Anger Mounts in China Over Missing Malaysian Plane 'Mystery'

2014-03-10
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Chinese students in Zhejiang province hold candles to pray for missing passengers of flight MH370, March 10, 2014.
IMAGINECHINA

Frustration was mounting Monday among family members and friends of a large number of Chinese passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines flight as an international search for the Beijing-bound aircraft widened.

Amid the public furor, China's state-run media lashed out at the Malaysian authorities and the national airline over their handling of the missing jetliner with 153 Chinese on board.

Colleagues of some of the Chinese among 239 passengers aboard flight MH370 say they have been unable to get through on the airline's external contact number since the plane disappeared from radar somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.  

"I have been trying to call Malaysia Airlines ... all weekend but it's hard to get through," according to Zheng Wenshan, whose Chinese colleagues at a painting and calligraphy exhibit in Kuala Lumpur are among those missing. "Nobody picks up on the weekend."

"I haven't been able to get through this whole time," Zheng said, still hoping for good news about the other members of his group, whom he last saw at Kuala Lumpur's International Airport before he boarded separate flight home to Shanghai after the event.

"I still want them to come home, and I hope every day that they will trace [the plane]," he said. "But the current situation means I am no longer confident."

Zheng was part of a delegation of 29 traditional Chinese painters, calligraphers, staff members, and relatives who had traveled to Malaysia to attend the exhibit.

"We were all together for the whole of the last day," he said. "We got to the airport at around 11:00 p.m.... Then we split up into two groups."

"I and five other painters and calligraphers boarded a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Shanghai, avoiding disaster," he said, adding that the remainder of the group, including 18 painters and calligraphers, four staff members and seven relatives, had taken the ill-fated Malaysian Airlines flight to Beijing.

Search area expanded

The desperate search for the Boeing 777 jet expanded across a 50-nautical-mile (92-kilometer) radius area around where the plane was last contacted, but without finding any definitive traces.

Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the search area would be extended to 100 nautical miles around the same area, covering land on the Malaysian peninsula, the waters off its west coast and an area to the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

But the more than 30 search aircraft and 40 ships drafted into the search operation have found no sign of the flight, baffling experts around the world.

Pointing the finger

The Chinese authorities have pointed the finger at Kuala Lumpur over the lack of information.

"The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," the tabloid Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on Monday.

"The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough," it said.

A team of Chinese officials from government ministries headed for Malaysia on Monday, to offer support to the search operation and to relatives of Chinese passengers.

Earlier, tests on oil slicks and suspected aircraft debris in the South China Sea, near where the plane disappeared from the radar, showed they were unconnected to the flight.

"The search operation is still under way, and there has been no evidence to indicate the location of the missing flight MH370," a Malaysian Airlines spokesman told RFA on Monday evening local time.

He said not all the relatives of those on board had been located by the airline.

"There are still some [who haven't been contacted]," the spokesman said. "For the latest updates, people can check our official website."

Mystery cause

As a massive air and sea search now in its third day failed to find any trace of the plane or those on board, questions are being asked over possible security lapses and whether the flight was a target of a bomb, hijacking, or terrorist attack after at least two of the passengers were found to have traveled on stolen passports.

Wong Dong, a Macau-based Chinese military analyst, said the fact that MH370 disappeared so rapidly suggested it could have blown up in mid-flight.

"The plane disappeared very suddenly from the radar, so much so that there was no time to send a distress call," Wong said. "The biggest likelihood is that it exploded and disintegrated in mid-air."

"[I] believe that the likelihood of a terrorist attack is very large."

Two of the passengers listed on the flight didn't show up, and their passports were found to have been reported stolen in Thailand in recent years.

However, it is still unclear how the two passengers using their documents managed to board the flight.

U.S. officials have said that an FBI team sent to help investigate the passengers has found no evidence so far of a terrorist attack, however.

Nothing ruled out

Police chief Azharuddin, asked whether it was possible the plane had been hijacked or disintegrated mid-air, said the authorities were ruling nothing out.

"We are looking at every aspect of what could have happened," he told reporters.

"This unprecedented missing aircraft mystery—it is mystifying and we are increasing our efforts to do what we have to do."

In Beijing, scores of tearful relatives lined up to apply for visas to travel to Malaysia to be closer to rescue operations, although others said they would not go while so much remained unknown.

"There is more we can do here in China," one woman told Agence France-Presse. "They haven't even found the plane yet."

A team of Chinese officials from government ministries headed for Malaysia on Monday, to offer support to the search operation and to relatives of Chinese passengers.

Malaysian officials have said there was a possibility that MH370 may have inexplicably turned back towards Kuala Lumpur.

The plane, captained by a veteran pilot, had relayed no indications of distress, and weather at the time was said to be good.

Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.