The search for flight MH370 has intensified as the batteries in its black box weaken. Meanwhile, a Malaysian newspaper has reported the plane's co-pilot may have activated his cell phone as the plane vanished from radar.
On Saturday, exactly five weeks since the March 8 disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, search officials said they believed they had found the approximate position of the black box. However, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the signals, or "pings," from the black box recorder had begun "rapidly fading."
"While we do have a high degree of confidence that the transmissions that we've been picking up are from flight MH370's black box recorder, no one would underestimate the difficulties of the task still ahead of us," Abbott told a news conference in Beijing Saturday.
Abbott's comments on Saturday appeared to have backtracked from a statement he made Friday, when he said he was "very confident" that searchers had located the black box.
The recorder's batteries have already exceeded their normal 30-day life span, making the search to find it all the more urgent. Once searchers believe they have located the black box, they plan to deploy a small unmanned robot known as an autonomous underwater vehicle to search the seabed.
The passenger plane disappeared from radar screens on March 8, while on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. All 239 people on board are believed to have died.
Also on Saturday, Malaysia's official English-language daily, the New Straits Times, reported that flight 370 flew low enough near Penang island on Malaysia's west coast - after it had turned off course - for a telecommunications tower to pick up a signal from the co-pilot's mobile phone. The call ended abruptly, possibly "because the aircraft was fast moving away from the tower," the daily quoted an unnamed source as saying.
In the article, "Desperate Call for Help," the daily quoted another source who said that, though Fariq Abdul Hamid's number became "reattached," it did not prove he had made a call from the Boeing 777.
"A 'reattachment' does not necessarily mean that a call was made," the source told the newspaper. "It can also be the result of the phone being switched on again."
Malaysia's Transport Ministry told the news agency AFP that it would examine the report. The government and media have repeatedly contradicted each other over details of the search for the plane. Last month, investigators indicated that one of the pilots had diverted the flight and switched off its communication systems, triggering a criminal inquiry that has revealed little.
mkg/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)