Malaysia begins investigating confused initial response to missing MH370 jet

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Malaysia begins investigating confused initial response to missing MH370 jet
This photo illustration shows a journalist looking on the data communication logs from British satellite operator Inmarsat and released by Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) in Kuala Lumpur on missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on May 27, 2014. Malaysia's aviation authority released on May 27 the satellite data used to determine that flight MH370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean following demands from sceptical relatives of those on board. AFP PHOTO / MOHD RASFAN (Photo credit should read MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images)
A man stands in front of a billboard in support of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 as Chinese relatives of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 have a meeting at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 23, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris.. AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)
In this picture taken May 14, 2014 a Malaysia Airlines staff walks up to a flight prior to departure at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang. Malaysia Airlines is expected to announce its first quarter earnings after a bruising period since Flight 370 vanished. AFP PHOTO/ Manan VATSYAYANA. (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo taken on May 5, 2014 the Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Artemis Bluefin-21, is shown on the deck of the Australian navy ship Ocean Shield berthed at Fleet Base West near Perth as it prepared to resupply and undertake routine maintenance. Ocean Shield, with the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle on board, was due to head back on May 10 to the remote area of ocean off Western Australia to continue searching for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.
The attached map shows MH370’s flight path, based on the best available knowledge of the investigation team. There are a number of possible flight paths to the southern Indian Ocean, and three boxes indicating where MH370 likely ended. These flight paths differ based on different projections of the aircraft’s speed, shown on the map in knots.

Photo of a map provided by GeoResonance, which claimed on Tuesday April 29, 2014, that it found wreckage thought to possibly be from missing Flight MH370. The photo was posted to Twitter by user Cristina Lombardi.

GeoResonance A graphic shows images depicting underwater "anomalies" suggesting deposits of various metals #MH370 http://t.co/qi2aUlzE1z

Photo of a map provided by GeoResonance, which claimed on Tuesday April 29, 2014, that it found wreckage thought to possibly be from missing Flight MH370. The photo was posted to Twitter by user Jickson Johnson.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 17: A South Korean P3 Orion aircraft takes off from Pearce Airbase, in Bullsbrook, 35 kms north of Perth to help in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on April 17, 2014 in Perth, Australia. Twenty-six nations have been involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since it disappeared more than a month ago. The Malaysian Airways aircraft went missing on 8th March 2014 whilst on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. (Photo by Greg Pool - Pool/Getty Images)
AT SEA - APRIL 17: In this handout image provided by Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence, Phoenix Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) Artemis begins its dive in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 on April 17, 2014. Twenty-six nations have been involved in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 since it disappeared more than a month ago. The Malaysian Airways aircraft went missing on 8th March 2014 whilst on a flight between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing. (Photo by LSIS Bradley Darvill/Australia Department of Defence via Getty Images)
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - MARCH 26: Malaysia's Minister of Defence and acting Minister of Transport Hishammuddin Hussein (C) is viewed through a lens as he speaks during a press conference on March 26, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The search for flight MH370 resumes today after rought winds and high swells prevented crews from searching for debris yesterday. Six countries have joined the search, now considered to be a recovery effort, after authorities have announced that airliner crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean and that there are no survivors. (Photo by Rahman Roslan/Getty Images)
Malaysia's Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein (L) looks at maps as Director General of Civil Aviation Department (DCA) Azharuddin Abdul Rahman (R) answers questions during a press conference at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on March 17, 2013. An investigation into the pilots of missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 intensified on March 17 after officials confirmed that the last words spoken from the cockpit came after a key signalling system was manually disabled. AFP PHOTO/ MANAN VATSYAYANA (Photo credit should read MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP/Getty Images)
US navy captain Mark Matthews (C) speaks with journalists following a media conference involving Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth on April 9, 2014 on the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Angus Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Flight MH370's pilot, Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10 : A handout image released by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) in Canberra, Australia, 10 April 2014, shows the search area and Sonobuoy search area where 14 planes and 13 ships are scouring a 57,923 square km area of ocean for the wreckage of flight MH370 on 10 April 2014.Flight MH370 went missing after losing radio contact with Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8. The Beijing-bound flight carried 239 passengers including 12 flight crew from 14 different countries. (Photo by AMSA/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Angus Houston (2nd-L), head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 speaks at a media conference in Perth on April 9, 2014. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
A graphic of the area being searched for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, is displayed during a media conference involving Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre in Perth on April 9, 2014. Australian ship Ocean Shield detected two more signals on April 8 to match a pair of transmissions picked up earlier in the week that have been analysed as consistent with flight data recorder emissions, Houston said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, points to a graphic of the search area during a media conference in Perth on April 7, 2014. An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, Houston said on April 7, describing it as the 'most promising lead' so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Angus Houston, head of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre leading the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, displays a graphic of the search area during a media conference in Perth on April 7, 2014. An Australian navy ship has detected new underwater signals consistent with aircraft black boxes, Houston said on April 7, describing it as the 'most promising lead' so far in the month-old hunt for missing Flight MH370. AFP PHOTO / Greg WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
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By Siva Govindasamy and Niluksi Koswanage

