Mystery Deepens Over Flight MH370 As Chinese Hit Out at Confusion

2014-03-13
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Malaysian Minister of Defense and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein answers questions from reporters at a hotel near the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 12, 2014.
AFP

Updated at 4:30 p.m. ET on 2014-03-13

Malaysian authorities on Thursday dismissed reports that a missing Malaysian Airlines jet carrying mostly passengers from China could have flown on for up to four hours after disappearing off the radar, as friends and relatives of those on board continued an agonizing wait for news.

Adding to the confusion over flight MH370 with 239 people on board which lost contact on Saturday while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, China told Malaysia Thursday that satellite images of suspected parts allegedly from the missing jet posted on the website of a Chinese state science agency were released "by mistake and did not show any debris."

The Wall Street Journal had reported Thursday that U.S. investigators said they believed the plane had continued on after its last known contact with air traffic control.

Malaysian defense minister and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein told journalists the report was "inaccurate."

"I would like to refer to news reports suggesting that the aircraft may have continued flying for some time after the last contact," Hishammuddin told a news briefing.

"As Malaysia Airlines will confirm shortly, those reports are inaccurate."

"The last transmission from the aircraft was at 1:07 which indicated that everything was normal," he said of the missing flight, which was scheduled to take six hours and lost contact after about an hour.

Earlier, the paper had reported that U.S. investigators' suspicions the plane had flown for about five hours were based on signals from monitoring systems embedded in the Boeing 777's Rolls-Royce engines.

It later corrected its report to say they were based on analysis of signals sent by the jet's satellite-communication link designed to automatically transmit the status of some onboard systems to the ground.

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A board displays messages for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia on March 11, 2014. Photo credit: AFP.
There are currently 43 ships and 40 aircraft searching two locations in the South China Sea and the Strait of Malacca.

If the engines had run for five hours, the plane could have continued for 2,200 nautical miles past its last confirmed location, the Wall Street Journal reported, suggesting a far wider search radius than had previously been allowed for.

U.S. counter-terrorism officials were probing the possibility that a pilot or someone else on board diverted the jet towards an unknown location after turning off its communication transponder, the paper said.

Satellite images


Meanwhile, China released military satellite images of three large floating objects near where MH370 lost contact on Saturday, but later retracted them as having been sent "in error."

Vietnamese and Malaysian planes that searched the area in the South China Sea on Thursday found no sign of wreckage in the area indicated in the satellite photos.

Relatives in confusion

The continuing confusion over the fate of those on board the mystery flight is putting an increasing strain on their friends and relatives, Chinese artist Zheng Wenbin told RFA's Mandarin Service on Thursday.

"I am thinking about this every minute of every day," said Zheng, who took up an offer of a flight to Kuala Lumpur to await news after several of his artist and calligrapher colleagues went missing aboard the flight.

"These people were my relatives, and there were reports today that the plane may have been attacked," he said.

"I can't help wondering what the Malaysian government is thinking of; all the official information has been so confused," Zheng said.

"We are just ordinary people, and we can't see what is really happening; so it's all a mystery to us," he said.

"Everyone is very confused; sometimes it looks as if they're doing everything they can, but then we think maybe they are covering something up."

Chorus of criticism


Some families of the up to 154 missing Chinese people on board the flight have voiced fury at the wait and the apparent confusion.

Verbal abuse and water bottles were hurled at representatives of the government-owned airline in Beijing on Thursday.

Beijing officials have called on Malaysia's special envoy in the Chinese capital to widen the search and give out more information.

"Yesterday Malaysia's special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the Chinese civil aviation authority asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope," civil aviation chief Li Jiaxiang told reporters.

"We hope that Malaysia's information release and communication can be smoother," he said.

Meanwhile, China's state-run media joined in the chorus of criticism.

"The core of Malaysia's information hasn't been consistent from start to finish," the tabloid Global Times, published by the ruling Chinese Communist Party's official People's Daily newspaper, said in an editorial.

"It is certainly a blow to the confidence that the rest of the world has in Malaysia's ability to be at the center of the rescue mission," it said.

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