MH370 Timeline - Initial Response
Flight MH370 Timeline - the Initial Response
Following the loss of contact with MH370 the Initial Response documented in this Section includes the civil aviation primary radar tracking which went un-noticed.
Figure 1.1C - Diversion from Filed Flight Plan Route - Civilian Radar (in pictorial form and not to scale)
Source: Safety Investigation Report MH370/01/2018 1.1.3 2) DCA Civilian Radar Data from Kota Bharu - Sultan Ismail Petra Airport Runway
Malaysian Air Traffic Control Primary Radar Observations
This section of the Timeline details the 'Initial Response' - the sequence of events as air traffic controllers, and Malaysia Airlines, struggled to comprehend that MH370 did not continue towards Beijing through Vietnamese airspace.
However, while the air traffic controllers were wondering where the aircraft was and making phone calls and asking questions the evidence of a turnback was in front of them on their radar screen. The 'blip' that represented the 'missing' aircraft was captured by civilian primary radar. The Terminal Primary Approach Radar is located to the south of the Kota Bharu – Sultan Ismail Petra Airport runway and the 'blips' were visible on the KL ACC radar display.
Like the military observations there were periods of actual data, periods of 'coasting' - where the radar interpolates a track between actual radar responses - and periods of interrupted data. This is shown in the adjacent diagram.
A 'blip' is a spot of light on a radar screen indicating the position of a detected aircraft.
Overall, the civilian primary radar observations of an aircraft believed to be MH370 extended from 1730:37 UTC [0130:37 MYT] to 1744:52 UTC [0144:52 MYT]. The periods covered by the civilian radar observations provide the background to other events during the 'Initial Response' to the developing emergency.
The aircraft in each radar track is identified by a number, assigned by the radar system. For primary radar each code number has the prefix letter P (P = Primary). Even though the number is different for each observation even though, in this case, it is believed to be the same aircraft.
There were four separate primary civilian radar observations which show that MH370 tracked west across Malaysia until it was about 6 nm south of Penang.
Note: Malaysian military radar observations during the 'air turnback' have been used as the background for the page MH370 Timeline - Deviation From Flight Plan. The range of the military radar was greater than the civilian radar.
MH370 was expected to pass waypoint IGARI at 0122 MYT. As this waypoint is also the Transfer of Control Point between KL ACC and HCM ACC, the Vietnamese air traffic controllers should have contacted the controllers in Malaysia within five minutes (at 0127 MYT) when two-way communication with MH370 was not established.
Note: HCM only notified KL ACC at 0139 MYT which was a duration of twelve minutes.
ATC Radar Observation P3362: 0130:37 MYT to 0137:22 MYT
ATC Radar Observation P3401: 0138:56 MYT to 0144:52 MYT
Ho Chi Minh ACC first enquired about MH370 and informed KL ACC that verbal contact was not established with MH370 and the radar target was last seen at BITOD.
Ho Chi Minh enquired for information on MH370 and KL ACC informed HCM ACC that after waypoint IGARI, MH370 did not return to Lumpur Radar frequency.
KL ACC Radar Controller made a “blind transmission” to MH370.
There was no response from MH370.
HCM ACC queried about MH370 again, stating that radar contact was established over IGARI but there was no verbal contact. HCM ACC advised that the observed radar blip disappeared at waypoint BITOD. HCM ACC stated that efforts to establish communication were made by calling MH370 many times for more than twenty (20) minutes.
ATC Radar Observation P3415: 0147:02 MYT to 0148:39 MYT
KL ACC queried HCM ACC if there had been any contact with MH370, HCM ACC’s reply was “negative”.
ATC Radar Observation P3426: 0151:45 MYT to 0152:35 MYT
HCM ACC informed KL ACC that there was officially no contact with MH370 until this time. Attempts on many frequencies and through other aircraft in the vicinity received no response from MH370.
Malaysia Airlines ODC sent an ACARS message to MH370, direct to the cockpit printer. The ACARS message requested the crew to contact the HCM ACC immediately. The incoming downlink message at 1803:24 UTC showed the message failed to reach the aircraft. The message was retransmitted (automatically) at least seven times. On each occasion, an automated downlink message by ACARS showed ‘failed’.
KL ACC queried HCM ACC on the status of MH370, HCM ACC confirmed there was no radar contact at this time and no verbal communication was established. KL ACC relayed the information received from Malaysia Airlines Operations that the aircraft was in the Cambodian airspace.
HCM ACC queried for confirmation that MH370 was in Phnom Penh FIR as Phnom Penh did not have any information on MH370. KL ACC indicated it would check further with the supervisor.
KL ACC informed HCM ACC that there was no update on the status of MH370.
KL ATSC Watch Supervisor queried Malaysia Airlines Operations who informed that MH370 was able to exchange signals with the Flight Explorer.
