Malaysia on Thursday released a preliminary report on the missing Flight MH370 which confirmed that the plane avoided flying over land after an unexplained westward turn and flew along a route apparently designed to prevent it being detected by military radars.
Releasing its first findings on the aviation mystery, the Malaysian government provided a detailed map showing the flight’s unusual path after it disappeared from the screens of air traffic controllers on March 8.
The map indicated that the plane did not – as previously believed – follow a series of predetermined navigational waypoints but instead flew directly above the Strait of Malacca and then turned again and travelled south above seas for about seven hours before crashing in the Indian Ocean. This route would have ensured the plane avoided flying over Indonesian territory – thereby reducing the risk of detection – though it may have passed over the northern tip of Sumatra.
David Learmount, an aviation expert, said the route suggested the aircraft was trying to evade detection and to ensure it was not tracked or targeted by the Indonesian air force.
“It does look like the plane was trying to avoid Indonesian air space,” he told The Daily Telegraph. “It was an aircraft that has gone rogue. It didn’t need to follow waypoints. There are no roads in the sky – pilots can go wherever they want.”
The investigation report released on Thursday by the Malaysian government offered no explanation of why the Boeing 777 – carrying 239 passengers and crew – flew off course during a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
But it admitted that air traffic controllers did not realize that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared from civilian radar.
The report also confirmed there was a four-hour gap between the plane’s disappearance from air traffic control screens and the activation of a rescue operation.
The plane’s unexpected westward turn was observed by the Malaysian military, which took no action because it believed the aircraft was “friendly”.
The report detailed the baffled attempts by authorities in Malaysia, Vietnam and Cambodia to locate the plane, which had its communications system disabled about 40 minutes after take-off. It recommended that the International Civil Aviation Organization consider measures to ensure commercial planes are tracked in real time, citing the disappearance of an Air France flight in 2009 which crashed in the Atlantic Ocean and was only found in 2011.
“While commercial air transport aircraft spend considerable amounts of time operating over remote areas, there is currently no requirement for real-time tracking of these aircraft,” the report said.
It did not provide any further detail about the plane’s final location, though it offered a range of areas it could have landed in the southern Indian ocean.
The report included new information about the flight, including the seat location of each of the passengers, the cargo manifest and the audio recording of the communication between the cockpit and air traffic controllers. But none of the details shed further light on the reason for the plane’s disappearance.
A police investigation in Malaysia is continuing, but nothing has been found to suggest the pilot or co-pilot – or anyone else on board – was suspicious or had links to terrorism or were psychologically disturbed.
The report, which was dated April 8 and has been submitted to ICAO, was released following an order by Najib Razak, Malaysia’s prime minister, whose government has come under heavy criticism for its handling of the ordeal. It is not clear why it waited three weeks before releasing the five-page document.
Malaysia’s long-ruling government has been heavily criticised for a seemingly chaotic response and contradictory statements on MH370 in the early days of the crisis.
Malaysia Airlines on Thursday asked relatives of the missing passengers to return to “the comfort of their own homes” and to leave the hotel accommodation that has been provided by the government since the plane disappeared.
The hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur have at times been the venues for harrowing scenes, in which some family members of the 153 Chinese passengers aboard have insisted their relatives are alive and accused Malaysian authorities of a cover-up.
The airline said it would keep families informed of any developments and would soon make compensation payments.The disappearance of the plane has led to the largest search in aviation history, involving 26 countries and spanning half the globe.
An air search was called off this week after more than 330 flights failed to find floating wreckage. An unmanned submarine continues to search an area where pings were detected that are believed to have been emitted by the plane’s black box locator beacon.