KUALA LUMPUR - A CREW member of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 made a desperate call from his mobile phone as the plane was flying low near Penang, the morning it went missing.
The latest breakthrough in the ongoing criminal investigation traced the source of the call to co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid's phone.
The New Straits Times has learnt that investigators are poring over this discovery as they try to piece together what had happened moments before the Boeing 777-22ER twinjet went off the radar, some 200 nautical miles (320km) northwest of Penang on March 8.
It is understood that the aircraft with 239 people on board was flying at an altitude low enough for the nearest telecommunications tower to pick up his phone's signal.
His call, however, ended abruptly, but not before contact was established with a telecommunications sub-station in the state.
However, the NST is unable to ascertain who Fariq was trying to call as sources chose not to divulge details of the investigation. The links that police are trying to establish are also unclear.
"The telco's (telecommunications company's) 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 said.
It was also established that Fariq's last communication through the WhatsApp Messenger application was about 11.30pm on March 7, just before he boarded the aircraft for his six-hour flight to Beijing.
The NST was also told that checks on Fariq's phone history showed that the last person he spoke to was "one of his regular contacts (a number that frequently appears on his outgoing phone logs)".
This call was made no more than two hours before the flight took off at 12.41am from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).
A different set of sources close to the investigations told the NST that checks on Fariq's phone showed that connection to the phone had been "detached" before the plane took off.
"This is usually the result of the phone being switched off. At one point, however, when the airplane was airborne, between waypoint Igari and the spot near Penang (just before it went missing from radar), the line was 'reattached'.
"A 'reattachment' does not necessarily mean that a call was made. It can also be the result of the phone being switched on again," the sources said.
The flight, with a crew of 12, was supposed to take off at 12.35am.
The jetliner disappeared from commercial radar about an hour later, while it was flying over the South China Sea. It was supposed to have landed in Beijing at 6.30am the same day.
Experts said it was possible for a mobile phone to be connected to a telecommunications tower at an altitude of 7,000 feet.
An NST exclusive on March 16, quoted investigators as saying that the jetliner had dropped to as low as 5,000 feet after it made the turnback at waypoint Igari in the South China Sea before it crossed Peninsular Malaysia headed towards Penang.
Meanwhile, Fariq's cousin Nursyafiqah Kamarudin, 18, told the NST on Monday that Fariq, who would have turned 28 on April 1, was very close to his mother.
"If Fariq could make one call before the plane disappeared, it would have been to her."