On the day Flight 370 vanished, air- traffic controllers and Malaysian Air struggled for hours to understand what was happening even as the country’s military watched the plane appear to reverse course.
The initial confusion was disclosed today in Malaysian government documents tracing the start of a mystery that began March 8. Malaysian and Vietnamese controllers traded phone calls and relayed a tip from the airline that the jet may have gone to Cambodia, according to a log of the early actions in the case.
Earlier that night, the Malaysian military detected an unidentified radar target believed to have been the Boeing Co. 777-200ER as it headed west across the country, according to a statement by Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein.
“The aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator and therefore no further action was taken at the time,” Hishammuddin said in the statement, which didn’t elaborate on any contacts with civilian authorities.
The statement and documents, including a preliminary report dated April 9, gave no new clues about why a beacon that helped mark the plane on radar went dark shortly before the jet aborted its route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board. Investigators have concluded it flew south toward Australia and crashed in the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.
The hunt for the 777 is the longest for a missing passenger jet in modern aviation history. The case has baffled authorities because radar contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip, at 1:21 a.m. local time. No debris has been found in weeks of patrols by planes, ships and a robot submarine.
Malaysian Airline System Bhd. said today it will make advance payments to the next of kin of Flight 370 passengers. The payouts won’t affect families’ rights to claim compensation later, and will be calculated as part of the final sum, the airline said in an e-mailed statement. The carrier didn’t say how much would be disbursed.
Assistance centers for relatives set up around the world will close by May 7, and passengers are being advised to return to their homes and await updates on the investigation instead of staying in hotels, the airline said.
Malaysia has set up a team to probe the disappearance that will consist of three groups with specific focus areas, not including criminal investigation.
The jetliner vanished from civilian radar while headed north over the Gulf of Thailand, then doubled back and flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into the remote waters of the Indian Ocean.
While the motive behind that southerly heading remains unknown, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said the jet was deliberately steered back toward Malaysia as it reached Vietnam’s airspace.
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