In Malaysia, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein on Saturday refuted a front-page report in a local newspaper, the New Strait Times, that a signal from the mobile phone of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was picked up by a telecommunications tower near the Malaysian city of Penang shortly before the plane disappeared from radar. The newspaper report said the signal ended abruptly before contact was established.
Hishammuddin, who is also the acting transport minister, told the Malaysian national news agency Bernama that he should have been aware of the phone call earlier, but that wasn’t the case.
“I cannot comment (on the newspaper report) because if it is true, we would have known about it much earlier,” Hishammuddin said after praying at a mosque in southern Jofor state, according to Bernama.
He added that it was irresponsible for anyone to take the opportunity to make “baseless” reports.
In the southern Indian Ocean, search crews are scrambling because the batteries powering the flight recorders’ locator beacons last only about a month, and that window has already passed. Finding the devices after the batteries die will be extremely difficult due to the extreme depth of the water in the search area.
Two sounds heard a week ago by the Australian ship Ocean Shield, which was towing the ping locator, were determined to be consistent with the signals emitted from the two black boxes. Two more pings were detected in the same general area Tuesday.
“Given that the signal from the black box is rapidly fading, what we are now doing is trying to get as many detections as we can so that we can narrow the search area down to as small an area as possible,” Abbott said.
The underwater search zone is currently a 1,300-square-kilometer (500-square-mile) patch of the seabed, about the size of Los Angeles.