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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Why the confusion about the flight path?

David Clark ScottThe Christian Science Monitor

Another day, another radar data point from Malaysian officials. 

First, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 was suspected of disappearing 100 miles off the east coast of Malaysia, in the Gulf of Thailand. Initially, the time was reported as 2:30 a.m. Then, it was confirmed at 1:30 p.m., about 45 minutes after take off.

And the search and rescue mission was on. At last count, there were at least eight nations contributing some 43 ships and 39 aircraft to scour an area of 92,600 square kilometers (35,800 square miles).

Then, on Monday, a Malaysia military officer told Reuters that military radar had tracked Flight 370 to a location over the small island of Pulau Perak in the Strait of Malacca - west of Malaysia. That would suggest that after civilian air traffic control lost contact with the plane, it had turned around and flown west for an hour and 10 minutes.

Then, today, Malaysia’s Air Force Chief Tan Sir Rodzali Daud said that the last military radar signal from MH370 was at 2:15 a.m.Saturday, 200 miles northwest of Penang, Malaysia. So, Malaysia alerted the Indian military to begin search and rescue operations, because that signal would indicate that the plane was heading toward the Andaman Sea, and Indian waters.

This latest radar report raises questions about timing too. How could Flight 370 have flown over Pulau Perak at 2:40 a.m. if it was heading northwest toward India at 2:15 a.m. Or did Flight 370 fly northwest toward the Andaman Sea, and then turn south toward Pulau Perak?

But Daud expressed doubts about whether this was Flight 370 or not.

“I’m not saying this is MH370. We are still corroborating this ... There is a possibility of the aircraft making a come back. It remains as a possibility ... It is very difficult to say for sure it is the aircraft.”

Why the confusion?

"There's too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing Wednesday. "We will not give it up as long as there's still a shred of hope."

In response to the confusion, Malaysia agreed to set up a hotline with Beijing to convey information about the missing flight.

Is it confusion or is it obfuscation?

The Malaysia military may really be struggling to identify the the blips on their radar screens early last Saturday morning. Or, they may be deliberately hiding their radar capabilities.

"The first thing we don't know in the public domain is what the military ground radar were seeing," David Gleave, a former air crash investigator, told The Telegraph.

"We have an area of relatively high tension politically, so we have Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Burma, Singapore - could all have their radars working but we don't know what they've seen, and one reason for not saying what they've seen is that it would be to declare their military capability to the other people around them," said Gleave, who now works as an aviation expert at Loughborough University. "However this aircraft should have appeared on several military radars for a considerable period of time," he said.

If Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was northwest bound, did India or Thailand military radar "see" it? Would they disclose what they'd seen or say nothing so as not to reveal what they may or may not be able to detect? 

The hunt for Flight 370 continues with more questions than answers.