KL ACC queried if the flight plan routing of MH370 was supposed to enter Cambodian airspace. HCM ACC confirmed that the planned route was only through the Vietnamese airspace. HCM ACC had checked and Cambodia had advised that it had no information or contact with MH370. HCM ACC confirmed earlier information that radar contact was lost after BITOD and radio contact was never established.
At 0220:15 MYT KL ACC queried if HCM ACC was taking Radio Failure action, but the query didn’t seem to be understood by the personnel. HCM ACC suggested KL ACC to call Malaysia Airlines Operations and was advised that it had already been done.
KL ACC Radar Controller enquired with MAS Operations Despatch Centre (ODC) on communications status on MH370. Personnel was not sure if the message went through successfully. ODC informed that aircraft was still sending movement message indicating it was somewhere in Viet Nam, and that its last position was at coordinates N14.90000 E109 15500 at 071833 UTC [080233 MYT].
HCM ACC queried on the status of MH370 and was advised that the Watch Supervisor was talking to the Company at this time.
KL ACC informed HCM ACC that MH370 was still flying and that the aircraft was continuing to send position reports to the airline, and relayed to HCM ACC the latitude and longitude as advised by Malaysian Airlines Operations.
Malaysia Airlines ODC sent a test message to MH370, requesting an acknowledgement. The message was also re-transmitted at 0239:52 MYT, 0240:42 MYT and 0241:52 MYT. The automated response was 'failed'.
Ground-to-air telephony call placed from a number with country code 60 (Malaysia)
The GES logs show that the unanswered Ground-to-Air telephony call was cleared by the calling party.
MH386 which was enroute from KLIA to Shanghai and within HCM FIR was requested by HCM ACC to try to establish contact with MH370 on Lumpur Radar radio frequency. KL ACC then requested MH386 to try on emergency frequencies as well.
Requested MH386, which was then in the HCM FIR, to try to establish contact with MH370 on emergency frequencies.
At 0300 MYT there was a changeover in the Controllers at KL ATCC.
At 0000 MYT (midnight and prior to the departure of MH370) the number of Controllers in the KL ATSC was scaled down by half to enable the Controllers to take a scheduled 3-hour break from duty. At 0300 MYT the first group of Controllers returned from their break and the second group started their break which would last until 0600 MYT.
MAS Operations Centre informed KL ACC that the flight tracker was based on flight projection and not reliable for aircraft positioning.
KL ACC queried if HCM ACC had checked with next FIR HAINAN.
KL ACC queried if HCM ACC had checked with the SANYA FIR. HCM ACC informed KL ACC that there was no response until then.
KL ACC queried MAS Operations Centre for any latest information or contact with MH370.
HCM ACC Supervisor queried KL ACC on the last position that MH370 was in contact with KL ACC.
Singapore, on behalf of Hong Kong ACC enquired for information on MH370.
HCM ACC queried for information on MH370, KL ACC queried if any information had been received from Hong Kong or Beijing.
KL ACC called malaysia Airlines ODC and queried MAS for news on MH370.
The Technical Captain said: “Whatever we have here suggest that the aircraft had never leave Lumpur airspace because he has failed to call Ho Chi Minh” and suggested to KL ATSC to trace back the record, voice recording and time of the positive handover to Ho Chi Minh.
KL ACC replied: “I wake up my supervisor and ask him to check again ....".
Duty ATSC Watch Supervisor activated the Kuala Lumpur Aeronautical Rescue Coordination Centre (ARCC).
The KL ATCC Sector 3 +5 Planner called AAT. The transcript is in Malay.
Although not confirmed, AAT is probably the radar maintenance contractor, Advanced Air Traffic Systems (M) Sdn. Bhd. (AAT).
HCM ACC queried for any updates.
At 2145 UTC [0545 MYT], the ATSC Duty Watch Supervisor requested from the radar maintenance personnel to carry out radar data play-back. The SME successfully restored the desired file from the recording play-back back-up hard disc.
The Duty Watch Supervisor at the Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Services Centre (KL ATSC) performed radar data and voice recording play-back.
KL ACC queried HCM ACC if SAR was activated.
KL ARCC issued a DETRESFA message
Singapore ACC contacted KL ACC to check on updates re MH370.
A Supervisor at HCM ATCC called KL ATCC and requested to speak with a Supervisor but was told to wait "Can you wait a minute I call you back shortly."
Singapore ACC Watch Manager contacted KL ACC and asked to speak with the Supervisor. However, the Supervisor at KL ACC was apparently busy replaying the tape recording of the handover at IGARI.
Singapore ACC wanted to confirm details of the DETRESFA message it had received from WMFC and to clarify whether there was positive radio and radar contact (after IGARI).
Malaysia Airlines Operations used ACARS to upload flight plan information for MH371, which is the normal return flight from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur.
The intention of this upload may have been to assist MH370 to return to Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, the initiative was unsuccessful.
This Timeline has been created by deconstructing official documents and linking these extracts in a way which simulates a chronological sequence and facilitates access to further detail and explanatory notes for time-related events in the narrative of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.