Malaysia's air force has yet to identify the source of a contact picked up by radar over the Straits of Malacca, about 45min after the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777-200.
Speaking at a press conference today, Royal Malaysian Air Force chief Rodzali Bin Daud said military radar detected an "unidentified plot" at 02:15 on the morning of 8 March. The source of the contact was some 200nm (370km) northwest of Penang, at an altitude of 29,500ft.
But the air force, which has already had to clarify confusion over evidence that flight MH370 might have attempted to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, is stressing that the significance of the radar plots has yet to be determined by investigators.
“I’m not saying this is MH370. We’re still working with the experts on this. It is an unidentified plot,” he says, adding that data from the radars have also been shared with officials from the US Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transport Safety Board.
While secondary radar interrogates the aircraft's transponder, providing key flight data, the primary military radar does not, explains Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation.
He adds that MH370 was identified on secondary civil radar at about 01:21 before it “disappeared altogether” nine minutes later at 01:30. Primary radar was unable to pick up the aircraft's trace at this time, says Azharuddin.
Rodzali says the unidentified Malacca plot was detected after a review of military data on 8 March. He has not indicated the location of the radar which provided the data. The plot at 02:15 was the last of several "intermittent" contacts, he says.
Although the investigation is considering the possibility that MH370 tried to turn back to Kuala Lumpur, and has extended its search to the Straits of Malacca, defence minister Hishammuddin Hussein says: "If we were sure it was in the [Straits] we'd have moved all our [search] assets there."
The two search zones comprise a 12,425nm2 area over the Straits and a 14,440nm2 over the South China Sea.
Twelve countries, 39 aircraft and 42 vessels are involved in the search.
MH370, which was on the Kuala Lumpur-Beijing route, lost contact with air traffic control on 8 March. Its last known location was approximately midway between the Malaysian town of Kota Bahru and the southernmost tip of Vietnam.