Missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Government report suggests official search for plane did not begin until four hours after disappearance

Air traffic controllers did not realise MH370 was missing until 17 minutes after it vanished off the radar

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The Independent Online

Air traffic controllers apparently did not realise the Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared from civilian radar, according to the preliminary report on the plane's disappearance released by Malaysia's government today.

The information came as part of a five page report detailing the investigation into the jetliner, which vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The report comes after Malaysia Airlines asked relatives of those on board to leave the accommodation they were providing for them and return home. It promised to keep families updated on the search.

The plane disappeared off Malaysian radar at 1.21 am, but Vietnamese air traffic controllers only queried about it at 1.38 am, according to the report, which was sent last month to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Malaysian authorities did not launch an official search and rescue operation until four hours later, at 5.30 am, after efforts to locate the plane failed, The Associated Press reported.

A separate report detailing the actions taken by air traffic controllers showed Vietnamese controllers contacted Kuala Lumpur after they failed to establish verbal contact with the pilots and the plane didn't show up on their radar.

This second document showed that Malaysia Airlines at one point thought the plane may have entered Cambodian airspace.

The airline said in the report that "MH370 was able to exchange signals with the flight and flying in Cambodian airspace," but Cambodian authorities said they had no information or contact with Flight 370. It was unclear which flight it was referring to that exchanged signals with MH370.

In addition to the report, dated 9 April, the government also released other information from the investigation, including audio recordings of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic control, the plane's cargo manifest and its seating plan.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said Malaysia's military radar tracked the jet making a turn-back in a westerly direction across Peninsular Malaysia after playing back radar data the next morning, nearly seven hours after the plane vanished from civilian radar.

He said he was informed about the military discovery two hours later and relayed this to Najib, who immediately ordered a search in the Strait of Malacca. He defended the military's inaction in pursuing the plane for identification. 

"The aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator and therefore no further action was taken at the time," Mr Hishammuddin said.

The preliminary report recommended the International Civil Aviation Organization "examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft."

Additional reporting by Associated Press.