In a strange twist, Malaysia’s military believes it tracked the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 by radar over the Strait of Malacca, far from where it last made contact with civilian air traffic control over the Gulf of Thailand.
A military source confirmed with Reuters that the Boeing 777-200ER with 239 on board changed course and made it to the other side of the Malay peninsula.
“It changed course after Kota Baru and took a lower altitude. It made it into the Malacca Strait,” the military official, who has been briefed on investigations, told Reuters.
The Strait of Malacca, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, runs along Malaysia’s west coast.
The airline said on Saturday that the flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew last had contact off the east coast Malaysian town of Kota Baru.
The Berita Harian newspaper was the first to report this development, quoting the Royal Air Force Malaysia (RMAF) chief General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud as saying they tracked the signal to Pulau Perak on the country’s west coast.
“The last time the plane could be traced by an air control tower was near Pulau Perak, which is on the Straits of Malacca at 2.40am.
“After that, the signal from the plane was lost,” he said.
Incidentally, Malaysia Airlines first statement on the missing jetliner on Saturday said that air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane at 2.40am but it was later corrected to 1.30am.
It was also reported that a Singaporean air traffic surveillance and control unit also picked up the signal that MH370 “made a turn back before it was reported to have climbed 1,000 metres from its original altitude at 10,000 metres”.
It was widely reported that the plane went missing at around 1.30am while flying above the South China Sea between the Malaysian east coast and the southern coast of Vietnam.
The plane reported went off radar and its last known location was 065515 North (longitude) and 1033443 East (latitude).
This is also supported with police reports made by some east coast residents, who claimed that they have seen huge lights and a plane flying at some 1,000 metres above sea level off Kota Baru.
However, search and rescue (SAR) authorities have failed to find any sign of the plane in the waters of the South China Sea.
Indications that MH370 might have turned back have since led the SAR operations to be expanded to the Straits of Malacca and the Andaman Sea.
The operations to find the missing plane involve armed forces and authorities from Australia, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines and the United States, apart from Malaysia.
The SAR operations are in its fourth day.