Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Flight MH370: Chinese relatives' anger erupts over missing plane

Standard

Anguished Chinese relatives of passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines plane have burst into a media centre in Kuala Lumpur, calling on authorities to "give us back our families".

Twelve days after the disappearance of flight MH370, multinational efforts have failed to find any trace of the plane and the 239 people on board, including 153 Chinese. 

 The investigation has focused on the possibility that the plane was deliberately diverted from its flight path, but the drip-feed of often conflicting information has sparked fury among desperate relatives and condemnation from Chinese authorities. 

 Amid chaotic scenes, the relatives were besieged by camera-wielding reporters awaiting the start of a daily press briefing by Malaysian officials on the search for the missing aircraft.

 Shouting and crying, they unfurled a banner that accused the Malaysian authorities of withholding information and not doing enough to find the plane.

 "They give different messages every day. Where's the flight now? We can't stand it anymore," one woman wailed.

 Security intervened to stop the uproar at the Kuala Lumpur briefing room - located in a hotel near Malaysia's international airport.

  The family members were bundled out of the room, with two of them having to be physically carried out, still protesting and shouting.

 Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein has ordered an inquiry into the incident. 

 "I fully understand what they're going through. Emotions are high," he told the briefing that began shortly afterwards.

 "I hope and I appeal to everybody that though we understand their concerns, we are trying our very best." 

 At a hotel in Beijing, tensions also boiled over at a daily meeting between company officials and family members.

 "We do not have any other way of dealing with this other than to be angry and to cry. Your way of dealing with it is either lying or playing a shameful role," one relative shouted, waving his arms furiously at a representative from the airline.

 "Look [at] what we have been talking about today - trivial matters. What are we coming here for? We just want to know where our relatives are and where the plane is.

A relative of a passenger on MH370 The questioning from relatives was briefly interrupted as a noisy row erupted at one of the airline's administration desks.

 A woman marched to the front of the hall demanding to know why she had to present her marriage certificate to prove her husband was on the plane, in order to get a room at the hotel.

 "My husband was on board, and our relatives have had nowhere to stay for two days!" the woman shouted as other family members encouraged her to confront the airline official.

 Amid angry exchanges one of her male relatives lunged aggressively at the neck of a man he believed to be an airline administrator, and another shouted: "What sort of person would pretend that their husband is on board the plane?" 

 On Wednesday, Malaysia Airlines issued a statement, reiterating it was doing what it could to keep the families informed, having opened hotlines and offering counselling services. 

 Twenty-six countries are now involved in the hunt, which covers a vast area of land and sea in a northern corridor over south and central Asia, and a southern corridor stretching deep into the southern Indian Ocean towards Australia. 

 The search now encompasses an area stretching 7.7 million square kilometres, larger than the entire land mass of Australia. 

 Australia is leading the search in an area 3,000 kilometres south-west of Perth. 

 Earlier on Wednesday it was revealed that Thailand's military detected the missing Malaysia Airlines jet flying off course just minutes after it changed direction, but did not share the information with Malaysia. 

 Ships and planes searched the South China Sea for a week after MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. 

 Now it has emerged that Thai radar identified the plane changing course and heading south-west just minutes after it happened on March 8. 

 Thailand says it did not pass on the information to Malaysia at the time because it was not asked for it.

 If the information had been passed on it could have saved days of wasted effort in the wrong search area.

 Meanwhile, investigators have discounted reports the plane may have been sighted over the Maldives and say they believe it most likely flew into the southern Indian Ocean.

 "I can confirm that the Malaysian chief of the defence force has contacted his counterpart in the Maldives, who has confirmed that these reports are not true," Mr Hussein said.

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