Puzzled Malaysian Air Searchers Ponder What to Try NowManirajan Ramasamy
Investigators hunting for Flight 370 will regroup today on where to take the almost two-month search that’s found no sign of the jet and prompted Malaysian Airline System Bhd. to send passengers’ families home with more money than answers.
Officials from Malaysia, China and Australia will meet in Canberra to shape a new phase of the search after a 58-day multination hunt by planes, ships and submarines found no debris and couldn’t pinpont pings consistent with transmissions from flight recorders. The search may go on for as long as 12 months depending on weather conditions, Angus Houston, who heads Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre, said May 2.
“We are very disappointed and feel helpless,” Xiao Bian, who said his elder brother was one of the 239 people on board, said in an interview. “Malaysian Airline must have known where the plane is and they have been keeping the truth from us.”
In Australia, the family of one of its citizens on board held a memorial service over the weekend, according to a statement read over the phone by the Queensland Police Service.
The hunt for the Boeing Co. 777-200ER is the longest for a missing passenger jet in modern aviation history. The disappearance has baffled authorities because contact was lost less than an hour into a routine trip to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
The jetliner vanished from civilian radars while headed north over the Gulf of Thailand, then doubled back and flew over Peninsular Malaysia and on into the remote waters of the Indian Ocean, according to analysis of satellite signals.
While the motive behind that heading remains unknown, MH370 was deliberately steered south, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has said. There are no indications of any survivors, the airline has said previously.
The international search team abandoned its aerial search for debris late last month. An unmanned submarine has scoured more than 400 square kilometers (154 square miles) of ocean floor off the west coast of Australia without picking up a trace of the plane, and the search area will be expanded, authorities said previously.
An initial report on the incident last week showed confusion reigned as the jet went missing, with the military not realizing it was seeing the diverted plane and top government officials not being briefed about the situation for nine hours.
“The search goes on,” Malaysia’s Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur May 2. Malaysia will intensify efforts and the government has spoken to several private companies on how they could assist in the search, he told reporters.
With no signs of progress, Malaysian Air has said it will close family-assistance centers by May 7 and advised relatives to go home to wait for information. It said it would make advance payments on eventual settlements.
“This is to assist the family members in meeting their economic needs and will not affect their rights to claim compensation according to the law at a later stage,” the airline said in a statement May 3.
The state-owned airline didn’t say what amount would be disbursed.
Tensions have been rising among the mostly Chinese family members over incomplete or conflicting reports shared by government officials.
Last month, frustrated relatives of passengers on the missing jet held the carrier’s staff in a Beijing hotel ballroom for more than 10 hours as they demanded the Malaysian government give a fuller accounting of Flight 370.
A relative of a missing passenger attacked Kalaichelven Shunmugam, Malaysian Air’s security supervisor, kicking him in the knee in an April 22 incident.