KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian authorities initiated a search in the Straits of Malacca on the morning that Flight MH370 went missing as they believed the plane had made an air turn back across the peninsula.
Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said the search was in addition to the South China Sea operation which had started hours earlier.
He said the military did track an aircraft making a turn back across the peninsula on March 8 but no action was taken at the time as the plane was categorised as friendly by the radar operator.
A document released together with the much-awaited preliminary report on MH370 also described the chaotic four-and-a-half hours that ensued following the realisation that the plane had disappeared when it should have entered Vietnamese airspace (see graphic).
Hishammuddin, who is also acting Transport Minister, said that at about 8.30am, the military radar data was reviewed and the information was sent to the Royal Malaysian Air Force operations room at about 9am.
He added that following further discussion up the chain of command, the military informed him at about 10.30am of the possible air turn back and he relayed this to Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.
“The Prime Minister immediately ordered that search-and-rescue operations be initiated in the Straits of Malacca, along with the South China Sea operation which had started earlier,” he said yesterday in a statement released together with the preliminary report, along with audio recordings of the cockpit and cargo manifest.
Hishammuddin also said internal experts reviewed all information the Government had with a view to releasing as much as possible.
Also released together with the report were a map showing MH370’s flight path, the seating plan for MH370 along with the document on action taken by the authorities between 1.38am and 6.14am following the aircraft’s disappearance.
The preliminary report detailed the history of the flight which took off at 12.41am from the KL International Airport on its scheduled flight to Beijing.
The aircraft vanished from their radar screen at 1.21am and Ho Chi Minh queried KL on its whereabouts.
After no contact was re-established, the Rescue Coordination Centre was activated at 5.30am and a search-and-rescue operation started in the South China Sea.
A playback of a recording from the Malaysian military primary radar led to the search area being extended to the Straits of Malacca.
However, a further analysis of all the data established that Flight MH370 had flown along either a Northern or Southern Corridor, and the search was shifted to these areas.
On March 24, a further analysis of the Inmarsat satellite data, using the changes in the satellite’s communication signal frequency, indicated that MH370 had flown in the Southern Corridor and ended its flight in the southern part of the Indian Ocean.
The report recommended for the International Civil Aviation Organisation to examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft.