By Siva Govindasamy
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia released a preliminary report on missing Flight MH370 on Thursday in which it recommended that the U.N. body overseeing global aviation consider introducing a system for tracking commercial aircraft in real time.
The document, dated April 9, also provided fresh details of attempts the authorities in Kuala Lumpur made to locate the Malaysia Airlines plane carrying 239 passengers and crew and of the exact flight path it is believed to have taken.
Flight MH370 disappeared off civilian radars while on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, and its fate remains a mystery despite the biggest search operation in aviation history.
In the report, Malaysia’s Transport Ministry pointed to the disappearance of Flight MH370 and Air France Flight AF447 in 2009 as evidence that a system for real-time tracking would help to locate missing aircraft more easily in future.
“There have now been two occasions during the last five years when large commercial air transport aircraft have gone missing and their last position was not accurately known,” it said. “This uncertainty resulted in significant difficulty in locating the aircraft in a timely manner.”
The report called on the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to “examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft”.
Families of the missing passengers, the majority of whom are Chinese, have directed their anger largely at Malaysia’s authorities and military for failing to do enough to track the aircraft after it turned back after takeoff.
DETAILS OLD AND NEW
The report confirmed that military radar tracked a plane as it turned in a westerly direction across the Malaysian Peninsula on the morning of March 8, and that it took no further action because the aircraft was deemed “friendly”.
In an accompanying statement, Acting Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the military data was played back that morning and after he and Prime Minister Najib Razak were informed of the possible turnback, military ships and an aircraft were sent to look for MH370 in the Straits of Malacca.
The report also described what appeared to be frantic attempts to trace the aircraft, with air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur contacting counterparts in Singapore, Hong Kong and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when something appeared to have gone awry.
Kuala Lumpur was initially informed of a problem when air traffic controllers in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, who were meant to take over monitoring MH370 around the time the plane disappeared, inquired about its whereabouts.
Released to the public for the first time were recordings of conversations between the cockpit of MH370 and Kuala Lumpur air traffic control and maps showing MH370’s probable flight path.
According to the maps, after MH370 turned back from the South China Sea, it cut cross the southernmost tip of Thailand near the border with the Malaysian state of Kelantan and then flew across the Malaysian Peninsula.
It made a turn to the west in the Straits of Malacca near Penang and flew beyond the limits of Malaysian military radar.
After leaving Malaysian military radar coverage, it turned south and flew over the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island before heading for the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean off Australia’s western coast where a massive underwater search is now concentrated.
Malaysia also released MH370’s cargo manifest, confirming that the plane was carrying over 4.5 metric tons of mangosteen fruits and almost 2.5 metric tons of lithium ion batteries.
A stamp on the bill for the batteries states that they were packed according to International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations.
Shortly before the report was issued, Malaysia Airlines urged families of missing passengers to return home where they would be updated with any fresh information.
Many relatives from China, Malaysia and elsewhere have remained in Kuala Lumpur to keep up with the latest progress concerning their loved ones.
The airline said it would close down its centers, where affected families were being assisted around the world, by May 7. The airline added that it would pay early compensation to those who qualified. The payments would not affect their rights to claim additional compensation at a later stage.
“Malaysia Airlines’ thoughts and prayers remain with the families of all those onboard MH370,” the company said.
(Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Mark Heinrich)