Search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, March 24, 2014
Naval aviators pilot a P-8A Poseidon during a mission to assist in search and rescue operations for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, March 24, 2014 Photo by Reuters
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A woman reads messages for passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia Photo by AP

A call was made from the mobile phone of the co-pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane after it made an unscheduled U-turn and shortly before satellite and radar contacts were lost, a local newspaper reported Saturday.

The New Straits Times quoted unnamed sources saying the Boeing 777 was flying at an altitude low enough for a telecommunication tower in northern Penang state to pick up a phone signal.

Investigators traced the call - which reportedly ended abruptly - to the phone belonging to the 27-year-old co-pilot of flight MH370.

The paper said its sources declined to reveal who Fariq Abdul Rahman was trying to call.

"The telco tower established the call that he was trying to make. On why the call was cut off, it was likely the aircraft was fast moving away from the tower and had not come under the coverage of the next one," the source was quoted saying.

Flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew was bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 when ground control lost contact with it less than an hour after departure. Its last known location then was above the South China Sea.

Military radar later detected that the plane had turned back towards the Malay Peninsula and headed northward toward the Andaman Sea. Analyses of satellite data later pointed to the plane "ending" in the southern Indian Ocean.

Investigators concluded that someone on board had deliberately switched off the plane's communication systems, prompting police to launch a criminal investigation.

A separate source told the New Straits Time that Fariq's phone was "detached" before the plane took off.

"This is usually the result of the phone being switched off. At one point, however, when the airplane was airborne between the waypoint Igari and the spot near Penang, the line was 'reattached,'" the source was quoted saying.

"A 'reattachment' does not necessarily mean that a call was made. It can also be the result of the phone being switched on again," the source explained.

The co-pilot was very close to his mother, a cousin of his told the newspaper.

"If Fariq could make one call before the plane disappeared, it would have been to her," Nursyafiqah Kamarudin, 18, said.

Malaysian police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has said that the 12 Malaysian crew members were the main subjects of investigation.