Little progress has been made in the official investigation over Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpiur to Beijing on March 8.
But an unofficial probe by local newspaper the New Straits Times revealed Saturday that the co-pilot of the jetliner attempted to make a call with his cellpgone shortly after the plane was diverted from its flight path.
"Unidentified investigative sources" told the daily that co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid attempted to make a call from his cellphone from the cockpit that fateful night, and that the signal was picked up by a cellphone tower as the plane was about 200 nautical miles northwest of the west coast state of Penang - just before military radar last sighted the jet at about 2:15 am.
"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 New Straits Times cited a source as saying.
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein stated that the report needed to be verified, and cast some doubt on the subject, saying "if this did happen, we would have known about it earlier."
But critics have accused at earlier stages of the investigation that the Malaysian government has been slow - or secretive - about progress in the search for the missing plane. To add to the confusion, a separate source told the New Straits Times Saturday that another possibility remains: that the phone was turned on - but a call was never made.
The news is the latest in the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 case, which has been the subject of international attention after it disappeared without a trace last month.
A range of theories as to its fate have emerged – from hijacking to crashing to being diverted for use in a terror attack, possibly against Israel. Later theories have become even wilder, ranging from an onboard fire to a suicide mission.
Controversy reigns over every detail of the flight, including the co-pilot's last words - "All right, good night" - and the fact that two Iranian nationals with stolen passports were on board.
An extensive search across the massive Indian Ocean has produced mixed messages from government officials, as bereaved families are fed hope on the one hand, and told the flight has not yet been found on another.