Malaysia: Military told to monitor MH370

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The saga of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 took a new turn yesterday following latest revelations that the Malaysian military had been told to keep an eye on the plane but had allowed it to disappear off their radar after considering it as non-hostile.

The new revelation was made by acting Transport Minister Mr Hishammuddin Hussein during an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp’s Four Corners programme.

This was the first time that Malaysia had said that civil aviation authorities told the military to keep an eye on the aircraft – a fact which was not mentioned in the five-page preliminary report on the plane’s disappearance released by the Ministry of Transport on May 1.

The much-criticised preliminary report had made no mention of the instructions from the civil aviation authorities to the military to monitor the plane.

Instead, the brief report, which had been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), revealed a chaotic four hours after communications between Malaysia air traffic controllers, the flag carrier and other regional air traffic controllers before a hunt was initiated.

Other information included in the report, which many analysts had said raised more questions than provide crucial answers on the missing jetliner, included details of the cargo manifest and audio recordings of what had transpired between the pilots of the plane and the air traffic controllers when it disappeared on March 8 while on the way to Beijing.

The report showed that there was a complete breakdown in communications between the DCA and the military, an irony considering both share air traffic control facilities at the airport in Subang.

It is now revealed that flight MH370, with 239 passengers and crew on board, had flown almost directly over the Malaysian military air base located on the island of Penang, but it appeared that the Malaysian authorities did nothing.

The Malaysian authorities had been severely criticised over its handling of the investigations into the missing jetliner with the international media, family members of passengers and crew and the public accusing them of hiding and delaying information.

A survey by The Malaysian Insider last month showed that more than half of Malaysians polled believed that the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government had been hiding information about flight MH370’s disappearance.

Out of the 1,029 respondents polled in The Malaysian Insider survey carried out by the Merdeka Center, 54% said Putrajaya was not transparent in releasing information about flight MH370 which vanished on March 8.

In response to the question whether they thought Putrajaya had been truthful or had been hiding anything about MH370, 54% of respondents felt Malaysia had been hiding information, 26% said the government had been truthful while 20% were unsure.

Families of passengers from China had been demanding evidence from the Malaysian authorities to show that the plane had indeed crashed in the southern Indian Ocean and that there were no survivors.

There had been ugly scenes in Beijing as distraught relatives vented their frustrations and anger on Malaysian officials sent to brief them on the investigations.

Speaking on the Four Corners programme, Hishammuddin said that the military did not send a plane up to investigate as “it was not deemed a hostile object and pointless if you are not going to shoot it down”.

He was defending the military’s failure to scramble a fighter jet after flight MH370 had disappeared from civilian radar on March 8 when its transponder stopped transmitting during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing around 1.21am.

The military radar had tracked it after it made a turn-back and turned in a westerly direction across the peninsula.

“If you’re not going to shoot it down, what’s the point of sending it (a fighter) up?” Hishammuddin was quoted as asking on the Four Corners programme.

Delays in pinpointing the Boeing 777-200ER’s location led to days of searching in the South China Sea before analysis from British satellite firm, Inmarsat, pointed its likely course as the Indian Ocean.

Hishammuddin had also said that had the jet been shot down with 239 passengers and crew on board, “I’d be in a worse position, probably”.

He said he was informed of the military radar detection two hours later and relayed it to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, who then ordered a search in the Malacca Strait.

Article first published in The Malaysian Insider