The Malaysian prime minister has finally confirmed reports that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 was tracked by military radar, as he prepared to host US President Barack Obama in Kuala Lumpur seven weeks after the plane disappeared.
Najib Razak said a preliminary report into the incident would be made available to the public over the course of the coming week. It is expected to raise the issue of how Malaysia’s air force and surveillance networks failed to track the plane once it lost contact with civilian air traffic controllers.
Previous reports have suggested that on the night of MH370’s disappearance on 8 March, military radar picked up a mysterious aircraft moving across the Malaysian peninsula, but government officials have remained vague on any link to the missing Boeing 777.
Speaking to CNN, Mr Najib confirmed that the radar did indeed track the plane once it had turned back from its original flight path – but said that this was only established “after the event”.
He said he believed there was someone monitoring the radar at the time, but that nothing more was done to investigate the unidentified aircraft because “it was deemed not to be hostile”.
“It behaved like a commercial airline, following a normal flight path,” Mr Najib said.
Meanwhile, Mr Obama said on Sunday that the US was fully committed to providing more assets to assist in the search for wreckage from the plane in the southern Indian Ocean.
The US Navy’s submersible vehicle Bluefin 21 continued to scan the sea floor in the search area on Sunday, but bad weather prevented efforts from the air and on the surface.
In pictures: Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
In pictures: Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
1/13 Chinese relatives
A family member of a passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 burns incense as he prays at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
2/13 Chinese relatives
Family members of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 burn incense to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
3/13 Chinese relatives
A family member of a passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 comforts another relative as they gather to pray at Yonghegong Lama Temple in Beijing
4/13 Chinese relatives
Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cry as they gather at the Lama Temple in Beijing. Chinese relatives marked 100 days since the plane went missing on a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing by offering prayers and burning incense at the buddhist temple
5/13 Chinese relatives
Relatives of passengers on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 offer prayers at the Lama Temple in Beijing
6/13 Chinese relatives
A Chinese relative of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 prays at the Lama Temple in Beijing
7/13 Chinese relatives
Chinese relatives of passengers of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 hold incense sticks and pray at the Lama Temple in Beijing
8/13 Malaysian relatives
Intan Maizura Othman (34) wife of MH370 fligh attendant Hazrin Hasnan holds placard during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
9/13 Malaysian relatives
A young relative tries to stick paper planes on a board during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
10/13 Malaysian relatives
Pictures of crews and passengers is displayed during an event to remember the 100th day of the missing crews and passengers of Malaysian Airlines plane MH370 in Damansara, Selangor
11/13 Chinese relatives
Chinese police men try to prevent relatives of Chinese passengers onboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370 from marching to the Malaysian embassy from a hotel in Beijing
12/13 Search for flight MH370
Boatswain's Mate, Able Seaman Morgan Macdonald (L) observing markers from a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3K Orion at sea in the Southern Indian Ocean. An oil slick in the Indian Ocean is not from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, officials said when insisting underwater search efforts would be 'pursued to their completion'
13/13 Search for flight MH370
Craig Turner from Phoenix International monitoring the Artemis' depth and speed as the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle scans the ocean floor for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 in the southern Indian Ocean
“We are currently consulting very closely with our international partners on the best way to continue the search into the future,” said the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in charge of the search.
Malaysia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Britain and the US are assisting Australia in trying to solve the most expensive search in aviation history.
A US defence official told Reuters on Friday that the sea search is likely to drag on for years as it enters the much more difficult phase of scouring broader areas of the ocean near where the plane is believed to have crashed.
Mr Obama said: “Obviously we don't know all the details but we do know the plane went down in the ocean in this part of this world. It is a big place and it is a very challenging and laborious effort. It is going to take quite some time.”