversation between the co-pilot, the control tower and other air traffic controllers shows that the flight’s unexpected turn off course coincided with the handover of air traffic controllers in Kuala Lampur to those in Ho Chi Minh City.

During this time, the flight would have been temporarily invisible to ground control, an ideal moment for the plane to veer off the intended flight path.

“If I was going to steal the aeroplane, that would be the point I would do it,” Stephen Buzdygan, a former British Airways pilot who flew 777s, told The Telegraph. “There might be a bit of dead space between the air traffic controllers … It was the only time during the flight they would maybe not have been able to be seen from the ground.”

Another odd feature of the conversation was the messages from the cockpit at 1:07am which said the plane was flying at 35,000 feet.

The message was odd not only because it was redundant – it had already been delivered six minutes earlier -- but because it was sent at a crucial moment: the last time the plane’s Acars signaling device sent its last message. It was disabled some time in the next 30 minutes, apparently on purpose.

A separate transponder was disabled at 1:21am but investigators believe the Acars was shut down before co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s final farewell, “All right, good night,” at 1:19am.

In all other aspects, the correspondence between the 27-year-old fly enthusiast and the flight controllers, was routine. Although analysts noted his slightly casual approach in terms of his wording, nothing in his tone gave any indication he was about to fly off course.

Some experts said that they did not see anything to make them feel something sinister might have been going on.

The conversation, which runs from the time the Boeing 777 was taxiing to its last known position thousands of feet above the South China Sea, was revealed on the second day of the search around the southern Indian Ocean for signs of debris of the missing airplane.

Dozens of ships and aircraft continue to search an area off the Australian coast where debris, potentially from MH370, was spotted by a spy satellite earlier this week.

The Telegraph has repeatedly asked Malaysia Airlines, Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Authority and the office of Najib Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, to confirm the communications record. Only the prime minister’s office responded, saying that it would not release this data.

The transcript could not be independently verified and the newspaper noted it is "based on Mandarin version of English language transcript. Some wording may not be exact."

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43
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