KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Air-traffic controllers did not realize that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared from civilian radar, according to a preliminary report released Thursday by Malaysia’s government.
Other information from the investigation into the flight, including audio recordings of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic control, the plane’s cargo manifest and its seating plan, also was released.
The government provided a map showing the Boeing 777’s deduced flight path and a document detailing actions taken by authorities during the hours of confusion following the jet’s disappearance. Many of the details have been previously disclosed.
The report noted that there is no requirement for real-time tracking of commercial aircraft and that the uncertainty about Flight 370’s last position made it more difficult to locate the plane.
The plane, carrying 239 people, went off Malaysian radar at 1:21 a.m. on March 8 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Vietnamese air-traffic controllers began contacting Kuala Lumpur at 1:38 a.m. after they failed to establish verbal contact with the pilots and the plane didn’t show up on their radar, according to the five-page report, sent last month to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The documents showed that Malaysian authorities did not begin an official search-and-rescue operation until four hours later, at 5:30 a.m.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last week appointed experts to review all the information the government has about the plane and decide what to make public.
Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities reviewed data from Malaysian military radar hours after the plane vanished from civilian radar and only then discovered that it had tracked the jet making a turn-back in a westerly direction across Peninsular Malaysia.
He said he was told about the discovery two hours later and relayed it to Najib, who immediately ordered a search in the Strait of Malacca. He defended the military’s inaction in pursuing the plane for identification, saying, “The aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator, and, therefore, no further action was taken at the time.”
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines on Thursday told relatives of Flight 370 passengers to move out of hotels and return home. Since the jet’s disappearance, the airline has been putting the relatives up in hotels, where they have been briefed on the search. But the airline said that it would close its family assistance centers around the world by May 7 and that the families should receive search updates from “the comfort of their own homes.”