Thailand finds radar blips that could be MH370, India says Indian Ocean has black holes


The Malaysian Insider
March 19, 2014

The international search for flight MH370 entered its 12th day with Thailand now saying its military took 10 days to report radar blips that could have been the lost Malaysia Airlines jet “because we did not pay attention to it”.

India also reported that the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) carrying 239 people could have escaped detection by flying into a part of the Indian Ocean that gets irregular radar checks.

Both reports do not bring any fresh clues to finding the lost flight dubbed as an “unprecedented aviation mystery” after it vanished into thin air early March 8 while en route to Beijing.

Thai military officials said yesterday their own radar showed an unidentified plane, possibly flight MH370, flying towards the Strait of Malacca minutes after the Malaysian jet’s transponder signal was lost.

Air force spokesman Air Vice-Marshal Montol Suchookorn said the Thai military did not know whether the plane it detected was flight MH370, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported in its website.

Thailand’s failure to share possible information about the plane may not substantially change what Malaysian officials now know, but it raised questions about the degree to which some countries were sharing their defence data, the news portal said.

A coalition of 26 countries, including Thailand, is looking for flight MH370 with search crews scouring two giant arcs of territory amounting to the size of Australia – half of it in the remote seas of the southern Indian Ocean. The search teams had earlier searched the Gulf of Thailand with no success.

The search for the plane is among the largest in aviation history.

The United States navy said P-3 and P-8 surveillance aircraft were methodically sweeping over swathes of ocean, known as “mowing the grass”, while using radar to detect any debris in the water and high-resolution cameras to snap images.

Australian and Indonesian planes and ships are searching waters to the south of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island all the way down to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Several Malaysian navy ships have also started their search in that area as more assets are deployed to find the missing plane.

Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am on March 8 and its transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to identify and track the airplane, ceased communicating at 1.21am, Malaysian authorities said.

Montol said that at 1.28am, Thai military radar “was able to detect a signal, which was not a normal signal, of a plane flying in the direction opposite from the MH370 plane,” back towards Kuala Lumpur.

The plane later turned right, toward Butterworth, along the Malacca strait. The radar signal was infrequent and did not include any data such as the flight number.

Asked why it took so long to release the information, Montol said: “Because we did not pay any attention to it. The Royal Thai Air Force only looks after any threats against our country.”

The Canadian portal reported him as saying the plane never entered Thai airspace and that Malaysia’s initial request for information in the early days of the search was not specific.

“When they asked again and there was new information and assumptions from Prime Minister (Datuk Seri) Najib Razak, we took a look at our information again,” he said.

“It didn’t take long for us to figure out, although it did take some experts to find out about it,” the portal quoted him as saying.

Indian officials told CNN that if flight MH370 did fly through the southern part of the Indian Ocean, then there was a good chance that Indian radar systems did not even pick it up.

An Indian military official revealed that the radar systems covering the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were not as closely watched by the Indian military as others.

That left open the possibility that the systems did not notice the jet as it crossed through the area, the global television channel said.

“If flight 370 flew along that proposed southern corridor, then there’s a good chance that it did so through this ‘black hole’ in the Indian Ocean.

“The possibility that Indian radar systems missed flight 370 is frightening, because if they had picked up any sign of the jet, the plane’s flight path, timetable, and search area could be so much more focused,” CNN said.

Besides a black hole in radar monitoring, the plane may have also dropped its altitude to a meagre 5,000 feet (1,500m) in order to avoid any further detection, Malaysia’s New Straits Times reported on Monday.

But aviation experts said that low altitude would not be enough to escape radar detection as the systems work on line of sight and low-flying passenger jets would be noticed by people on the ground.

Cmdr William Marks, a spokesman for the US 7th fleet, said finding the plane was like trying to locate a few people somewhere between New York and California.

The new search area encompasses 2.24 million square nautical miles, from the Caspian Sea in the north to the edge of the Indian Ocean in the south. – March 19, 2014.

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