The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was delayed more than four hours and authorities didn't start looking for the jetliner until investigators believe it was nearing the end of its mysterious flight into oblivion, according to a preliminary report released today by Malaysia.
The report also urges the International Civil Aviation Organization to examine ways of tracking commercial jets so that no plane will be able to simply vanish in the future.
The report was released by Malaysia's Office of the Chief Inspector of Air Accidents which has spearheaded the hunt for flight MH370 since it disappeared off the radar shortly after midnight on March 8. The plane was carrying 239 people and was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Most of the passengers were Chinese and hundreds of family members have been in Kuala Lumpur awaiting news of the missing plane since shortly after it disappeared. The Malaysian government today urged the Chinese families to return home and await news of the massive international search in "the comfort of their own homes."
The preliminary report provides a timeline of inaction while MH370 flew out of sight and, so far, out of reach.
The last verbal contact with the plane occurred at 1:19:24 a.m. Malaysia time as the flight crew was leaving the control of Malaysian air traffic control and were told to contact Vietnamese air traffic control. Someone at the control of the plane responded with, "Good night, Malaysian three seven zero."
At 1:21:04 a.m., flight MH370 was seen on Malaysian radar passing the guidepoint dubbed IGARI as it headed into Vietnamese air space.
At 1:21:13, the plane disappeared from Malaysian radar.
It wasn't for another 17 minutes until air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, contacted Malaysian controllers to asked about the location of the plane.
Several attempts were made to contact the plane, but it wasn't until 5:30 a.m. that Malaysia activated its Rescue Coordination Center.
At that point, MH370 had been airborne for 5.5 hours. The plane was believed to have had enough fuel to fly about seven hours.
Searchers believe that the plane turned west and crossed Malaysia and then headed south, flying until its fuel was exhausted and crashing somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean. The only possible trace of the jetliner have been pings that investigators believe may have come from the plane's black boxes. So far, searchers have been unable to locate the plane or any debris from the plane.
The aerial search for the plane has been called off and the search is now being conducted underwater, primarily by the U.S. underwater robot the Bluefin-21.