Missing Malaysia Airlines plane: Timeline of events on Flight MH370

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 carrying 239 people lost contact with air traffic control some two hours after leaving Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8. Till today, its whereabouts remain a mystery. Here is a timeline of the unfolding saga:

Saturday, March 8, 2014

12.41am: Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER jetliner carrying 239 people, takes off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing.

1.07am: Last transmission from the plane through the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), which transmits key information on a plane’s condition, based on information which emerged later.

Between 1.07am and 1.37am: ACARS was manually switched off. The next transmission expected at 1.37am did not take place.

1.19am: Last pilot communication with air traffic control. An apparently relaxed final voice communication – “All right, good night” - comes from the cockpit, as the plane passes from Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control over the South China Sea. The airline said on March 17 that initial investigations indicate that it was co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid speaking.

About 1.31am: Last definitive sighting on civilian radar screens of MH370, heading north-east across the mouth of the Gulf of Thailand.

2.15am: A military defence radar picks up an unidentified blip 322km north-west of Penang. Malaysia confirmed later that the flight picked up by the radar was MH370.

6.30am: The flight did not land in Beijing as scheduled.

7.24am: MAS announced it had lost contact with the flight.

8.11am: Last confirmed communication between the plane and a satellite, based on information which emerged later. Investigators have determined that the plane's last communication with the satellite was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand and a southern corridor from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.

11.14am: MAS held a news conference confirming the loss of contact with its aircraft.

1.41pm: State media reported Vietnam navy said plane crashed into sea near Vietnam's Tho Chu island.

2.33pm: At press conference held in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Malaysia's transport minister said report on MH370 crash in Vietnam was "not true".

3.38pm: Plane "could have" crashed into Malaysian maritime territory 153 miles off the coast of Vietnam's Tho Chu island, based on calculations provided by Malaysian rescue authorities, a Vietnam navy officer said.

8.15pm: Chinese President Xi Jinping called for emergency measures to locate the plane.

9.11pm: Vietnamese search team spots two oil slicks in the sea off southern Vietnam.

10.46pm: Reports emerge that one passenger from Italy was not on the flight, his passport had been stolen in Thailand last year.

10.50pm: Vietnamese search team spots column of smoke off Vietnamese coastline.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

12.04am: Reports say a second passenger, from Austria, was also not on the flight. His passport was stolen two years ago in Thailand. Both the imposters bought their tickets from China Southern Airlines on a code share with Malaysia Airlines.

2.45am: Malaysia's Maritime Enforcement Agency intensifies search operations off the Kelantan coast, where the missing plane was last spotted, after rescuers found a small piece of canvas floating there.

10.02am: Overnight search and rescue operations for the missing plane have turned up nothing, the Malaysian authorities said.

10.42am: Singapore's navy said it has sent two warships and a naval helicopter to help in the six-country search for the plane. This is in addition to a military transport plane that was deployed on Saturday.

11.20am: The Malaysian authorities are investigating the identities of at least two other passengers on the flight, in addition to two who were found to be using stolen passports, a security official said.

11.57am: FBI is sending agents to probe disappearance of plane.

1.25pm: Singapore's Ministry of Defence says two military transport planes, a naval helicopter, two warships and a submarine support and rescue vessel are currently involved in the search.

- Malaysia says the plane may have turned back towards Kuala Lumpur, for no apparent reason.

- Late on Sunday, a Vietnamese plane spots possible debris in the sea near Tho Chu island, part of a small archipelago off south-west Vietnam. It turns out to be a false alarm.

Monday, March 10, 2014

- The authorities double the search radius to 100 nautical miles (equivalent to 185km) around the point where MH370 disappeared from radar. 

- China lashes out at Malaysia, saying it needs to speed up the investigation.

- In the afternoon, Malaysia sends ships to investigate a sighting of a possible life raft, but a Vietnamese vessel that gets there first finds only flotsam.

- Chemical analysis by Malaysia disproves any link between oil slicks found at sea and the missing plane.

