Investigators are still probing today’s claims the Malaysian Airlines jet could have flown for seven hours before crashing into the sea off the coast of Australia after the crew and passengers became incapacitated by an onboard emergency.
And the missing plane was carrying highly flammable lithium batteries, the chief executive of Malaysian Airlines admitted today. Four days ago Ahmad Jauhari denied the dangerous cargo was onboard the plane.
Lithium-ion batteries have caused 140 mid-air incidents in last 20 years and are classed as dangerous by The International Civil Aviation Organisation. Some experts believe Flight MH370 could have been brought down by a catastrophic onboard fire.
And as the search for pieces of debris spotted in the southern Indian Ocean continued, the transcript showing the plane’s final communications threw the hijacking theory back into the fold.
At 1:19 am, co-pilot, Fariq Hamid, told Malaysian air traffic controllers: “All right, good night.”
He should have then handed over to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. But two minutes later the jet’s transponder, which gives off radar signals, was disabled.
The plane went dark on civilian radar, and then made a turn westwards back toward Malaysia. Investigators believe someone could have reprogrammed the plane’s flight management system to turn away from its original flight plan.
Former British Airways pilot Stephen Buzdygan said: “If I was going to steal the aeroplane, that would be the point I would do it.
“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.”
BA’s former air safety chief John Lindsay added: “This would have been the ideal time to take over the aircraft because it would give a period of time when no one was aware of what it was doing.
"It seems to be more than just a strong coincidence that the loss of contact with the aircraft happened at the point of handover.”
The transcript reveals messages relayed between the cockpit and air traffic controllers during the period when the plane is believed by some to already have been sabotaged.
Most of the records shows how banter between Hamid and air traffic controllers and Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was “perfectly routine”.
But one aspect of the conversations in the cockpit between before the flight vanished on March 8 struck investigators as odd. A message was delivered at 1.07am, confirming the plane was flying at 35,000 feet.
This was unnecessary as it had been made six minutes earlier.
Tonight it emerged a Malaysian eyewitness believes she spotted a plane in the water as she travelled on another jet across the Indian Ocean. Latife Dalelah made the sighting close to the Andaman Islands.
The 53-year-old said: “I was staring out of the window as I couldn’t sleep. I was shocked to see what looked like the tail and wing of an aircraft on the water. I woke my friends but they laughed me off. I will not lie.”
She reported her fears to police five days before the search for the plane was expanded to that area. Investigators are taking her claims seriously.
Searchers combing the Indian Ocean off Australia in ships and planes for huge chunks of debris spotted by a satellite drew a blank today.
Australian PM Tony Abbott said: “It’s about the most inaccessible spot that you could imagine on earth, but if there is anything down there we will find it.”
British warship HMS Echo is due to join in the search today.