Investigation Finds 17-Minute Delay in Reporting Missing Plane


By CHRIS BUCKLEY and MICHAEL FORSYTHE
New York Times
1st May 2014

HONG KONG — Seventeen minutes passed after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from civilian radar screens before air traffic controllers in Vietnam and Malaysia raised any concerns about it, according to a Malaysian government report released on Thursday that described confusion and miscommunication in the hours that followed.

The details of delays and miscues came in a preliminary report by Malaysia’s chief inspector of air accidents on the investigation into the missing jet, which left only tantalizing clues to its likely whereabouts that were not recognized or understood for days after it disappeared on March 8. Experts eventually concluded that the plane must have fallen into the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of Western Australia, thousands of miles from its planned route to Beijing over the Gulf of Thailand, where searchers initially wasted crucial days on a fruitless hunt.

The hunt for debris or flight recorders from the plane has so far yielded nothing solid, and investigators have said that the final signals from the place, received by an Inmarsat communication satellite, gave them only a general idea of where the plane probably fell into the ocean. The government report suggested that commercial planes should be tracked constantly throughout their flights, and not just when they are within range of ground radar and their transponders are working, to avert another such baffling loss.

The Malaysian government released a map Thrusday showing several possible flight paths for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“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 noted. “It is recommended that the International Civil Aviation Organization examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking.”

Malaysian officials have said that the public report issued on Thursday was similar to one they had already submitted to the organization.

The report and accompanying documents indicated that the initial search efforts for the missing plane were dogged by miscommunication and mistakes that began while the plane was still in flight — and that appeared to cement initial, mistaken assumptions that the plane had fallen somewhere much closer to the Malaysian peninsula.

The plane took off at 12:41 a.m. from Kuala Lumpur International Airport, bound for Beijing. It disappeared from Malaysian air traffic controllers’ radar at 1:21 a.m. local time, when the plane was near airspace managed by controllers in Vietnam. Seventeen minutes later, at 1:38 a.m., the Vietnamese controllers noted that something was amiss and “made a query” to their Malaysian counterparts, the report said.

The investigation revealed that the Malaysia Airlines operations center sowed confusion when it told Kuala Lumpur air traffic control at 2:15 a.m. that the plane’s signals showed it was “flying in Cambodian airspace,” according to a timeline accompanying the report. At 2:35 a.m., nearly an hour after the plane disappeared from civilian radar, the airline’s operations center told the Kuala Lumpur control center that a “signal download” from the plane indicated that it was halfway up the Vietnam coast on its regular flight path.

The Kuala Lumpur controllers passed that information to Vietnam two minutes later, and for the next hour, air traffic controllers in the region tried in vain to contact the plane.

Only at 3:30 a.m. did the airline tell controllers that the information it had given was “not reliable for aircraft positioning,” according to the timeline. The Kuala Lumpur Rescue Coordination Center went into action two hours later, after “all effort to communicate and locate the aircraft failed,” the report said. The plane was probably still flying at that time, investigators have since concluded.

The investigator’s account of actions by air traffic controllers does not mention any effort to contact any of the three Malaysian military bases whose radar systems tracked the aircraft as it veered off course and flew west across the country. In an email accompanying the investigator’s report, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister, wrote that the “aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator, and therefore no further action was taken at the time.”

Mr. Hishammuddin did not explain how the military operator made that judgment. Nor did the report explain why the Malaysian military radar installation at Butterworth, which doubles as a civilian air traffic control station, did not take part in communications among air traffic controllers across the region about the missing plane.

Military radar last recorded a trace of the plane at 2:22 a.m., as it was flying west past the Malacca Strait and out into the ocean, according to a map provided with the investigator’s report. Experts believe that the plane made a mystifying turn to the south shortly thereafter.

Mr. Hishammuddin wrote that he was told at 10:30 a.m. of the “possible turn-back of the aircraft,” and then notified the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, who ordered that searchers look for the plane in the Strait of Malacca, west of the Malaysian peninsula, as well as in the waters east of the peninsula where they were already hunting.

Along with the report and documents, the government released recordings of conversations between air traffic controllers and the pilots of Flight 370. The exchanges were routine and did not appear to reveal anything sinister. The last words heard from the cockpit, at 1:19 a.m. were “Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.”

Firm conclusions about the specific causes of Flight 370’s disappearance are likely to elude investigators unless the plane’s flight recorders are recovered and analyzed. They are believed to be somewhere on the ocean floor, beneath 15,000 feet of water or more.

Searchers have been using the Bluefin-21, a submersible vehicle with sonar, to hunt in an area about 1,000 miles northwest of Perth, Western Australia, where acoustic signals believed to have come from beacons attached to the two flight recorders were detected. Prime Minister Tony Abbott of Australia said on Monday that the deep-sea search would be intensified and expanded to cover a “probable impact zone” 435 miles long and 50 miles wide, a task he said could take six to eight months to complete.

Malaysia Airlines said on its website that it would begin making compensation payments to passengers’ next of kin as soon as possible “in order to meet their immediate economic needs,” and that accepting the payments now would not “affect the rights of the next of kin to claim compensation according to the law at a later stage.”