- Boeing experts join the investigation. The US aircraft maker says it is giving technical advice to a team from the US National Transportation Safety Board that is already in South-east Asia to offer assistance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

- The search area now includes land on the Malaysian peninsula itself, the waters off its west coast, and an area to the north of Indonesia’s Sumatra island – all far removed from the flight’s scheduled route.

- Interpol names the two men travelling on stolen passports as Iranians Delavar Seyed Mohammadreza, aged 30, and Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 18. Malaysian officials say they believe the pair are illegal immigrants and that people-smuggling is the likeliest explanation for the identity fraud.

- Malaysian police say they are focusing on theories including a hijacking, sabotage or psychological problems among those on board, but stress there is still no evidence to support any scenario.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

- Malaysia expands the search zone to include the Malacca Strait off the country’s west coast and the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia, hundreds of kilometres away. The total zone now stands at 27,000 square nautical miles (over 90,000 sq km) – an area roughly the size of Portugal.

- Malaysian air force chief Rodzali Daud says an unidentified object was detected on military radar north of the Malacca Strait at 2.15am on Saturday, less than an hour after the plane lost contact, but says it is still being investigated.

- At a heated news conference, Malaysian officials deny that the search is in disarray after China says conflicting information about its course is “pretty chaotic”.

- It emerges that US regulators warned months ago of a “cracking and corrosion” problem on Boeing 777s that could lead to a mid-air break-up. But US officials say their spy satellites detected no sign of a mid-air explosion when the plane lost contact.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

- Malaysia dismisses a report in the Wall Street Journal which said US investigators suspect the plane flew on for four hours after its last known contact, based on data sent from its engines.

- The authorities in Kuala Lumpur also say that Chinese satellite images of suspected debris in the South China Sea are yet another false lead.

- India steps up its search, sending three ships and three aircraft to the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Friday, March 14, 2014

- The hunt spreads west to the Indian Ocean after the White House cites unspecified "new information" that the jet may have flown on after losing contact.

- Malaysia declines to comment on media reports that cite US officials as saying the plane’s communication system continued to "ping" a satellite for hours after it disappeared off the radar. 

- It emerged that the plane continued to "ping" a satellite for hours after it disappeared, suggesting it may have travelled a huge distance.

- A US warship, initially deployed to Thailand, is among the vessels heading to the Indian Ocean.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

- At a dramatic news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announces that the plane appears to have been flown deliberately onwards for hours, veering sharply off-route at roughly the same time that its communications system and transponder were manually switched off.

- Automated satellite communications continued until 8.11 am, Mr Najib reveals, deepening the suspicion of foul play by someone in full control of the cockpit. 

- Satellite data now places the jet anywhere on one of two huge arcs – a northern one stretching into Central Asia and a southern one swooping deep into the Indian Ocean. The search in the South China Sea is called off.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

- Malaysia announces that the number of countries involved in the search has jumped from 14 to 26.

- Suspicions focus on the pilot and co-pilot. Their homes are searched, with experts examining a flight simulator installed in the home of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53.

Monday, March 17, 2014

- The probe into the pilots’ background intensifies as officials confirm that the relaxed-sounding last words from the cockpit – “All right, good night” – came two minutes before the transponder was shut down.

- MAS says the voice is believed to be that of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Police also probe a potential political motive on the part of Captain Zaharie, a supporter and distant relative of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who denounces such talk.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

- China says intelligence checks on the 153 Chinese passengers have produced no red flags.

-  Australian and US surveillance planes begin combing 600,000 square kilometres of the remote Indian Ocean in the southern search corridor.

- The total search area now encompasses an area bigger than Australia, Malaysia says.

- Desperate relatives of the Chinese passengers threaten to go on hunger strike, insisting they are not being given the full truth.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

- Malaysia says background checks on almost all passengers and crew have produced no “information of significance”.

- President Barack Obama says the search is a “top priority” for the United States and that every possible resource has been offered to assist Malaysian authorities, including the FBI.

- A US official says Malaysia has asked the FBI to help recover data deleted from the captain’s home-built flight simulator.

- Angry Chinese relatives try to gatecrash Malaysia’s daily media briefing on the investigation, unfurling a banner reading: “Give us back our families.”

