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Thai radar might have tracked missing plane

By Chris Brummitt & Thanyarat Doksone

Associated Press

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 11:02 a.m. HST, Mar 18, 2014


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 seas of the southern Indian Ocean.

Cmdr. William Marks, a spokesman for the U.S. 7th Fleet, said finding the plane was like trying to locate a few people somewhere between New York and California.

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.

Thai military officials said Tuesday 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.

Air force spokesman Air Vice Marshal Montol Suchookorn said the Thai military doesn't know whether the plane it detected was Flight 370.

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.

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.

Montol 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. The radar signal was infrequent and did not include data such as the flight number.

When asked why it took so long to release the information, Montol said, "Because we did not pay any attention to it. The Royal Thai Air Force only looks after any threats against our country." He 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.

"When they asked again and there was new information and assumptions from (Malaysian) Prime Minister Najib Razak, we took a look at our information again," Montol said. "It didn't take long for us to figure out, although it did take some experts to find out about it."

The search area for the plane initially focused on the South China Sea. Pings that a satellite detected from the plane hours after its communications went down eventually led authorities to concentrate instead on two vast arcs -- one into Central Asia and the other into the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia said over the weekend the loss of communications and change in the aircraft's course were deliberate, whether it was the pilots or others aboard who were responsible.

Malaysian police are considering the possibility of hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or anyone else on board, but have yet to say what they have uncovered.

Investigators had pointed to a sequence of events in which two communications systems were disabled in succession -- one of them before a voice from the cockpit gave an all-clear message to ground controllers -- as evidence of a deliberate attempt to fly the plane off-course in a hard-to-detect way. On Monday, they backtracked on the timing of the first switch-off, saying it was possible that both were cut around the same time, leading to new speculation that some kind of sudden mechanical or electrical failure might explain the flight going off-course.

Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said some sort of problem aboard the plane was not out of the question, although he noted it still was intact enough to send a signal to a satellite several hours later.

As further confirmation that someone was still guiding the plane after it disappeared from civilian radar, 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.

"If you are going to fly the airplane to a waypoint that is not a straight ... route to Beijing, and you were going to command the flight management computer and the autopilot system, you really have to know how to fly the airplane," said John Gadzinski, a U.S. Boeing 737 captain.

"If you were a basic flight student and I put you in an airborne 777 and gave you 20 minutes of coaching, I could have you turn the airplane left and right and the auto throttle and the autopilot would make the airplane do what you want," he said. "But to program a waypoint into the flight management computer, if that is what they flew over, is a little bit harder."

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 in the disappearance.

"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 Chinese civilian aviation official has said there was no sign of the plane entering the country's airspace on commercial radar.

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."

The search for the aircraft is among the largest in aviation history.

The U.S. Navy said P-3 and P-8 surveillance aircraft were methodically sweeping over swaths of ocean, known as "mowing the grass," while using radar to detect any debris in the water and high-resolution cameras to snap images.

Australian and Indonesian planes and ships are searching waters to the south of Indonesia's Sumatra Island all the way down to the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.

Huang said China had begun searching for the plane in its territory, but gave no details. When asked at a Foreign Ministry briefing in Beijing what this search involved, ministry spokesman Hong Lei said only that satellites and radar were being used.

China also was sending ships to the Indian Ocean, where they will search 300,000 square kilometers (186,000 square miles) of sea.

The area being covered by the Australians is even bigger -- 600,000 square kilometers (232,000 square miles) -- and will take weeks, said John Young, manager of Australian Maritime Safety Authority's emergency response division.

"This search will be difficult. The sheer size of the search area poses a huge challenge," Young said. "A needle in a haystack remains a good analogy."

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron telephoned his Malaysian counterpart to offer the U.K.'s help in the first direct contact between the two since the flight disappeared, according to Downing Street.

Cameron did not offer specifics on what particular military or civilian assistance could be provided, the prime minister's spokesman, Jean-Christophe Gray, said Tuesday.

"It was very much inviting any specific requests from the Malaysians," Gray said. "Prime Minister Najib said he would think about that and let us know if they have any specific requests."

___

Doksone reported from Bangkok. AP writers Ian Mader, Jim Gomez and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Joan Lowy in Washington and Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.







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lokela wrote:
Something sure smells fishy here. Either crashed or landed bet someone knows where the plane is.
on March 18,2014 | 06:30AM
cojef wrote:
The 777 aircraft has been in operation many years and have experienced thousands of landings and take-offs which lends itself to metal fatigue aggravated by the possibility of corrosion of an area where the antenna housing is located. This we know by the equipment maintenance notice sent out by Boeing. Plus on this particular flight, this aircraft was reported as flying over its recommended operating ceiling(35/38,000) and also operating at level far below(5,000) the economic level of operation for a length of time consume much fuel, affecting the flight range drastically. Thus, it preclude a lengthy flight to a secret landing field, and suggest a crash into the ocean due equipment failure in nearby waters.
on March 18,2014 | 10:59AM
inverse wrote:
Mechanical failure does not explain why the jets transponder was turned off. Mechanical failure also does not explain why the pilot / copilot do not radio in a problem with their plane. Also mechanical failure does not explain with the plane was so far off course. If it was mechanical failure alone the plane would have crashed in the vicinity of their pre-determined flight plan and wreckage would have been along the route they were supposed to take.
on March 18,2014 | 02:24PM
Hawaii5OhOh wrote:
Flight 370 probably landed on Ngazidja (Grand Comore Island), part of the Comoro Islands located northwest of Madagascar on March 9th. By now, the plane has been repainted and disguised, and probably flew on to another destination. The island is rife with Al Qaeda and corruption, like smuggling (drugs, people, etc), so this would be the first place I would look. The heading the plane took when they turned southwest in the South China Sea was the true direction of the flight on to the Comoros islands. However, they had to turn northeast for a short period to avoid Indonesian airspace, and then, resumed turning to the southwest. The Comoro islands launder their money in India, but if Al Qaeda is involved, who knows what banks were used to pay the pilots for hijacking the plane. InterPol and the CIA should try and trace the payments to the pilots. They should also look at their phone records and see who they talked to before the flight.
on March 18,2014 | 09:29AM
serious wrote:
Looks like the KeyStone Kops have another clue. Reminds me of the old Perils of Pauline.
on March 18,2014 | 09:36AM
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