The transcript covers 54 minutes, from just before the Boeing 777-200 pushed back from the gate at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to its last contact with air traffic personnel before it veered off its intended flight path to Beijing and disappeared over the Indian Ocean.
The dialogue appears routine, reinforcing the impression that the flight had been unfolding normally until just after the cockpit's last contact with radar controllers in Malaysia at 1:19 a.m., when the plane was approaching the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace. (Cockpit transcript of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370)
Malaysian officials have said that the behavior of the plane, including its route across the Malaysian peninsula and the disabling of its communications systems, suggested "deliberate action" by someone onboard. That assessment shifted the focus of the inquiry to the plane's pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, and his co-pilot, Fariq Abdul Hamid.
In a statement accompanying the transcript's release, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia's defense minister and acting transportation minister, said there was "no indication of anything abnormal in the transcript." (Malaysia says may sue over 'false' MH370 media reports)
But the transcript, he said, did not change the opinion of investigators that up until the plane dropped off military radar, about an hour after the cockpit's last contact with air traffic controllers, Flight 370's "movements were consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane."
The transcript's release Tuesday came as the international search for the missing plane continued in a vast area of the Indian Ocean. Australia deployed an airborne traffic controller to help coordinate the many aircraft involved in the hunt. (Read)
At least 11 aircraft and nine ships were scheduled to explore the search zone, about 1,100 miles off the coast of Perth in Western Australia.
Despite an all-out effort by the international force, the searches over the past three weeks have produced little but frustration. Although planes and ships have spotted scores of floating items in the search area over the past few days, none of the objects have turned out to be from the missing plane.
The government agreed to release the transcript after coming under mounting pressure from reporters and families of people aboard Flight 370, who have demanded more concrete details about the investigation and its progress. In his statement, Hishammuddin said the document had been kept confidential "as part of the police investigation."
Some analysts said the phrasing seemed unusually casual. ('Good night': Haunting final contact from missing Malaysian Airlines jet)
But late Monday, Malaysia's Transport Ministry revealed that the final voice transmission was actually more routine: "Good night Malaysian three seven zero."
Government officials offered no explanation for the discrepancy in accounts and now say they are unsure whether Fariq was the person speaking.
"The police are working to confirm this belief, and forensic examination of the actual recording is ongoing," Hishammuddin said in his statement.
But the sudden change reignited criticism of the government's handling of the investigation, which has been marked by opacity and contradictory statements, and might add to observers' doubts about the management of the case.
Government officials, however, have defended their performance and explained their tight control of information as a necessity to protect the integrity of the probe.
"We are not hiding anything," Hishammuddin said Monday.
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