☆ In a development that could make the mystery surrounding the missing Malaysia Airlines plane more puzzling, the Indonesian Air Force has revealed that its radar in Sumatra, which is closest to Penang on the Malaysian Peninsula, did not detect any aircraft in the Malacca Strait area under its coverage, around the time Flight 370 was lost early last Saturday.
The Malaysian military previously insisted that its radar had tracked an aircraft that could have been the ill-fated plane in the strait, around 200 miles northwest of Penang, about 1.5 hours after departure or 45 minutes after the aircraft disappeared from civilian radar.
The discovery has led to the theory that the Boeing 777-200 with 239 people on board, which was bound from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, might have made a turn to the West at the time it lost contact with the air traffic controller, which last detected it in the Gulf of Thailand in the South China Sea, then going past the Malaysian Peninsula.
But the revelation by Indonesian Air Force spokesman Air Commodore Hadi Tjahjanto on Friday could bring the mystery back to the question: Did the plane really turn back to the West?
Hadi told The Jakarta Post that the Indonesian Air Force’s radar unit in Lhokseumawe, Aceh, did not detect the missing MH370 in the area where the Malaysian military suggested as being the plane’s last detected position around Penang waters.
“Our radar information has been shared with our Malaysian counterparts,” he said.
When asked if Lhokseumawe radar’s coverage had reached Penang, he only said that the radar had the capability to detect flying objects for up to 240 nautical miles, or about 445 kilometers.
A rough calculation using Google Earth shows that Lhokseumawe’s distance to Penang is about 300 kilometers, meaning that the radar could cover up to the Malaysian Peninsula.
The Malaysian military has asked the Indonesian Military (TNI) to help search the plane in the Malacca Straits. The Indonesian Air Force and Navy have been deploying aircrafts and warships since Monday.
The Indonesian Air Force’s Boeing B737-2x9 Surveiller was still searching the plane regardless of the radar’s lack of detection, Hadi said. “We just finished our first search today. After Friday prayers, we will conduct another search,” he said.
The search has been expanded to the Andaman waters to the north of Sumatra or west of Thailand. The US’ White House had signaled that the search could significantly broaden to the Indian Ocean, far west off Sumatra, Reuters reported.
One of the most baffling mysteries in the history of modern aviation - there has been no trace of the plane since nor any sign of wreckage despite a search by the navies and military aircraft of over a dozen countries across Southeast Asia.
Experts say that if the plane crashed into the ocean, then some debris should be floating on the surface even if most of the jet is submerged. Past experience shows that finding the wreckage can take weeks or even longer, especially if the location of the plane is in doubt.