SEPANG, March 12 — Local authorities confirmed today that military radar spotted an aircraft in the Straits of Malacca at 2.15am on Saturday morning, but could not confirm if it was the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
At a press conference to straighten out conflicting reports on the matter here, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) chief Tan Sri Rodzali Daud and Armed Forces chief Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin told reporters that experts are still studying the data to obtain more conclusive evidence.
“The last plot after several intermittent primary plots was at 0215 hours, 200 miles northwest of Penang.
“We are corroborating this. I am not saying this is MH370. We are still corroborating, still working with the experts,” Rodzali said.
Department of Civil Aviation director-general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman explained that civil aviation installations use secondary radars, which receive information from aircraft transponders showing the type of aircraft along with other identification details.
The primary radar used by the military only shows the presence of an aircraft but gives no other information.
Rodzali said the aircraft in question was identified as not hostile at the time but did not elaborate.
It is now understood that MH370 disappeared from the secondary radar at 1.30am on March 8.
Within a short time, the military’s primary radar detected an aircraft around the same area appearing to make a turn back. At 2.15am, an aircraft appeared on the same primary radar northwest of Penang, in the Straits of Malacca.
The authorities said that they are still trying to determine whether the aircraft was indeed the missing MH370 by comparing data obtained from other radars.
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) and the US National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) are also helping to analyse the data, Rodzali said.
Hishammuddin, who is also the acting transport minister, said that they were not discounting any possibilities and vowed to exhaust all resources until the missing aircraft is found.
“Until today, we are still not sure that it is the same aircraft, that is why we are searching two areas.
“If we know for sure that it’s in the Malacca Strait, we would have moved all our assets there,” he said.
The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200 aircraft took off early Saturday, at 12.41am but fell off the radar less than an hour later, 120 nautical miles off Kota Baru in the South China Sea. No distress calls were made.
The plane carrying 239 passengers and crew was bound for Beijing and has not been seen since.
Five days into the search, 12 countries with 42 ships and 39 aircraft are searching for the missing aircraft over 37,000 square nautical miles in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca, into the Andaman Sea.