Malaysia on Thursday made public a preliminary report on flight MH370 and other data that marks its most extensive release of information on the missing airliner to date, nearly two months after its mysterious disappearance.
The brief five-page report, which was submitted earlier to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), was essentially a recap of information that has already been released over time, and did not immediately appear to contain any major new revelations.
The report was accompanied by audio recordings of verbal exchanges between the cockpit of the Malaysia Airlines jet and air traffic controllers, and documents pertaining to the cargo manifest.
Malaysia’s Transport Ministry recommended in the report that the International Civil Aviation Authority, the UN body that oversees global aviation, examines the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real-time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft.
The ministry pointed to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 and Air France flight AF447 in 2009 as evidence that such real-time tracking would help to better track aircraft.
Earlier on Thursday, Malaysia Airlines said they would cease to provide hotel accommodation for relatives of missing flight MH370 passengers by May 7.
The Malaysian flag carrier has provided hotel accommodation for relatives in a number of countries – most of them in Malaysia and China – where it provided them periodic updates on the situation since shortly after the flight mysteriously disappeared on March 8.
But relatives’ tempers have repeatedly flared, particularly at the Lido Hotel in Beijing where Chinese families have regularly lashed out at officials from the Malaysian government and the airline over their inability to explain the plane’s disappearance.
“Instead of staying in hotels, the families of MH370 are advised to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes, with the support and care of their families and friends,” the airline said in a statement.
“In line with this adjustment, Malaysia Airlines will be closing all of its family assistance centres around the world by 7 May this year.”
The government-controlled carrier also said it would soon make advance compensation payments to the next-of-kin of the 239 people onboard the plane, part of a final package to be agreed upon later.
It did not specify the amounts.
About two-thirds of those aboard the missing plane, which vanished from radar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, were Chinese nationals.
The airline also had provided psychiatric support at hotels for families trying to cope with the tragedy.
The carrier said it would establish centres in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur to provide “follow-up support and services” but gave no further specifics.
The cut-off of accommodation is likely to upset some family members who continue to demand answers from the airline and Malaysian government.
The airline said last week that 10 of its staff were held against their will for more than 10 hours at the Lido Hotel by angry relatives.
Hotel-staying next-of-kin could not immediately be reached for comment.
The plane is believed to have inexplicably diverted from its course and crashed in the Indian Ocean.
However, a multi-nation search for plane wreckage has failed to find any evidence despite weeks of looking.
“There have now been two occasions during the last five years when large commercial air transport aircraft have gone missing and their last position was not accurately known. This uncertainty resulted in significant difficulty in locating the aircraft in a timely manner,” the ministry said.
The Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777-200ER disappeared while on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March. The search for the aircraft, which had 239 passengers and crew on board, initially took place in the South China Sea and the Straits of Malacca. It moved to the Indian Ocean only about three weeks after the disappearance as a result of new satellite data.
“[Prime Minister Najib Razak] set, as a guiding principle, the rule that as long as the release of a particular piece of information does not hamper the investigation or the search operation, in the interests of openness and transparency, the information should be made public,” an accompanying government statement said.
Malaysia is continuing to investigate what happened to the plane, saying this week it also had appointed a former head of the country’s civil aviation to head up a probe that will include members of the US National Transportation Safety Board and other foreign aviation agencies.
Thursday’s release did not contain any information from a separate Malaysian police investigation into whether a criminal act such as terrorism was to blame.
Malaysia’s government, which was heavily criticised for a seemingly chaotic initial response and comments to the media on MH370, has been tight-lipped about the progress of its investigations into the tragedy.
Some relatives of passengers have angrily accused the government and airline of incompetence and withholding information, which Malaysia denies.
The Malaysia Airlines flight vanished on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.
It is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, but a massive hunt for the wreckage has been fruitless so far.