While the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight has gone on for more than a month with no breakthrough, investigative sources are now claiming the co-pilot of the plane tried to make a "desperate call" with his mobile phone after the jetliner was diverted from its scheduled route.
The plane was flying about 200 nautical miles northwest of the west coast state of Penang on March 8, at an altitude low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up signal from co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid's phone, says Malaysia's New Straits Times newspaper.
However, the call ended abruptly, it adds. "The telco's (telecommunications company) 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 were quoted as saying.
Investigators have said it is possible someone with detailed knowledge of the plane turned off its communications systems before diverting it off its scheduled course.
Last Sunday, a senior Malaysian government source told CNN that the plane skirted Indonesian airspace as it went off the grid and veered off course. This could mean the aircraft may have been taken along a route deliberately to avoid radar detection, the source added.
Also last week, an Australian navy vessel fitted with a U.S. Navy black-box detector picked up two extended signals in an area in the Indian Ocean that is about 300 nautical miles away from where a Chinese patrol vessel received a "ping" signal twice.
But it has not been established if the pings were actually from the missing flight, and it is feared that batteries in the black box recorder may have died by now, as they are only designed to last about 30 days.
Meanwhile, a Russian language newspaper claims that an anonymous source in the intelligence agencies provided information on MH 370 to the correspondent of another Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
The plane "was hijacked," it says. "Pilots are not guilty, the plane was hijacked by unknown terrorists. We know that the name of the terrorist who gave instructions to pilots is 'Hitch.' The plane is in Afghanistan not far from Kandahar near the border with Pakistan."
The jetliner is on the road near the mountain range with a broken wing due to a hard landing, it claims. "All passengers survived," but are being kept hostage "almost without food," it adds. "Perhaps the terrorists intend to bargain with the Americans or the Chinese."
The claim has not been taken seriously by any country involved in the international search efforts.
The flight took off at 12:40 a.m. local time on March 8 from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, including the captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and first officer, Hamid. The flight lost contact with air traffic controllers 120 nautical miles off the east coast of the Malaysian town of Kota Bharu.
The plane was carrying people from 14 countries and territories: 152 from China; 38 from Malaysia; seven from Indonesia; six from Australia; five from India; three each from France and the United States; two each from New Zealand, Ukraine and Canada; and one each from Russia, Italy, Taiwan, Netherlands and Austria, according to Malaysian Airlines.
Those on board included 50-year-old Philip Wood, an IBM executive from North Texas who moved to East Asia. Two other Americans have been identified as Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, 2.