Air traffic controllers did not notice Flight 370 was missing until 17 minutes after it vanished from radar, an official report has confirmed.
And they did not dispatch a rescue team until almost four hours later - despite contacting staff in Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Read more of today's Herald MH370 coverage:
Malaysia Airlines pulls plug on hotels for MH370 families
The first official report on the plane's disappearance was released by the Malaysian government today after politicians came under intense pressure from passengers' families.
Written almost a month ago and dated April 9, the preliminary report has already been sent to the International Civil Aviation Organisation.
It was meant to stay confidential but Malaysian Prime Minister bowed to demands of families who complained the government had not done enough.
The report confirms the plane disappeared from Malaysian radar at 1.21 am on March 8 with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board, and no trace of it has been found since.
It was passing into Vietnamese airspace, and should have been picked up by counterparts there.
But the report reveals Vietnamese air traffic controllers only queried about it with their Malaysian colleagues at 1.38am.
The Malaysian authorities then contacted area control centres in Singapore, Hong Kong, Cambodia and an operations centre at Malaysia Airlines, and none could find any trace of the plane.
But it took another four hours, until 5.30am local time, before a Rescue Coordination Centre in the Malaysian city of Kuala Lumpur was activated.
The report said the International Civil Aviation Organisation, which sets worldwide standards, should discuss new methods of real-time tracking to ensure a huge passenger jet is never lost again.
It said: 'While commercial air transport aircraft spend considerable amounts of time operating over remote areas, there is currently no requirement for real time tracking of these.
'There have now been two occasions during the last five years when large commercial air transport aircraft have gone missing and their last position was not accurately known.
'This uncertainty resulted in significant difficulty in locating the aircraft in a timely manner.
'Therefore, the Malaysian Air Accident Investigation Bureau makes [its] safety recommendation to the ICAO.'
As well as the five-page report the government released other information from the investigation into the flight.
It included 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 and a document detailing actions taken by authorities in the hours after the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar.
Another report showed Malaysia Airlines at one point thought the plane, built in 2002, 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.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak last week appointed a team of experts to review all the information the government had and decide what should be made public.
Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said today: '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.'
Hishammuddin said Malaysia's military radar tracked the jet making a turn-back in a westerly direction 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 cargo manifest, meanwhile, 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 and whether they could explode.
But Malaysia Airlines said then that they were in compliance with international requirements and classified as 'non-dangerous goods.'
Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines today advised relatives of passengers who were aboard Flight 370 to move out of hotels and return home to wait for news on the search for the plane.
Since the jet disappeared, the airline has been putting the relatives up in hotels, where they have been briefed on the search.
But the airline said today it would close its family assistance centers around the world by May 7, and that the families should receive search updates from 'the comfort of their own homes.'
The airline said that it would establish family support centers in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, and that it would keep in close touch with the relatives through means including phone calls and meetings.
Malaysia Airlines also said it would soon make advanced compensation payments to the relatives.
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 submarine 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.
- Daily Mail