20 Mar 2014

Thailand delayed reporting radar blips

6:47 am on 20 March 2014

Ten days after the disappearance of a Malaysian airliner, neighbouring Thailand has just revealed its military identified radar blips that might have been from the jet.

It says the signals suggested that the plane was flying westwards toward the Malacca Straits, supporting a previous claim by the Malaysian military, and in the opposite direction from its planned flight path.

A giant mural of the missing Malaysian plane at a Manila schoolground.

A giant mural of the missing Malaysian plane at a Manila schoolground. Photo: AFP

Flight MH370 with 239 people on board vanished about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing early on 8 March.

An unprecedented search by teams from 26 countries has so far failed to find any trace of the Boeing 777, which investigators think was diverted by someone with deep knowledge of the plane and commercial navigation.

As nine Chinese ships belatedly join the search flotilla in the Indian Ocean on Wednesday, the BBC's reports the Thai delay is being seen as "unprofessional".

Thailand's air force said on Tuesday a re-examination of its radar data found what may have been the plane travelling west towards the Malacca Straits shortly after it lost contact with air traffic controllers.

That data would have been very early confirmation of the plane's whereabouts and it could have led to resources put in the South China Sea to be diverted to the Indian Ocean much quicker.

The Thai military had previously said it had not detected any sign of the aircraft. Thai officials said they did not report the radar data earlier because they "did not pay attention to it".

China searching new areas

Malaysian authorities are leading the multi-national search efforts covering an enormous area of 7.68m square kilometres, about the size of Australia.

Malaysia says the plane was intentionally diverted and could have flown on either a northern or southern arc from its last known position in the Malacca Straits. Investigators are looking into the possibility that the aircraft's crew - or other individuals on the plane - were involved in its disappearance.

In response, China has added another nine ships to the existing operation. The fleet, which includes its largest rescue ship, on Wednesday was sent to the waters south-east of the Bay of Bengal and west of Indonesia, according to state-run news agency Xinhua.

Its efforts will concentrate on other areas where nations have so far been unable to search and take in 300,000 square kilometres.

Hunger strike threat

Relatives of the Chinese passengers on the missing flight have threatened a hunger strike if the Malaysian authorities fail to provide more accurate information.

A total of 153 Chinese nationals were on board the missing aircraft. Families vented their anger at a meeting with the airline in Beijing.

China's state media has been critical of the Malaysian co-ordination effort. Some Chinese relatives have said they believe that the authorities are holding information back and have demanded more clarity.