MILITARY radar in Thailand detected a plane that might have been Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 just minutes before the jet’s communications went down.
Thai military officials said yesterday that it took them ten days to report radar blips that might have been the plane because they were not specifically asked for the information.
A coalition of 26 countries, including Thailand, is looking for the Boeing 777, which vanished on 8 March with 239 people on board on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Search crews are scouring two giant arcs of territory equivalent in size to Australia – half of it in the remote seas of the southern Indian Ocean.
Commander William Marks, a spokesman for the US 7th Fleet, said finding the plane was like trying to locate a few people somewhere between New York and California.
Malaysian officials said early in the search that they suspected the plane backtracked and flew towards the Strait of Malacca, just west of Malaysia. But it took a week for them to confirm Malaysian military radar data that suggested that route. Thai military officials said yesterday their own radar showed an unidentified plane, possibly Flight 370, flying towards the strait only minutes after the Malaysian jet’s transponder signal was lost.
Air force spokesman air vice marshal Montol Suchookorn said the Thai military did not yet know whether the plane it detected was Flight 370.
Thailand’s failure to share possible information about the plane quickly may not substantially change what Malaysian officials now know, but it raises questions about the degree to which some countries are sharing their defence data.
Flight 370 took off from Kuala Lumpur at 12:40am Malaysian time and its transponder, which allows air traffic controllers to identify and track the plane, ceased communicating at 1:20am.
Mr Suchookorn said that at 1:28am, 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 towards Kuala Lumpur.
The plane later turned right, towards Butterworth, a Malaysian city along the Malacca strait.
The radar signal was infrequent and did not include any data such as the flight number.
When asked why it took so long to release the information, Mr Suchookorn 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.
Hunger strike threat over ‘lack of information’ from Malaysia
Furious Chinese families have threatened to go on hunger strike until the Malaysian government tells them the fate of their relatives on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight.
Ten days after the airliner vanished, hundreds of family members were still waiting for information in a Beijing hotel yesterday.
Around two-thirds of the 239 passengers on board the flight are Chinese.
Families vented their anger at Chinese representatives sent by the airline to meet them yesterday.
One middle-aged woman said: “What we want is the truth. Don’t let them become victims of politics. No matter what political party you are, no matter how much power you have, if there isn’t life, what’s the point?”
The Chinese representative from the airline said what information the families received was beyond his control.
In response families shouted: “Keep protesting. Respect life. Don’t let them become victims of politics. Tell us the truth.”
A woman who had led the chanting held up a piece of paper with slogans written on it, and said the families were calling for a hunger strike.
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.
China announced yesterday that background checks of the 154 Chinese citizens on board turned up no links to terrorism.