The families of passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines jet have been told to go home and wait for any updates on the fate of their loved ones.
"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," Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in a statement issued Thursday.
Most of the 227 passengers on the plane that went missing on March 8 were from China. Their family members have been staying in Beijing getting periodic updates on the search for the plane that disappeared en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
"Malaysia Airlines is acutely conscious of, and deeply sympathetic to the continuing unimaginable anguish, distress and hardship suffered by those with loved ones on board the flight," the statement added.
The airline did not appear to hold out much hope for a speedy conclusion to the search, which it called the largest in "human history," although it promised to "keep in close touch" with families.
“From past experience, we understand the continuing search and investigation would be a prolonged process," Jauhari Yahya's statement said.
The families of the missing have repeatedly complained and protested about what they consider to be a lack of transparency on the part of Malaysian authorities, and to a lesser extent, Australian ones in charge of the search off the western coast of that country.
Air traffic controllers did not realize that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it disappeared from civilian radar, according to the preliminary report on the plane's disappearance released Thursday by Malaysia's government.
In addition to the five-page report, dated April 9, the government also released other information from the investigation into the flight, including audio recordings of conversations between the cockpit and air traffic control, the plane's cargo manifest and its seating plan.
Malaysia also released a map showing the plane's deducted flight path as well as a document detailing actions taken by authorities in the hours after the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar. The reports were mostly information that has been released since the jet disappeared while flying near the border separating Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace.
The plane went off Malaysian radar at 1:21 a.m. on March 8, but Vietnamese air traffic controllers only queried about it at 1:38 a.m., according to the report, which was sent last month to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
The report also said Malaysian authorities did not launch an official search and rescue operation until four hours later, at 5:30 a.m., after efforts to locate the plane failed.
A separate report listing the actions taken by air traffic controllers showed Vietnamese controllers contacted Kuala Lumpur after they failed to establish verbal contact with the pilots and the plane didn't show up on their radar.
That report also showed that Malaysia Airlines at one point thought the plane may have entered Cambodian airspace. The airline said in the report that "MH370 was able to exchange signals with the flight and flying in Cambodian airspace," but that Cambodian authorities said they had no information or contact with Flight 370. It was unclear which flight it was referring to that exchanged signals with MH370.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last week appointed a team of experts to review all the information the government had regarding the missing plane, and to decide which information should be made public.
"The prime minister 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," Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement Thursday.
Hishammuddin said Malaysia's military radar tracked the jet making a turn-back in a westerly direction across Peninsular Malaysia after playing back radar data the next morning, nearly seven hours after the plane vanished from civilian radar.
He said he was informed about the military discovery two hours later and relayed this to Najib, who immediately ordered a search in the Strait of Malacca. He defended the military's inaction in pursuing the plane for identification.
"The aircraft was categorized as friendly by the radar operator and therefore no further action was taken at the time," Hishammuddin said.
The preliminary report ends by noting that although commercial aircraft spend considerable amounts of time operating over remote areas, there is currently no requirement for real time tracking of the planes. The report recommends that the International Civil Aviation Organization "examine the safety benefits of introducing a standard for real time tracking of commercial air transport aircraft."
The cargo manifest includes a receipt for a package containing lithium ion batteries, noting that the package "must be handled with care." Some questions had been raised in March about the batteries, but Malaysia Airlines said then that they were in compliance with the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Air Transport Association requirements and classified as "non-dangerous goods."
The plane vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, and most of the 227 passengers were Chinese.
No wreckage from the plane has been found, and an aerial search for surface debris ended Monday after six weeks of fruitless hunting. An unmanned sub is continuing to search underwater in an area of the southern Indian Ocean where sounds consistent with a plane's black box were detected in early April. Additional equipment is expected to be brought in within the next few weeks to scour an expanded underwater area.
The head of the search effort has predicted that the search could drag on for as long as a year.