A preliminary report claims that Malaysian military radar did track an aircraft making a turnback on the morning of 8 March, but the radar operator classified it as “friendly”.
On what basis was it classified as “friendly”? Was the radar operator able to identify it as MH370? If yes, then it is understandable. But if the transponders were switched off, how was the operator able to identify it as “friendly”?
The preliminary report reveals the following:
The military’s tracking of MH370
As stated previously, Malaysian military radar did track an aircraft making a turn-back, in a westerly direction, across peninsular Malaysia on the morning of 8 March. The aircraft was categorised as friendly by the radar operator and therefore no further action was taken at the time.
The radar data was reviewed in a playback at approximately 08:30 on 8 March. This information was sent to the Air Force operations room at approximately 09:00. Following further discussion up the chain of command, the military informed the Acting Transport and Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein at approximately 10:30 of the possible turn-back of the aircraft. The Minister then informed the Prime Minister, who immediately ordered that search and rescue operations be initiated in the Straits of Malacca, along with the South China Sea operations which started earlier in the day.
During this time, KD Mahamiru, the Mine Counter Measure Vessel and KD Laksamana Muhamad Amin, the Corvette Vessel of the Royal Malaysian Navy were already in the Straits of Malacca on patrol duties. They were immediately retasked to conduct the search and rescue operation. A military aircraft was then sent to join the two ships in the Straits of Malacca at 10:54 to search for MH370.
My understanding is that the RMAF should know beforehand about the schedule of all civilian flights; so it should be able to identify all planes in the air and thus be able to spot unidentified planes. Planes on unexpected routes, especially flying in Malaysian airspace, should come under intense scrutiny.
The chronology of events revealed in the preliminary report does not state when KL air traffic authorities alerted RMAF about the missing plane, assuming they did.
If the RMAF radio operator had spotted the plane making a turnback, surely the air force would have been able to inform KL that its radar had noted a plane making an unexpected turnback and proceeding along an unexpected route. And KL would have been able to inform RMAF that there was a high likelihood that this was their missing MH370 plane.
A glaring and crucual omission from the preliminary report is the timeline for events at the RMAF base in Butterworth and other radar facilities in northern Malaysia.