NYT: Malaysian govt had military radar data from Day 1, intentionally searched wrong area

A devastating story in the NYT about missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  It seems Malaysian military radar picked up the now-transponderless plane doing a very wide u-turn over the Gulf of Thailand, heading back over some of Malaysia’s biggest cities, and heading into the Strait of Malaca (between Malaysia and Indonesia), and no one noticed.

Oh but it gets better.  Within a few hours of the plane being reported missing, Malaysian officials realized their error, realized the plane had turned around, that it had already left the Gulf of Thailand, but they let the world begin a massive search in – where? – the Gulf of Thailand.

Only one week later did Malaysia call of the search in the Gulf.

What’s more, the NYT reports that aviation experts say the pilot would be the obvious starting point for an investigation, but the Malaysian authorities didn’t search the pilots’ homes until one week after the plane disappeared.

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 14, 2014: two kids signing a billboard for the safe return of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which went missing on March 8 2014. MH370 remains missing to date. cjmac / Shutterstock.com

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – MARCH 14, 2014: two kids signing a billboard for the safe return of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which went missing on March 8 2014. MH370 remains missing to date. cjmac / Shutterstock.com

There are a few possibilities as to why the Malaysians let the world spend a lot of money, and wasted time, searching in an area that they knew was the wrong place – and potentially putting the lives of the passengers at risk, had the plane crashed and any were still alive.

1. No one told the senior brass that they had the data. It seems a bit odd that within hours of finding out the plane is missing you’d find the radar data on the plane, but you wouldn’t tell your boss.  Then again, if you’d been asleep at the switch, and didn’t see the plane fly over one of your country’s largest cities, you might not want to tell your boss that you messed up.

2. Same goes for the senior military brass.  Perhaps they were informed, but feared telling the Prime Minister how monumentally they botched this.

In fact, the NYT says the commander of Malaysia’s Air Force found out about the radar data the same day – that first day. More on that below.

3. And the same goes for the Prime Minister. No matter when he found out, he might have felt it was in Malaysian’s national interest not to admit how completely unprepared it is for unidentified aircraft violating its airspace.

4. Though a longshot, what if Malaysian military radar operators did see the jet live, did report it, and after trying to contact it, the government ordered it shot down?  That too would be a reason they might want to hide it after the fact.  Though I’m not sure you can hide a jet that you just blew up – there’d be witnesses on the ground and/or wreckage and/or possible satellite detection of the explosion.  Also, the first three reasons are simpler and thus more likely.

The NYT article concludes:

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 14, 2014: two kids signing a billboard for the safe return of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which went missing on March 8 2014. MH370 remains missing to date. cjmac / Shutterstock.com

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA – MARCH 14, 2014: two kids signing a billboard for the safe return of Malaysia Airlines MH370 which went missing on March 8 2014. MH370 remains missing to date. cjmac / Shutterstock.com

The failure to identify Flight 370’s errant course meant that a chance to send military aircraft to identify and redirect the jet, a Boeing 777, was lost. And for five days the crews on an armada of search vessels, including two American warships, focused the bulk of their attention in the waters off Malaysia’s east coast, far from the plane’s actual path.

General Rodzali [commander of Malaysia’s Air Force] went to the Butterworth air force base the day that the plane disappeared and was told of the radar blips, the person familiar with the investigation said. The Malaysian government nonetheless assigned most of its search and rescue resources, as well as ships and aircraft offered by other nations, to a search of the Gulf of Thailand where the aircraft’s satellite transponder was turned off, while allocating minimal attention to the Strait of Malacca on the other, western side of Peninsular Malaysia.


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Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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