Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein shows two maps with corridors of the last known possible location of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370
Malaysia's acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein shows two maps with corridors of the last known possible location of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 Reuters

It took 17 minutes for authorities to realise that flight MH370 was no longer tracked by the radar, and about four hours before they decided to launch a search and rescue mission, according to a preliminary report released by the Malaysian government.

With its transponder switched off, the aircraft is considered to have flown undetected across Malaysia and the Malacca Straits, even as the airlines believed it was flying over Vietnamese and Cambodian airspace.

The government did not disclose details relating to the investigation during the crucial four-hour period, other than their efforts to contact Singapore, Hong Kong and Cambodia to find out the whereabouts of MH370.

The preliminary report includes audio recordings of the conversation between the plane and ground control, the aircraft's cargo manifest and the detailed seating plan.

The last words to Kuala Lumpur Air Traffic Control were recorded at 1:19 am local time and was nothing out of the ordinary - the voice from the cockpit said, "Good night Malaysia three seven zero."

The missing Malaysian Airlines may have entered Cambodian airspace, as the report stated that "MH370 was able to exchange signals with the flight and flying in Cambodian airspace," even though Cambodian authorities declined having made any contact with the flight. The report also did not divulge details of the other flight which communicated with MH370 after it deviated from its path.

However, a report published in New Strait Times on 9 March said that the other plane was bound for Narita, Japan, and was flying far into Vietnamese airspace when it was asked to use the mid-air emergency frequency to speak with MH370 pilots, as the ground authorities were unable to contact the missing plane.

The pilot, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that they were indeed able to contact the MH370 cockpit, but that the communication was blurred due to interference.

"We managed to establish contact with MH370 just after 1.30 am and asked them if they have transferred into Vietnamese airspace," the pilot was quoted as saying by the New Strait Times.

"The voice on the other side could have been either Captain Zaharie (Ahmad Shah, 53,) or Fariq (Abdul Hamid, 27), but I was sure it was the co-pilot.

"There were a lot of interference... static... but I heard mumbling from the other end.

"That was the last time we heard from them, as we lost the connection."

The pilot noted that the conversation could have been heard by any other plane or even ships in the area, provided they had tuned in to the same frequency.

The newspaper did not mention the 'area' MH370 could have been flying over, but the Malaysian report says that the plane-to-plane contact was made when the wayward plane was over Cambodian airspace.

The aircraft was detected making a westerly turn on Malaysia's military radar, but it was categorised as friendly, and so was not immediately pursued.

Hours after the plane disappeared, data from the radar was reviewed and information conveyed to Prime Minister Najib Razak, who ordered a search and rescue operation in the Strait of Malacca.

The report then goes on to justify the current search location narrowed down to the Indian Ocean based on analysis of the Inmarsat satellite data.

After over six weeks of scouring the area, no remains linked with the missing aircraft have been found. The aerial search for the plane ended earlier this week, but more underwater resources will be deployed to look for any signs of wreckage of the Boeing 777-200 that veered off-course on 8 March.