- The massive 26-country search appears bogged down in coordination problems, with some ships and surveillance planes sitting idle pending clearance to enter foreign waters and airspace.

- In a further sign of miscommunication, the Thai air force reveals that its military radar had picked up what appeared to be flight MH370 just minutes after it was diverted.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

- Australia says satellites have spotted two objects – one estimated at 24 metres long – in the southern Indian Ocean on March 16. Officials in both Australia and Malaysia says the imagery is “credible” but caution that it shows nothing definitive yet and may turn out to be a lost shipping container.

- Four search aircraft are dispatched to the area. A Norwegian merchant ship also arrives in the vicinity, while the Australian naval vessel HMAS Success – capable of retrieving any debris – is en route. But poor weather limited visibility and hampered search efforts. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

- Weather cleared up in the south Indian Ocean but planes and vessels did not locate possible debris. The Australia authorities warned that the objects could have sunk. Experts say the possible debris may have drifted hundreds of kilometres from the last location spotted by the satellite on March 16 because of strong currents.

- At the daily media briefing, Malaysia said it has asked for more help, including roping in French experts who investigated the Air France crash in 2009, and asking the United States to provide sonar equipment. It added that it is also looking at deploying special equipment to locate the plane's black box.

- At the briefing, the MAS responded to reports that drew a link between MH370's disappearance and lithium batteries in the plane's cargo which can overheat and cause intense fires. The airline said the batteries were packed according to safety regulations and did not pose a danger.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

-  Malaysia announced at a regular media briefing that Chinese satellite spotted an object about 22 m long and 13 m wide, some 120 km “south by west” of potential debris reported by Australia.

- The new potential sighting was dramatically announced by Malaysia’s acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein after he was handed a note with details during the briefing. "Chinese ships have been dispatched to the area," he told reporters.

- Meanwhile, Britain’s Daily Telegraph published what it said was a transcript of the final 54 minutes of communications between the cockpit of MH370 and Malaysian air control, but few if any new clues emerged. The Malaysian authorities said they were unable to release the transcript as it was part of the investigations but insisted that the Telegraph report was not accurate.

- The issue of cost came under the spotlight, after Pentagon said the US$4 million (S$5.1 million) funding set aside for the search and rescue operation will likely run out in April. But Mr Hishammuddin said at the media briefing that none of the countries involved in the search has raised the issue of cost, and the focus is to find the plane.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

- Along with French satellite data indicating floating objects in the area, sightings of a wooden pallet and other debris raise further hopes of a breakthrough.

Monday, March 24, 2014

-  China says one of its aircraft has spotted two “relatively big floating objects", while Australia announces it also has spotted two separate objects, “one circular and one rectangular", adding to the mounting evidence of debris in the Indian Ocean.

- The US Navy orders a specialised black box locator sent to the area. If found, the device would be crucial in determining what happened to the plane.

- In a separate headache for Malaysia Airlines, another of the flag-carrier’s jets is forced to divert to Hong Kong en route from Kuala Lumpur to Seoul due to electrical problems.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

- Gale-force winds and huge waves force a halt to the search operation in the Indian Ocean.

- In Beijing, emotional Chinese relatives scuffle with guards outside Malaysia’s Beijing embassy, demanding answers.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014- The search resumes, buoyed by a fresh satellite sighting of potential debris by European aerospace giant Airbus.

- A US law firm launches the first legal salvo on behalf of grieving families. Ribbeck Law Chartered International says it is filing lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing for millions of dollars per passenger.

Thursday, March 27, 2014- Thunderstorms and high winds ground the search again, but Thailand reports fresh sightings of floating debris. A late report says Japan also spotted debris.

Friday, March 28, 2014

- A Japanese government official says objects spotted by its satellite are “very probably” from the missing plane.

- Australia announces that the search area has shifted 1,100 km north-east after a “credible new lead” from radar data that the plane was flying faster than first thought before it crashed.

- The weather clears, sending ships and aircraft from six countries – Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States – racing to the new search area.

SOURCE: AFP