KUALA LUMPUR: A CREW member of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 made a desperate call from his mobile phone as the plane was flying low near Penang, the morning it went missing.
The latest breakthrough in the ongoing criminal investigation traced the source of the call to co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid's phone.
The New Straits Times has learnt that investigators are poring over this discovery as they try to piece together what had happened moments before the Boeing 777-22ER twinjet went off the radar, some 200 nautical miles (320km) northwest of Penang on March 8.
It is understood that the aircraft with 239 people on board was flying at an altitude low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up his phone's signal.
His call, however, ended abruptly, but not before contact was established with a telecommunications sub-station in the state.
However, the NST is unable to ascertain who Fariq was trying to call as sources chose not to divulge details of the investigation. The links that police are trying to establish are also unclear.
"The telco's (telecommunications company's) 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," the sources said.
It was also established that Fariq's last communication through the WhatsApp Messenger application was about 11.30pm on March 7, just before he boarded the aircraft for his six-hour flight to Beijing.
The NST was also told that checks on Fariq's phone history showed that the last person he spoke to was "one of his regular contacts (a number that frequently appears on his outgoing phone logs)".
This call was made no more than two hours before the flight took off at 12.41am from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
A different set of sources close to the investigations told the NST that checks on Fariq's phone showed that connection to the phone had been "detached" before the plane took off.
"This is usually the result of the phone being switched off. At one point, however, when the airplane 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," the sources said.
The flight, with a crew of 12, was supposed to take off at 12.35am.
The jetliner disappeared from commercial radar about an hour later, while it was flying over the South China Sea. It was supposed to have landed in Beijing at 6.30am the same day.
Experts said it was possible for a mobile phone to be connected to a telecommunications tower at an altitude of 7,000 feet.
An NST exclusive on March 16, quoted investigators as saying that the jetliner had dropped to as low as 5,000 feet after it made the turnback at waypoint Igari in the South China Sea before it crossed Peninsular Malaysia headed towards Penang.
Meanwhile, Fariq's cousin Nursyafiqah Kamarudin, 18, told the NST on Monday that Fariq, who would have turned 28 on April 1, was very close to his mother.
"If Fariq could make one call before the plane disappeared, it would have been to her."
Police have not cleared the 227 passengers of the flight MH370 of possible foul play. Clearance has also not been given to the crew.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar had, on April 2, said they had "obtained some clues" on what might have happened to the flight, based on the statements recorded from 176 people. This number has climbed to 205 as of yesterday.
Khalid had also said the crew were among the main "subjects of the investigations".
Their probe had been focused on four possible areas -- hijack, sabotage, as well as personal and psychological problems.
They are investigating the case under Section 130C of the Penal Code, which deals with hijacking, terrorism and sabotage offences, as well as the Security Offences (Special Measures) and Aviation Offences Acts.
On why these findings were not made known, the sources said, like criminal investigations by any police force, details of an ongoing probe would not be made public.
"Not only are they not obliged to, it also puts the investigation at risk if the findings are revealed," the sources said.
The team carrying out this probe is separate from the International Investigating Team (IIT), which comprises agencies with expertise in satellite communications and aircraft performance.
The IIT is also represented by Inmarsat, Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) and Rolls-Royce from the United Kingdom, China's Civil Aviation Administration and Aircraft Accident Investigation Department (AAID), and from the United States, National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Bureau Investigation and the Triple Seven's manufacturer, Boeing.
This team had been working over the past weeks, refining data, including those extracted from radars and satellites, in narrowing down the search area, which has since been centred in the Indian Ocean.
While some details from the IIT's investigations have been released to appease family members' and the media's demand for information, police said they were not at liberty to divulge details of the probe for fear that it could jeopardise their investigation.
The FBI has been assisting police, including sharing intelligence and expertise.
Kuala Lumpur had also, on April 5, announced the appointment of an independent "Investigator in Charge" to lead an investigating team, which will include three groups.
They are an airworthiness group to look at issues such as maintenance records, structures and systems; an operations group to examine, among others, flight recorders, operations and meteorology; and, a medical and human factors group to investigate areas of psychology and survival factors.
Six days ago, the New Sunday Times front-paged a report that said investigators had, over the last few weeks, sifted through hundreds of hours of closed-circuit television footage, not only from cameras in most corners of KLIA, but all the way back to a toll plaza 8.8km away, which most passengers would have had to pass through to reach KLIA. Videos were also taken from the stretch of road leading to the airport.
Their movements were traced by the CCTVs right up to the time they showed up at gate C1, in the West Zone of the airport's Satellite Building, where the plane was parked.
It was also learnt that while Fariq and chief stewardess Goh Sock Lay, 45, communicated via the WhatsApp messenger application at 11.30pm, pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, made his last contact through the application at 7.45pm, some five hours before flying off.
Co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid’s attempt to call someone failed.