Malaysia has released a much-anticipated report on Flight MH370, chronicling its slow-footed response to the airliner’s disappearance, but which contains 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 Organization (ICAO), was mostly a recap of information that had already been released over time.
It details how the plane was missing for 17 minutes before authorities noticed, it took four hours to begin a rescue operation and eight hours before civilian services the plane had changed course.
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 jet was first noticed missing at around 1.38am 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 1.21am.
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 long-ruling government, which has a poor record on transparency, 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, but is continuing to investigate what happened to MH370.
Some relatives of passengers have angrily accused the government and airline of incompetence and withholding incriminating information, charges that are denied.
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines will cease to provide hotel accommodation for relatives of missing flight MH370 passengers by May 7, the airline says.
The Malaysian flag carrier has provided hotel accommodation for relatives in a number of countries – most of them in Malaysia and China – where it provided them periodic updates on the situation since shortly after the flight mysteriously disappeared on March 8.
But relatives’ tempers have repeatedly flared, particularly at the Lido Hotel in Beijing, where Chinese families have regularly lashed out at officials from the Malaysian government and the airline over their inability to explain the plane’s disappearance.
“Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends,” the airline said in a statement.
“In line with this adjustment, Malaysia Airlines will be closing all of its family assistance centres around the world by 7 May, 2014.”
Wen Wancheng, whose son was on the flight, said that relatives have come under pressure from time to time to leave the hotel and go back home, but was adamant that they would refuse.
“Today, MAS brought this up officially and we’re not going to accept it,” he told AFP, referring to the airline.
“They made the commitment in March that they wouldn’t drive us out of the Lido until any wreckage was found,” he said.
The government-controlled carrier also said it would soon make advance compensation payments to the next-of-kin of the 239 people on board the plane, part of a final package to be agreed upon later, but did not specify the amounts.
Wen, the Chinese relative, expressed concern about the payments.
“It has to have a legal basis,” he said.
“Is this for relatives’ mental damages or the casualties of our family members on board?”
About two-thirds of those aboard the missing plane, which vanished from radar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, were Chinese nationals.
The plane is believed to have inexplicably diverted from its course and crashed in the Indian Ocean, however, a multi-nation search for plane wreckage has failed to find any evidence despite weeks of looking.