May 1st, 2014
01:15 PM ET

MH370 Report Reveals 4-Hour Gap Before Official Search For Plane Began

 On the fateful night that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, officials apparently didn't notice for 17 minutes that it had gone off radar - and didn't activate an official rescue operation for four hours.

Those are two of the details outlined in a preliminary report by Malaysia's Transportation Ministry released to the public Thursday. The report had been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organization, the U.N. body for global aviation.

What's remarkable about the report is what's missing from it.

When did the plane disappear?

At 1:21 a.m. on March 8, the plane - carrying 239 people to Beijing - disappeared from radar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

By then, the plane's crew should have contacted air traffic control in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, but apparently it didn't.

And it wasn't until 17 minutes later that Ho Chi Minh asked Malaysian air traffic control where the plane was.

"We are left to assume (that) for those 17 minutes, Kuala Lumpur either didn't notice or didn't act," CNN aviation correspondent Richard Quest said.

Why was there a four-hour gap in response?

Then came a four-hour gap - from the time when officials noticed the plane was missing to when the official rescue operation was launched.

The report gives an account of the conversation air traffic controllers in Vietnam and Malaysia had at that time. Ho Chi Minh City let Kuala Lumpur know at 1:38 a.m. that it was not able to establish verbal contact with Flight 370.

Kuala Lumpur also contacted Singapore, Hong Kong and Cambodia.

Those four hours may have been crucial.

On Tuesday, a Malaysia Airlines official said the plane probably ran out of fuel about 7½ hours into the flight. That means it might have been flying during that four-hour gap, and possibly for another 2½ hours after the search started.

Where was the military?

The Malaysian Prime Minister has said the military tracked the plane as it headed back across Malaysia.

According to the report, a playback of a recording from military primary radar revealed that an aircraft that may have been MH370 had made a westerly turn, crossing Peninsular Malaysia. The search area was then extended to the Strait of Malacca.

But it's unclear when that happened. The report makes no mention of the military's role the night of the disappearance.

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