(Reuters) - Malaysia's government has begun investigating civil aviation and military authorities to determine why opportunities to identify and track Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 were missed in the chaotic hours after it vanished, two officials said.

The preliminary internal enquiries come as tensions mount between civilian and military authorities over who bears most responsibility for the initial confusion and any mistakes that led to a week-long search in the wrong ocean.

"What happened at that time is being investigated and I can't say any more than that because it involves the military and the government," a senior government official told Reuters.

In an interview with Reuters last weekend, Malaysia Airlines Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said internal enquiries were under way, although he declined to give details.

A government spokesman did not respond to Reuters questions over whether an investigation had been launched. The senior government source said it was aimed at getting a detailed picture of the initial response. It was unclear which government department was in charge or whether a formal probe had been opened.

Malaysia's opposition coalition has demanded a parliamentary inquiry into what happened on the ground in those first few hours. Government officials have said any formal inquiry should not begin until the flight's black box recorders are found.

The Boeing 777 was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew when it disappeared on March 8. Malaysia says it believes the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean after being deliberately diverted from its Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing route.

A search effort is taking place well out to sea off the Australian city of Perth to try to locate any wreckage as well as the recorders which may provide answers to what happened onboard.

MECHANICAL PROBLEM ASSUMED

Interviews with the senior government source and four other civilian and military officials show that air traffic controllers and military officials assumed the plane had turned back to an airport in Malaysia because of mechanical trouble when it disappeared off civilian radar screens at 1:21 a.m. local time.

That assumption took hold despite no distress call or other communication coming from the cockpit, which could have been a clue that the plane had been hijacked or deliberately diverted.

The five sources together gave Reuters the most detailed account yet of events in the hour after the plane vanished. All declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue and because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

"The initial assumption was that the aircraft could have diverted due to mechanical issues or, in the worst case scenario, crashed," said a senior Malaysian civilian source. "That is what we were working on."

Officials at Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation, which oversees air traffic controllers, the Defence Ministry and the air force directed requests for comment to the prime minister's office, which did not respond.

One senior military official said air traffic control had informed the military at around 2:00 a.m. that a plane was missing. The standard operating procedure was to do so within 15 minutes, he said. Another military source said the notification was slow in coming, but did not give a time.

Civil aviation officials told Reuters their response was in line with guidelines, but they did not give a specific time for when the military was informed.

Once alerted, military radar picked up an unidentified plane heading west across peninsular Malaysia, the senior military official said. The air force has said a plane that could have been MH370 was last plotted on military radar at 2:15 a.m., 320 km (200 miles) northwest of the west coast state of Penang.

PLANE TRACKED IN REAL TIME?

Top military officials have publicly said Malaysia's U.S. and Russian-made fighter jets stationed at air force bases in Penang and the east coast state of Kuantan were not scrambled to intercept the plane because it was not viewed as "hostile".

