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Co-pilot tried ‘desperate call’

- Fariq Abdul Hamid switched his phone on before jet vanished: Paper

April 12: Fariq Abdul Hamid, the co-pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, reportedly switched on his mobile phone above Penang — just before the plane vanished.

The New Straits Times, a Singapore-based newspaper, claimed that Hamid turned off his phone before the plane took off. He then “reattached” the phone mid air, as the plane was passing within reach of the Penang control tower — but did not make any contact.

The newspaper described the mid-air activation of the phone as “a desperate call”.

Hamid last used his phone to send a WhatsApp message at around 11.30pm on March 7 — just before he boarded the aircraft for his six-hour flight to Beijing. Two hours previously he had made his final call, which was to a “regular contact”.

An unnamed source told the paper: “The telecomms tower established the call that he was trying to make. On why the call was cut off, it was likely because the aircraft was fast moving away from the tower and had not come under the coverage of the next one”.

A second source said that connection to the phone had been “detached” before the plane took off.

“This is usually the result of the phone being switched off,” the said.

“At one point, however, when the aeroplane was airborne, between waypoint Igari and the spot near Penang (just before it went missing from radar), the line was ‘reattached’.

“A ‘reattachment’ does not necessarily mean that a call was made. It can also be the result of the phone being switched on again.”

Many airlines insist that crews turn their mobile phones off while airborne. But in reality some pilots leave their phones on — either intentionally, to surreptitiously read emails; or by mistake.

“If it was suddenly switched on mid flight, then it does suggest that something untoward was occurring,” said Alastair Rosenschein, an aviation expert and former British Airways pilot.

“But it’s not unusual for a phone to be left on innocently, by mistake, and then come into signal area. “There has been so much uncorroborated material on this flight that it is very difficult to determine fact from fiction or speculation. This could be yet another red herring.”

Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s acting transport minister, said that authorities in his country have received many reports and leads which later turned out to be baseless, and that he could not confirm whether Hamid had tried to make a call.

“Unless we can have verifications, we can’t comment on these reports,” he said. But he suggested that the report was improbable. “If this did happened, we would have known about it earlier.” Rosenschein said that he thinks it most likely that the pilots passed out due to a malfunction with the oxygen, leaving the plane pilotless to crash into the ocean.

He said: “I suspect there was a double pilot incapacitation as a result of an as-yet unexplained technical problem — causing the flight crew to attempt a return to Kuala Lumpur, or a nearby diversion airfield such as Penang or Langkawi. The pilots passed out due to hypoxia and the aircraft continued on autopilot, flying the last imputed magnetic heading until it ran out of fuel to the west of Australia.”

Tony Abbott, Australia’s Prime Minister, said yesterday that crews searching for wreckage of the plane had significantly narrowed down the search area in the hunt for signals. Authorities are confident that the signals are from the missing jet.

Malaysia is focusing its investigation on the cabin crew and the pilots of the plane — 53-year-old captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah and 27-year old Fariq — after clearing all 227 passengers of any involvement, police have said.

 
 
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