Families’ patience wearing thin
Agitated relatives of the Chinese passengers on board the missing Flight MH370, deeply distrustful of both the Malaysian government and the airline, raised more questions and demanded immediate answers during lengthy briefings on Thursday.
Almost six days after the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing with its 227 passengers, including 154 Chinese and a crew of 12, relatives are losing their patience.
The briefing at a room at the Metropark Lido Hotel in Beijing started at 9 am on Thursday and lasted more than five hours, much longer than any previous sessions, as increasingly hostile relatives pressed for answers from government representatives, including an official from the Malaysian aviation authority. The relatives would not allow the representatives to leave until they provided answers.
Weary of waiting, the families demanded that Malaysian officials give them answers right away, even pushing the representatives to make phone calls to Malaysia from the hotel meeting room as they listened.
An airline executive, Ignitias Ong, and his Chinese translator broke into tears in the tense atmosphere as family members chipped away at the airline’s account of its rescue efforts.
“We also have colleagues on the flight, and we want them alive as much as you do,” said a tearful Ong.
Some raised questions about news reports saying that Malaysian military radar tracked an unidentified flying object on a radar screen between 2:15 and 2:40 am.
A female official with the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia said military radar last saw the object at 2:40 am before it disappeared, and its last confirmed location was at the Palau Perak Island near the Strait of Malacca.
However, as military radar does not have access to detailed information, unlike the civil aviation system, it was unable to identify the blip as the missing MH370 flight, the official said.
She added that the object on the military radar had flying behavior that at times resembled that of a Boeing 777-200, but sometimes did not.
“That is why we are unable to be 100 percent sure,” she said.
Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, the Malaysian ambassador to China, denied reports that the Malaysian air force launched an airstrike against the unidentified object and destroyed it.
He offered a simple “no” when pressed by relatives about whether the Malaysian air force targeted any flying object shortly after the airliner went missing.
One relative demanded that the Malaysian air force make public the details of its tracking of the unidentified object and also that a Malaysian military representative be present at the briefing sessions.
However, Ong said he could only pass the demand to the government and wait for an answer.
“I cannot give you the answers now. I can only convey the message to the government. If I make a false promise right now, tomorrow I show up and you will say I was lying,” he said.
Some family members also demanded that the Malaysians address a report by the Wall Street Journal that the missing flight stayed in the air for about four hours after reaching its last confirmed location.
Hugh Dunleavy, commercial director for the airline, said the report by the WSJ was not true as the last engine signal sent by the aircraft to the ground was at 1:07 am on March 8, 14 minutes before the flight disappeared.
However, he added, the pilot did have the ability to turn off the engine, even though that only happens in extreme circumstances.
Datuk Iskandar Sarudin (left), the Malaysian ambassador to China, calls the Malaysian military to relay questions from family members of Chinese passengers aboard the missing plane.