Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 grows, Australia appoints oversight body

Written by Reuters | HMAS STIRLING NAVAL BASE, Australia | Updated: Mar 30 2014, 20:34pm hrs
MH370Australian defense ship Ocean Shield lies docked at naval base HMAS Stirling while being fitted with a towed pinger locator to aid in her roll in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Perth, Australia, Sunday, March 30, 2014.(AP)
The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could take years, a US Naval Officer suggested on Sunday, as search and rescue officials raced to locate the plane's black box recorder days before its batteries are set to die.

Ten ships and as many aircraft are searching a massive area in the Indian Ocean west of Perth, trying again to find some trace of the aircraft, which went missing more than three weeks ago and is presumed to have crashed in one of the most remote areas on the planet.

An Australian navy ship, the Ocean Shield, was fitted with a sophisticated US black box locator and an underwater drone on Sunday, and is expected to leave port and join the search later in the day.

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But US Navy Captain Mark Matthews, who is in charge of the US Towed Pinger Locator (TPL), told journalists at Stirling Naval Base near Perth that the lack of information about where the plane went down seriously hampers the ability to find it.

"Right now the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search," he said.

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"If you compare this to Air France flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water," he said, referring to a plane that crashed in 2009 near Brazil and which took more than two years to find.

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Numerous objects have been spotted in the two days since Australian authorities moved the search 1,100 km (685 miles) after new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded the Boeing 777 travelled faster and for a shorter distance after vanishing from civilian radar screens on March 8. None has been confirmed as coming from Flight MH370.

Australia, which is coordinating the search in the southern Indian Ocean, said it had established a new body to oversee the investigation and issued countries involved in the search a set of protocols to abide by should any wreckage be found.

Malaysia says the plane, which disappeared less than an hour into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was likely diverted deliberately. Investigators have determined no apparent motive or other red flags among the 227 passengers or the 12 crew.

WEATHER THREATENS EXPANDED SEARCH

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said aircraft from China, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the United States would be searching on Sunday.

Both a Chinese ship and an Australian navy vessel have picked up objects but nothing has been linked to Flight MH370.

The search has involved unprecedented cooperation between more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has also been hampered by regional rivalries and an apparent reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.

This week, Australia issued a set of rules and guidelines to all parties involved in the search, giving Malaysia authority over the investigation of any debris to be conducted on Australian soil, a spokeswoman at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told Reuters.

"Australia intends to bring the wreckage ashore at Perth and hold it securely for the purposes of the Malaysian investigation," the spokeswoman said.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Sunday appointed a former chief of its defence forces, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, to lead a new Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC).

The JACC will coordinate communication between all international partners as well as with the families of passengers, many of whom are expected to travel to Perth.

FAMILY PROTESTS

The Malaysian government has come under strong criticism from China, home to more than 150 of the passengers, where relatives of the missing have accused the government of "delays and deception".

On Sunday, dozens of angry relatives of Chinese passengers from Beijing, met with Malaysian officials, piling more pressure on the government over its handling of the case.

"We arrived here this morning with sorrow and anxiety, because the special envoy from Malaysia, the so called high-level tech team, did not give us any effective information in meetings that took place in three consecutive days," said Jiang Hui, a relative of one of the victims.

"We want the Malaysian government to apologise for giving out confusing information in the past week which caused the delay in the search and rescue effort."

Chinese relatives demand apology over missing jet

(AP)-Several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers on Flight 370 demanded Sunday that Malaysia apologize for its handling of the search for the missing plane and for the prime minister's statement saying it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

Holding up banners that read ``We want evidence, truth, dignity'' in Chinese, and ``Hand us the murderer. Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back'' in English, the group staged a protest at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur just hours after flying in from Beijing.

Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur were Chinese, and the plane's disappearance has sparked broad outrage in China, with celebrities joining in and travel agencies announcing boycotts.

Flight booking website eLong said it was suspending Malaysia Airlines flight sales until the relatives are satisfied with the government's response. Last Wednesday, Chinese touring agency CYTS said it would stop offering tours to the country because of safety concerns.

Even popular actress Zhang Ziyi spoke out. ``Malaysian government, you have hurt the entire world ... You have misjudged the persistence in seeking truth by the world's people, including all the Chinese,'' she wrote on her microblog.

The protesters Sunday repeatedly chanted slogans in Chinese: ``We want evidence! We want the truth! We want our relatives!''

Jiang Hui, the relatives' designated representative, said they wanted a government apology for what they see as missteps in the initial handling of the disaster as well as Prime Minister Najib Razak's statement that indicated the plane had crashed with no survivors. Jiang said the relatives felt the conclusion was announced without sufficient evidence.

We also request that Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government apologize for making the conclusion on March 24, without direct evidence or a sense of responsibility, that the plane was destroyed and people died,'' Jiang said.