"When we were alerted, we got our boys to check the military radar. We noticed that there was an unmarked plane flying back but (we) could not confirm (its identity)," said the senior military source. "Based on the information we had from ATC (Air Traffic Control) and DCA (Department of Civil Aviation), we did not send up any jets because it was possibly mechanical problems and the plane might have been going back to Penang."

The military has not publicly acknowledged it tracked the plane in real time as it crossed back over the peninsula.

While fighter jets would not have had enough fuel to track a Boeing 777 for long and darkness would have complicated the operation, they could have spotted MH370 flying across peninsular Malaysia and possibly beyond, aviation experts said.

That could have enabled Malaysia to get a better fix on where it was headed and thus possibly ruled out the need to search off its east coast in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, around where MH370 was last seen on civilian radar.

Fighter pilots should be able to scramble within minutes, aviation experts said, although the time can vary widely from country to country. In Europe and North America, radar experts said controllers were trained to coordinate across civil and military lines and across borders.

They said military jets would have been scrambled, as they were from a Greek air force base in 2005 when a Helios Airways jet with 121 people on board lost contact over the Aegean Sea after suffering a decompression that knocked out the pilots. Two F-16 jets could see the captain's seat empty and the first officer slumped over the controls. The plane crashed in Greece after running out of fuel.

"This raises questions of coordination between military and civil controllers," former pilot Hugh Dibley, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society in London, said of Malaysia's response.

BUREAUCRATIC DELAYS

Another contentious issue has been whether the military was slow in passing on its radar data that showed an unidentified plane had re-crossed the Malay peninsula.

Two civilian aviation officials said military bureaucracy delayed the sharing of this information, although they gave no precise timeframe for when it was handed over.

"The armed forces knew much earlier that the aircraft could have turned back. That is why the search was expanded to include the Strait of Malacca within a day or two," said a second senior civilian source, who was familiar with the initial search, referring to the narrow stretch of water between Indonesia and Malaysia, on the western side of the peninsula.

"But the military did not confirm this until much later due to resistance from senior officers, and the government needed to step in. We wasted our time in the South China Sea."

Government sources have said Prime Minister Najib Razak had to force the military to turn over its raw radar data to investigators during the first week after the flight's disappearance.

Military officials have said they did not want to risk causing confusion by sharing the data before it had been verified, adding this was why Air Force chief Rodzali Daud went to the air base in Penang on March 9, where the plane's final radar plot was recorded.

On the same day, Rodzali said the search was being expanded to the west coast, although Reuters has not been able to determine if that meant the data was being shared with other Malaysian officials.

On March 12, four days after Flight MH370 disappeared, Rodzali told reporters there was still no confirmation the unidentified plane had been Flight MH370, but added Malaysia was sharing the radar data with international civilian and military authorities, including those from the United States.

Authorities called off the search in the South China Sea on March 15 after Razak said satellite data showed the plane could have taken a course anywhere from central Asia to the southern Indian Ocean.

FEARS OF LOSING JOBS

A sixth source, a senior official in the civil aviation sector, said the plane's disappearance had exposed bureaucratic dysfunction in Malaysia, which has rarely been subject to such international demands for transparency. "There was never the need for these silos to speak to one another. It's not because of ill intent, it's just the way the system was set up," the official said.

The accounts given to Reuters reveal growing tensions between civilian officials, the military and Malaysia Airlines over whether more could have been done in those initial hours.

One of the Reuters sources said military officials in particular were concerned they could lose their jobs.

Tensions have also emerged between the government and state-controlled Malaysia Airlines.

Malaysia's defence minister and acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said in an interview with China's CCTV that the airline would have to "answer" for its mistakes in dealing with the relatives of the some 150 Chinese passengers on board.

In his interview with Reuters, Malaysia Airlines chief Ahmad Jauhari played down talk of tension, saying there were "slight differences of opinion."

(Additional reporting by Tim Hepher in PARIS; Writing by Stuart Grudgings; Editing by Alex Richardson and Dean Yates)

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