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Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: 'All right, good night' were last-heard words

Published on Mar 12, 2014 12:09 PM
 

"All right, good night" were the last-heard words from the missing Malaysian Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 - which were revealed for the first time at a meeting in Beijing on Wednesday morning between the Malaysian government and Chinese relatives. 

The flight then disappeared from radar screens, said Malaysia's civil aviation officials at the meeting fronted by its envoy to China, Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, and held in a packed room with nearly 400 relatives at the Metropark Lido hotel.

Anxious and angry over their loved one's unknown fate and lack of progress in locating the plane, the family members on Tuesday had requested for the meeting with the Malaysian government to seek answers to their questions .

But for close to two hours, the morning meeting, which was live-tweeted throughout by The Straits Times, ended with more questions than answers.

The aviation officials said MH370's last-heard words were made in response after Malaysian air traffic controllers told the cockpit that they were entering Vietnamese airspace and that air traffic controllers from Ho Chi Minh city were taking over.

The plane, carrying 239 passengers and crew in all including 153 Chinese nationals, have remained missing since Saturday 1.20am despite a massive international search operation involving Singapore.

While such disappearance from radar screens could be a result of a hijacking and the hijackers turning off signals, in such an event, the pilot should still have sent a secret mayday code, said the Malaysian civil aviation official.

The officials also said that there was no reason to suspect the pilots, who were experienced and had passed all the checks that MAS applies to pilots.

This was in response to families bringing up reports that the co-pilot had let passengers into the cockpit on an earlier flight.

In a confusing exchange, the male official - who was Malay but spoke Chinese - was asked repeatedly by family members if military-grade radar had picked up the plane. Military air data and technology would go beyond the civilian ones, they said.

The official replied that the Malaysian military was assisting investigations "at a high level."

Pressed repeatedly on what information the military had given authorities, he finally replied that "now is not the time" to reveal it.

Some of the families shouted incredulously at this, but one man who had taken on the role of family representative said that they understood, and that they hoped Malaysia would reveal the information as soon as possible.

The exchange boosted theories among the anxious families that there are ongoing secret negotiations with terrorists who had hijacked the plane. Adding to this was the official's earlier statement that Malaysia hopes that the passengers are alive.

The families also handed the number of a passenger's cellphone that has been ringing until today to the envoy, and beseeched Datuk Iskandar for a straight answer on the ringing phones. Whether the plane is on land or whether the passengers had just linked their cellphones to transfer to other numbers if unanswered, they wanted a clear reply, they said.

The families' representative, while thanking Datuk Iskandar and the Malaysian officials for meeting with them, also said that the families are extremely disappointed and angry with the Malaysian government's "delayed and untransparent" rescue efforts. Some wanted an apology from the envoy.

Datuk Iskandar addressed the families at the end of the session, saying that he promises that he will convey their sentiments and thoughts to the Malaysian government. He said that the Malaysian government is doing everything it can, and that all families who wanted to go to KL would be issued visas by today.

He also asked family members to approach him privately anytime.

rchang@sph.com.sg

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