He said the group wanted to meet airline and government officials, although he stopped short of saying that included Najib, as earlier proposed by some relatives.

Najib went on television on March 24 to say that based on radar and satellite analysis the plane had crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, but there were lingering questions because there was no physical evidence.

That wariness on the part of the relatives was also fueled by missteps at the beginning of the search, which started in waters off Vietnam, then swung to areas west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then as radar and satellite information was further analyzed, to southwest of Australia and now to a second zone farther northeast.

We hope that in these days, we can meet with technical teams involved in the search, and hold talks with Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government. We hope that these discussions will not be like they had been in Beijing, with wishy-washy answers,'' Jiang said.

Before the protest, Ong Ka Ting, the Malaysian prime minister's special envoy to China, went to the hotel to greet the relatives.

I'm sure in Beijing they've already had a lot of discussions and we understand their feelings, and we know that definitely by coming over here there will be a lot more discussions and meetings,'' Ong said. ``So we try our best to assist them.''

Jiang said the relatives wanted the government to release information and data related to the investigation in a ``prompt and comprehensive way.'' They also wanted the airline to set up meetings with representatives from Boeing, Rolls Royce and Inmarsat, saying the lack of interaction was troubling.

It has been 22 days now and none of their people have shown up,'' he said, referring to the companies. ``Could it be that there really are problems with the quality of their products What are they worried about''

Several dozen other relatives had flown to Kuala Lumpur shortly after the plane disappeared. Other relatives have been meeting Malaysian officials in Beijing, where they also marched to the Malaysian Embassy to protest.

Malaysia Airlines issued a statement saying it would fly family members to Perth, but only once wreckage is confirmed to have been found from the plane. It said a family assistance center will be set up in Perth.

Chinese demand more information on missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

(AP)-Several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 arrived in Malaysia on Sunday to demand to meet top officials for more information about what happened to the airliner that has been missing for more than three weeks.

Two-thirds of the 227 passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared March 8 en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur were Chinese, and Beijing has urged Malaysia to be more open about the investigation.

Twenty-nine Chinese family members arrived in Kuala Lumpur after an overnight flight from Beijing, said Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy. They were ushered through a VIP area at the airport onto two large buses that drove them to a hotel about half an hour away.

About 30 Malaysian volunteers in pale blue polo-shirts led the relatives from the buses to the hotel. Some of the volunteers linked arms to prevent reporters from getting near and nudged cameramen aside.

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Newly arrived Chinese relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 walk at a hotel in Subang Jaya, Malaysia, Sunday March 30, 2014. Several dozen Chinese relatives of passengers on Flight 370 arrived in Malaysia Sunday to demand more information about what happened to the airliner that has been missing for more than three weeks, saying there has not been enough information on what happened to their loved ones. The shirt worn by the relative in the center reads: "Praying that MH370 returns home safely." (AP)

The Chinese were mostly reticent. Some wore white T-shirts with light blue Chinese characters that said ``Praying that MH370 returns home safely.''

A man named Jiang Hui said the relatives would speak at greater length later. ``Now that we've come here, we will disseminate comments in a unified way. We don't reject the media, but please give us a bit of time.''

Another man who gave only his surname, Xu, said in brief comments that the relatives want to meet officials ``at the very highest levels.''

n Beijing before they boarded the flight, one relative said they would demand to meet the prime minister and the defense minister, who is the chief spokesman for the government.

We have questions that we would like to ask them in person,'' said Wang Chunjiang, whose younger brother, lawyer Wang Chunyong, was on Flight 370.

We know what we can do is insignificant, but we will do whatever we can do for our beloved ones,'' said Wang, who was unable to make the trip because of a family issue. ``We want to know what could have happened to them in the six hours the plane kept flying, and if they had to endure any mental and physical pains.''

He said some relatives were hoping for a miracle. ``It cannot be completely ruled out before we see the wreckage of the plane or the bodies of our loved ones.''

When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed on March 24 that based on radar and satellite analysis the plane had crashed somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean, there were lingering questions because there was no physical evidence.

That wariness on the part of the relatives has been fueled by the missteps at the beginning of the search, which started in waters off Vietnam, then swung to areas west of Malaysia and Indonesia, and then as radar and satellite information was further analyzed, to southwest of Australia and now to a second zone farther northeast.

Later Sunday, Ong Ka Ting, the Malaysian prime minister's special envoy to China, went to the hotel to greet the relatives.

`I'm sure in Beijing they've already had a lot of discussions and we understand their feelings, and we know that definitely by coming over here there will be a lot more discussions and meetings,'' Ong said.

So we try our best to assist them.''

In Perth, Australia, where the search is based, Australia set up a coordination center for the multinational operation. Possibly in anticipation that wreckage of the plane will be found, officials said the center will also be a contact point for the families, including interpreter services and counseling.