The last words transmitted from the missing Malaysia Airlines jet to air traffic controllers were “Alright, good night”, according to an official.
Kuala Lumpur’s ambassador to Beijing, Iskandar Sarudin, reportedly told Chinese relatives about the final message relayed from the cockpit to authorities before flight MH370 was due to enter Vietnamese airspace.
Mr Sarudin was speaking to the friends and relatives of some of the 153 Chinese nationals missing, feared dead after the Boeing 777 went missing en route to Beijing more than four days ago.
Today, authorities have admitted they do not know which direction the plane, carrying 239 passengers, was heading when it disappeared – greatly complicating the ongoing search mission.
Amid the intensifying confusion and in the wake of at times contradictory statements, the Malaysia’s civil aviation authorities and military said the plane may have turned back from its last known position between Malaysia and Vietnam, possibly as far as the Strait of Malacca, a busy shipping lane west of Malaysia.
How it might have done this without being clearly detected remains a mystery, raising questions over whether its electrical systems, including transponders allowing it to be identified by radar, were either knocked out or turned off. If it did manage to fly on, it would challenge earlier theories that the plane may have suffered a catastrophic incident, initially thought reasonable because it didn't send out any distress signals.
Vietnamese officials gave conflicting accounts of whether the search effort there was being scaled back as a result of the confusion.
Authorities have not ruled out any possible cause, including mechanical failure, pilot error, sabotage or terrorism. Both the Boeing 777 and Malaysia Airlines have excellent safety records. Until wreckage or debris is found and examined, it will be very hard to say what happened.
The search for the missing aircraft was begun from the spot it was last reported to be over the ocean between Malaysia and Vietnam. But Malaysian authorities have said search operations were ongoing in the Strait of Malacca. Scores of planes and aircraft have been scouring waters in both locations.
The country's air force chief, Gen. Rodzali Daud, released a statement denying remarks attributed to him in a local media report saying that military radar had managed to track the aircraft turning back from its original course, crossing the country and making it to the Malacca strait.
Rodzali referred to a statement he said he made on 9March in which he said the air force has “not ruled out the possibility of an air turn back” and said search and rescue efforts had been expanded to the waters around Penang Island, in the northern section of the strait.
“There is a possibility of an air turn back. We are still investigating and looking at the radar readings,” the country's civilian aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said on Wednesday.