The airline, which is controlled and part-owned by the Malaysian government, said it would “keep in close touch with the families on news updates through telephone calls, messages, the Internet and face-to-face meetings,” and would open offices in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur to provide support for the families of missing passengers, most of whom were Chinese citizens.

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  1. #1 by Justice Ipsofacto on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 8:29 am

    Four hours??
    What do you mean by four hours?
    That’s mighty quick by umno’s standard.
    I mean look fellas.
    Lingam’s “looks like me, talks like me but not me” scandal was years ago.
    Till today, no actions taken.
    Come on. Four hours. That is super quick.
    Be realistic people.

  2. #2 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 8:32 am

    Defence Minister cum acting Transport Minister released a 5-page preliminary report last night
    Is dis report identical as d 1 sent 2 d International Civil Aviation Organisation last week?

    D preliminary report issued last night is scant on details, compared with d equivalent 128-page preliminary report on Air France 447 or d 40-page preliminary report by d Australian Transport Safety Bureau on d Qantas engine explosion in 2010

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 8:39 am

    MCA’s big fat bosses VERI GRATEFUL 2 VOTERS who rejected MCA in GE13
    Bcos of d REJECTION, MCA kaki did not take up cabinet positions
    Otherwise 1 of them would b d Transport Minister n facing d music now

    How Perkosa-UmnoB wished dat they could CONTROL some international agencies like they CONTROL all agencies (including judiciary, polis, AG chamber, etc) in 1M’sia

  4. #4 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 8:54 am

    Some said d 5-page preliminary report fr Perkosa-UmnoB/BN gomen (infamous 4 OSA, ISA, n whatever SA) oredi TOO long, TOO much, n fantastic
    Could hv been a 2-word report: “Takdir, Inshallah” n d case closed (though left open ended n unaccountable), left 2 b forgotten, just like many many cases (since Maha-liar MMK’s time till now) in dis 1DERful land

    Furthermore, NO 1 has 2 RESIGN 1, just continue 2 carry on, merrily rolling along what.

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 8:56 am

    Some said d 5-page preliminary report fr Perkosa-UmnoB/BN gomen (infamous 4 OSA, ISA, n whatever SA) oredi TOO long, TOO much, n fantastic
    Could hv been a 2-word report: “T@kdir, In$h@llah” n d case closed (though left open ended n unaccountable), left 2 b forgotten, just like many many cases (since Maha-liar MMK’s time till now) in dis 1DERful land

    Furthermore, NO 1 has 2 RESIGN 1, just continue 2 carry on, merrily rolling along what, @ll@hu @kb@r

  6. #6 by yhsiew on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 9:19 am

    ///…17-Minute Delay in Reporting Missing Plane///

    The person in charge went to toilet mah!

  7. #7 by pulama on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 10:49 am

    We have more questions than answers!

    Why did it take seventeen minutes to notice the plane had disappeared from air traffic control screens?
    How long did they take to confirm the plane was indeed missing?
    What happened in the four hours before a search operation began?
    Why search for one week in the South China Sea, if the military suspected the missing plane did a “turn back”? (Or did it not turn back?)
    Why was the preliminary report so short? Only five pages! (in 2009, Air France flight 447 preliminary report was 128 pages)
    Why wait three weeks before releasing the five-page document? (This MH370 report was dated April 8.)
    When was the report submitted to ICAO? (why so late?)

  8. #8 by Cinapek on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 11:03 am

    “…Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister, wrote that the “aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator, and therefore no further action was taken at the time.”

    Hmmm?! Malaysia must have the distinct honour of having the only radar operator in the world who can actually read the minds of pilots of planes hundred of miles away whether they are friendly or not.

    Or is the radar operator a disciple of the Raja Bomoh and could “see” the intentions of the pilot through his bamboo binoculars?

    I think our Defence Minister could do better than to give this as an excuse…

  9. #9 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 11:17 am

    Mayb 1M’sia has SPECIAL radars dat display a dot with d accompanying remark: “Hey, I am your friend” or “Hey, I am NOT your friend”, LOL

  10. #10 by boh-liao on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 11:42 am

    WHO was or were in charge of d civilian radar screens on dat fateful moment (just before, during, and just after d crucial 17 minutes)?

    WHAT did he/she or they do just before, during, and just after d crucial 17 minutes?

    Went 2 toilet? Sleeping? Playing computer games? Busy texting? Sextexting? Taking selfies? Surfing the Internet? Online gambling? Online trading? Watching videos n sodomy 1 n 2?

    Did police investigate him/her or them?

  11. #11 by TheWrathOfGrapes on Friday, 2 May 2014 - 4:44 pm

    /// The investigator’s account of actions by air traffic controllers does not mention any effort to contact any of the three Malaysian military bases whose radar systems tracked the aircraft as it veered off course and flew west across the country. In an email accompanying the investigator’s report, Hishammuddin Hussein, Malaysia’s defense minister, wrote that the “aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator, and therefore no further action was taken at the time.” ///

    American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 were also “friendly” just before they slammed into the North and South Tower of the World Trade Center.

  12. #12 by narasimam on Saturday, 3 May 2014 - 6:45 am

    gomen too long in power. believes it owns the world as well. plane goes missing. radar detects but assumes it friendly coz we’re friendly nation. i mean who wants to attack m’sia coz militants/false passports use us as springboards to launch their mission; like 911.

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