The Malaysian government said late Monday that the final words received by ground controllers from the missing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 on March 8 were “Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero,” not the previously stated and slightly unusual, “all right, good night.”
The statement didn’t explain the discrepancy. The statement also said investigators were still trying to determine whether it was the pilot or co-pilot who spoke the words at 1:19 a.m., just before the plane went out of contact and disappeared from radar.
Malaysia has been criticized for its handling of the search, particularly its communications to the media and families of the passengers. The sudden and unexplained change in the account of the last transmission from the cockpit was likely to fuel those concerns.
The three-week hunt for Flight 370 has turned up no sign of the Boeing 777, which vanished with 239 people on board bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
As the race to find debris from the plane before the blackbox stops sending out a “ping” signal ramped up this week, Australia said Tuesday that it would deploy a modified Boeing 737 to act as a flying air traffic control center over the Indian Ocean, to prevent a mid-air collision among the aircraft searching for the missing jetliner.
An air force E-7A Wedgetail equipped with advanced radar was to be deployed “in the near future” to monitor the increasingly crowded skies over the remote search zone, said Angus Houston, who heads the joint agency coordinating the multinational search effort.
At a news conference in Perth, Houston, the former Australian defense chief, called the search effort the most challenging one he has ever seen. The starting point for any search is the last known position of the vehicle or aircraft, he said.
“In this particular case, the last known position was a long, long way from where the aircraft appears to have gone,” he said. “It’s very complex, it’s very demanding.”
“What we really need now is to find debris, wreckage from the aircraft,” he said. “This could drag on for a long time.”