Timeline: The search for Flight MH370

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IOL pic mar27 malaysia plane prayers Reuters Volunteers from Taiwan pray for the passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at the Lido hotel in Beijing. Picture: Kim Kyung-Hoon

Hong Kong -

The search for Malaysia's missing plane shifted to a new patch of the remote Indian Ocean on Friday, with an international fleet of ships and aircraft racing to solve a mystery now approaching its third week.

Here is a timeline of major developments in the hunt for the Boeing 777:


- Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 takes off from Kuala Lumpur at 12.41am, bound for Beijing. It vanishes from Malaysian civilian radar at 1.30am, just before passing to Vietnamese air traffic control. It blips on military radars until 2.15am, but that sighting is only later identified as Flight MH370.

- Vietnam launches a search operation that expands in the following days into a multinational hunt in the South China Sea.

IOL pic mar27 Australia Malaysia Plane search cockpit view RAAF Flight Lieutenant Russell Adams looks out from the cockpit of an AP-3C Orion while on a search mission in the southern Indian Ocean on March 26, 2014. The hunt for Flight MH370 has been slowed by rough winds and high swells in the search zone. Picture: Paul Kane Associated Press

- Vietnamese planes spot two large oil slicks near the plane's last known location, but they turn out to be a false alarm.

- It emerges that two passengers were travelling on stolen EU passports, fuelling speculation of a terrorist attack. The two Iranian men are later revealed as suspected illegal immigrants.


- Malaysia's air force chief says the plane may have turned back towards Kuala Lumpur for no apparent reason, citing radar data.

- A Vietnamese plane spots possible debris off south-west Vietnam - another false alarm.


- Malaysia sends ships to investigate a sighting of a possible life raft, but only flotsam is found.


- The search area now includes land on the Malaysian peninsula, the waters off its west coast, and an area to the north of Indonesia's Sumatra island - all far from the flight's scheduled route.


- Malaysia expands the search zone again to include the Malacca Strait off its west coast and the Andaman Sea north of Indonesia.

- Malaysia's air force chief says an unidentified object was detected on military radar north of the Malacca Strait early on Saturday, but says it is still being investigated.


- Chinese satellite images of suspected debris in the South China Sea are found to be yet another false lead.


- The hunt spreads to the Indian Ocean after the White House cites “new information” that the jet may have flown on after losing contact.


- At a dramatic news conference, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announces that the plane appears to have been flown deliberately for hours, veering sharply off-route at roughly the same time that its communications system and transponder were manually switched off.

- Satellite data now places the jet anywhere in one of two huge corridors of land and sea - a northern one stretching into Central Asia and a southern one swooping deep into the Indian Ocean. The search in the South China Sea is called off.


- As the number of countries involved in the search jumps to 26, suspicions focus on the pilot and co-pilot, with experts examining a flight simulator installed in the home of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah.


- Officials confirm that the relaxed-sounding last words from the cockpit - “Alright, good night” - came two minutes before the plane's transponder was shut down.

- Malaysia Airlines says the voice is believed to be that of co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid. Police also probe a potential political motive on the part of Captain Zaharie, a supporter and distant relative of Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who denounces such talk.


- Australian and US surveillance planes begin combing 600 000 square kilometres of the remote Indian Ocean in the southern search corridor.

- Desperate relatives of the 153 Chinese passengers threaten to go on hunger strike, insisting they are not being given the full truth.


- Malaysia says background checks on almost all passengers and crew have produced no “information of significance”.

- With the 26-country search apparently bogged down in co-ordination problems, Thailand's air force reveals its military radar had picked up what appeared to be Flight MH370 just minutes after it was diverted.


- Australia says satellites have spotted two objects, one estimated at 24m long, in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean.

- Four surveillance aircraft are dispatched to the area, as is a Norwegian merchant ship. But in poor weather, they spot nothing.


- Planes spend a second fruitless day searching the remote stretch of the Indian Ocean.

- Malaysia asks the United States to provide undersea surveillance technology.


- China releases a new satellite photo of an object floating 120km from those pictured in the Australian images.


- Along with French satellite data indicating floating objects in the area, sightings of a wooden pallet and other debris raise hopes of a breakthrough.


- China and Australia both announce fresh, separate sightings of objects in the sea, adding to the mounting evidence of debris in the Indian Ocean.

- The US Navy orders a specialised black box locator sent to the area.

- Late in the evening, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announces “with deep sadness and regret” that MH370 is presumed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, citing new analysis of satellite data. In a message to families, the airline states “we have to assume” the plane was lost at sea.


- Gale-force winds and huge waves force a halt to the search operation in the Indian Ocean.

- In Beijing, emotional Chinese relatives scuffle with guards outside Malaysia's Beijing embassy, demanding answers.


- The search resumes, buoyed by a fresh satellite sighting of potential debris by European aerospace giant Airbus.

- A US law firm launches the first legal salvo on behalf of grieving families. Ribbeck Law Chartered International says it is filing lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing for millions of dollars per passenger.


- Thunderstorms and high winds ground the search again, but Thailand reports fresh sightings of floating debris. A late report says Japan also spotted debris.


- A Japanese government official says objects spotted by its satellite are “very probably” from the missing plane.

- Australia announces that the search area has shifted 1 100km north-east after a “credible new lead” from radar data that the plane was flying faster than first thought before it crashed.

- The weather clears, sending ships and aircraft from six countries - Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea and the United States - racing to the new search area. - Sapa-AFP

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