KUALA LUMPUR (REUTERS) - The last words spoken by one of the pilots of the missing Malaysian Airlines airliner to the control tower were "Good night Malaysian three seven zero", Malaysia's civil aviation authority said, changing the previous account of the last message as a more casual "All right, good night."
The correction of the official account of the last words was made as Malaysian authorities face heavy criticism for their handling of the disappearance, particularly from families of the Chinese passengers on board Flight MH370 who have accused Malaysia of mismanaging the search and holding back information.
"We would like to confirm that the last conversation in the transcript between the air traffic controller and the cockpit is at 0119 (Malaysian Time) and is "Good night Malaysian three seven zero," the Department of Civil Aviation said in a statement on Monday.
Malaysia's ambassador to China told Chinese families in Beijing as early as March 12, four days after the flight went missing, that the last words had been "All right, good night." "Good night Malaysian three seven zero" would be a more formal, standard sign-off from the cockpit of the Boeing 777, which was just leaving Malaysia-controlled air space on its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Minutes later its communications were cut off and it turned back across Malaysia and headed toward the Indian Ocean. More than three weeks later, a huge international search effort is going on in the southern Indian Ocean off western Australia, but has so far failed to turn up any wreckage.
The statement from the civil aviation authority came after acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was questioned at a news conference on Monday over the last words from the cockpit and fended off demands to release the official transcript.
The statement said authorities were still conducting"forensic investigation" to determine whether the last words from the cockpit were by the pilot or the co-pilot. Previously, Malaysia Airlines has said that the words were believed to have come from the co-pilot.
The civil aviation department said the investigating team had been instructed to release the full transcript at the next briefing with the next of kin.
Malaysia says the plane, which disappeared less than an hour into its flight, was likely to have been diverted deliberately far off course. Investigators have determined no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.
About two-thirds of the passengers were Chinese nationals.