KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Ten days after a Malaysian jetliner disappeared, Thailand’s military said Tuesday it saw radar blips that might have been from the missing plane but didn’t report it because we did not pay attention to it.
Search crews from 26 countries, including Thailand, are looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished early March 8 with 239 people aboard en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Frustration is growing among relatives of those on the plane at the lack of progress in the search.
Aircraft and ships are scouring two giant arcs of territory amounting to the size of Australia – half of it in the remote waters of the southern Indian Ocean.
Early in the search, Malaysian officials said they suspected the plane backtracked toward the Strait of Malacca, just west of Malaysia. But it took a week for them to confirm Malaysian military radar data suggesting that route.
Military officials in neighboring Thailand said Tuesday that their own radar showed an unidentified plane, possibly Flight 370, flying toward the strait beginning minutes after the Malaysian jet’s transponder signal was lost.
Thailand’s failure to quickly share possible information about the plane may not substantially change what Malaysian officials now know, but it raises questions about the degree to which some countries are sharing their defense data. At a minimum, safety experts said, the radar data could have saved time and effort that was initially spent searching the South China Sea, many miles from the Indian Ocean.
It’s just bizarre they didn’t come forward before, Scott Hamilton, managing director of aviation consultancy Leeham Co., said of Thai authorities. It may be too late to help the search but maybe them and the Malaysian military should do joint military exercises in incompetence.
Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40 a.m. March 8, and its transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to identify and track it, ceased communicating at 1:20 a.m.
Thailand Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn said that at 1:28 a.m., Thai military radar was able to detect a signal, which was not a normal signal, of a plane flying in the direction opposite from the MH370 plane, back toward Kuala Lumpur. The plane later turned right, toward Butterworth, a Malaysian city along the Strait of Malacca.
Montol said the plane never entered Thai airspace and that Malaysia’s initial request for information in the early days of the search was not specific.
Malaysia said over the weekend that the loss of communications and change in the aircraft’s course were deliberate. Airline pilots and aviation safety experts said an onboard computer called the flight management system would have to be deliberately programmed in order to follow the route taken by the plane as described by Malaysian authorities.
Investigators have asked security agencies in countries with passengers on board to carry out background checks.
China said background checks of the 154 Chinese citizens on board turned up no links to terrorism, apparently ruling out the possibility that Uighur Muslim militants who have been blamed for terror attacks within China might have been involved.
So far there is nothing, no evidence to suggest that they intended to do harm to the plane, said Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador to Malaysia.
A group of relatives of Chinese passengers in Beijing said they decided to begin a hunger strike to express their anger over the handling of the investigation.
One relative displayed a sign reading, Hunger strike protest. Respect life. Return my relative. Don’t want become victim of politics, Tell the truth.