A long-anticipated preliminary report reviewing the actions surrounding the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 shows that Malaysia Airlines relayed incorrect information about the location of the plane to Vietnam in the early hours of its disappearance, waiting four hours after the plane’s disappearance before calling for a search operation.
The report, which Reuters calls “the most comprehensive account yet” of the events the night Flight 370 disappeared, reveals that Malaysian air traffic controllers signed off when the plane reached Vietnamese airspace, assuming the plane would check in with Vietnamese officials. The plane did not check in, and, most controversially, Malaysia Airlines incorrectly told Vietnamese air traffic employees that the plane was over Cambodia. That incorrect announcement was based on projections of where the plane should have been.
Meanwhile, military radar spotted the plane turning westward toward the Strait of Malacca, but Reuters notes the report says no action was taken concerning the wayward plane because it was deemed a “friendly” aircraft. After 17 minutes passed, Vietnamese air traffic controllers began wondering where the plane was, as it had not checked in, triggering hours of confusion, during which time Malaysian air traffic control contacted officials in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Cambodia to see whether the pilot had contacted any of them. He had not.
Malaysia Airlines, nonetheless, told Vietnam that the plane was on track about an hour after its disappearance, which falsely reassured their officials.
Four hours after the plane last sent a message to air traffic control, around 5:20 A.M., the decision was made to involve a search and rescue team.
The report also makes one recommendation, which is for a system of real-time international surveillance of commercial airlines to track planes, particularly when they are not flying in a defined national airspace or are transitioning between air traffic control teams. “It is recommended that the International Civil Aviation Organisation examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft,” the report states, citing the disappearance of Air France 447’s black boxes as another incident in which real time tracking could have significantly helped the search.
Investigators have announced this week that the search for MH370 will enter a new phase in the coming weeks, with Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott warning that he expects the search to take about eight months. The Malaysian government has told the relatives of those on board, mostly Chinese citizens, to return home, rather than continue to stay in Kuala Lumpur, and to trust the government to deliver them the necessary updates, which will take months to acquire. The government also closed assistance centers that they had opened for the relatives to stay while the search continued. This elicited an outburst of anger toward the Malaysian government for expelling them from the government-subsidized temporary quarters.
Read the full report from the Malaysian government via CNN here.