Malaysia on Thursday released its most comprehensive account yet of what happened to missing Flight MH370, in a preliminary report that detailed the route the plane probably took as it veered off course and revealed the confusion that followed.
It showed four hours elapsed between the first sign that the Malaysia Airlines jet had failed to report in when expected to and the decision to mount a search operation - and that time included lapses of communication and a false lead from the airline itself.
The document, dated April 9, also contributed to a growing safety debate by urging the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the U.N. body that oversees aviation, to consider introducing a system for tracking commercial jets.
The call comes ahead of a meeting at the Montreal-based agency later this month to address mounting pressure for improvements to fill communications blind spots over the world's oceans, but until now regulators have said such systems still need to be proven despite lobbying by the satellite industry.
The Malaysian government and military have come under intense criticism for their handling of events on and after March 8, when the Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared with 239 passengers and crew on board.
Although the preliminary report issued by the Ministry of Transport leaves many key questions about what happened nearly eight weeks ago unanswered, and is not intended to resolve speculation about the cause, Malaysia may be hoping it sets the record straight on at least some of the contentious issues.
The fate of Flight MH370 remains a mystery despite the biggest search operation in commercial aviation history, and relatives of the passengers on board are desperate for confirmation of what happened to their loved ones.
Boeing, the manufacturer of the 777 aircraft, will also be keen to learn exactly what caused the plane to veer sharply off course and disappear from sight, and in particular whether it was mechanical failure or human intervention.
While not ruling out technical faults, a parallel Malaysian police investigation has so far focused on the pilots amid signs that the aircraft followed a twisting and deliberate course for at least the first hour of its journey off course.
Thailand and Indonesia
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 said the radar operator took no further action because the aircraft was deemed "friendly".
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In an accompanying statement, Defense and Acting Transport 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, said they had not heard from its pilots.
They told their Malaysian counterparts the "radar blip" had disappeared at a navigation point called BITOD about half way between Malaysia and Vietnam. Investigators suspect the aircraft's radar transponder was turned off at about that time.
The airline at first wrongly told controllers the jet was over Cambodia and later that it had passed over Vietnam, but this turned out to be a projection rather than real information.