Malaysia's MH370 report shows slow response, offers no new clues

A man stands in front of a billboard in support of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 as Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have a meeting at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 23, 2014.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia on Thursday released a much-anticipated report on flight MH370 that chronicled its slow-footed response to the airliner's disappearance but contained no new clues on what happened to the missing plane.

The brief five-page report dated April 9, which was submitted earlier to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), was mostly a recap of information that had already been released over time.

The document and accompanying materials contained no major revelations in what remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.

"Over a month after the aircraft departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport, its location is still unknown," said the report, which was emailed to news organisations.

But the information indicated it took authorities four hours from the time the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) jet was first noticed missing at around 1.38 am on March 8 to initiate an official emergency response.

The air force, meanwhile, took eight hours to formally notify civilian authorities that it had tracked a plane believed to be MH370 moving back across Malaysian airspace and out toward the Indian Ocean.

The jet vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. It is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but a massive search for wreckage has found nothing.

The information release included a summary of exchanges between the national airline and confused Malaysian, Vietnamese and Cambodian air traffic controllers as they sought to determine what happened to the plane after it disappeared from primary radar over the South China Sea at 1.21 am.

The main report is required by the ICAO within 30 days of a crash, and Malaysian authorities have confirmed it was submitted on time. However, they waited another three weeks before releasing the brief document, with Prime Minister Najib Razak saying last week he wanted it to be reviewed first by an "internal" team of experts.

Malaysia's government was heavily criticised for a seemingly chaotic response and contradictory statements on MH370 in the early days of the crisis. It has been tight-lipped about the progress of its ongoing investigations. Some relatives of passengers have angrily accused the government and airline of incompetence and withholding incriminating information, charges that are denied.

A statement accompanying Thursday's release said "as long as the release of a particular piece of information does not hamper the investigation or the search operation, in the interests of openness and transparency, the information should be made public".

Malaysia is continuing to investigate what happened to MH370, saying this week it had appointed a former head of the country's civil aviation department to head an overall probe that will include members of the US National Transportation Safety Board and other foreign aviation agencies.

Thursday's release did not contain information from an ongoing Malaysian police investigation into whether a criminal act such as terrorism was to blame.

Malaysia's air force has acknowledged tracking a radar blip later determined to be MH370 after the plane went missing. It has come under fire for failing to respond to the unidentified image, letting it slip away toward the Indian Ocean and wasting an opportunity to track it.

Thursday's data confirmed that Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein was not informed of the radar blip until 10.30am on March 8, nearly eight hours after it was first monitored.

The report concluded by recommending that the ICAO "examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft," to prevent planes going missing in future.

Malaysian authorities have previously said the plane's transponder, which relays its location, and a separate automated system that transmits information on the state of the aircraft, both appeared to have been shut off around the time it was diverted, suggesting a deliberate act.