Timeline: False leads added to Malaysia plane speculation

Uncertainty and frustration clouded mystery over search for missing jet

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write messages to their missing relative on a board at a hotel in Beijing today. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters

Family members of passengers onboard the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 write messages to their missing relative on a board at a hotel in Beijing today. Photograph: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters


Uncertainty and frustration has clouded the mystery over the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.

A series of false leads has added to wide-ranging speculation that pilot error, plane malfunction, hijacking or terrorism may have been the cause.

March 8th — Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am local time bound for Beijing carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew.

Someone, apparently the co-pilot, makes the final voice communication from the cockpit at 01.19am, saying “All right, good night” to air traffic controllers.

The plane is last seen on military radar at 02.14am heading west over the Strait of Malacca. Half an hour later the airline reveals to the public it has lost contact with the plane. The plane was due to land around 6.30am.

Officials reveal two passports used to board the flight were stolen, raising the first suspicions of terrorist involvement.

March 9th — Malaysia’s air force chief says that military radar indicated the missing Boeing 777 jet may have turned back.

March 10th — Vietnamese aircraft search for a plane door spotted in their waters but find nothing.

March 11th — The hunt is widened to cover a 115-nautical mile radius involving 34 aircraft and 40 ships from several countries.

The Malaysian military claims it has radar evidence showing that the missing plane changed course and made it to the Malacca Strait which is hundreds of miles away from the last location reported by civilian authorities. The aircraft was believed to be flying low.

The two male passengers travelling with stolen passports were Iranians who had bought tickets to Europe and were probably not terrorists, Malaysian police said.

March 12th — Satellite images on a Chinese government website shows suspected debris from the missing plane floating off the southern tip of Vietnam, China’s Xinhua News Agency says.

The report includes co-ordinates of a location in the sea off the southern tip of Vietnam and east of Malaysia, near the plane’s original flight path.

March 13th — Malaysian authorities expand their search for the missing jet into the Andaman Sea and beyond after acknowledging it could have flown for several more hours after its last contact with the ground.

Nothing was found when planes were sent to search an area off southern Vietnam identified by Chinese satellite images. The Chinese embassy notifies the Malaysian government that the images were released by mistake and did not show any debris from the missing flight.

March 15th — Prime minister Najib Razak’s says the missing airliner was deliberately diverted and continued flying for more than six hours after losing contact with the ground. The plane could have gone as far north west as Kazakhstan or into the Indian Ocean’s southern reaches.

Malaysian police have already said they are looking at the psychological state, family life and connections of pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah (53) and co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27. Both have been described as respectable, community-minded men.

March 16th — The search area now includes 11 countries the plane might have flown over. The number of countries involved in the operation had increased from 14 to 25.

Malaysian defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he had asked governments to hand over sensitive radar and satellite data to try to help get a better idea of the plane’s final movements.

March 17th — Officials release a new timeline suggesting the final voice transmission from the cockpit of the missing Malaysian plane may have occurred before any of its communications systems were disabled.

Investigators have not ruled out hijacking, sabotage, or pilot suicide, and they are checking the backgrounds of the 227 passengers and 12 crew members, as well as the ground crew, to see if links to terrorists, personal problems or psychological issues could be factors.

March 18th — Ten days after a Malaysian jetliner disappeared, Thailand’s military said it saw radar blips that might have been from the missing plane but did not report it “because we did not pay attention to it”.

March 19th — Distressed relatives of the missing passengers threaten to go on hunger strike over the lack of information about the investigation.

March 20th — Two objects which could be connected to the missing jet are detected in the southern India Ocean, the Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said.