Flight MH370

Malaysia Airlines flight 370

Grieving Chinese relatives of passengers on flight MH370 fly to Malaysia for answers

Trip by Chinese family members comes as ships searching the southern Indian Ocean pick up material from the water for the first time

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 5:51am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2014, 9:08am

More than 40 Chinese relatives of passengers on flight MH370 were expected to arrive in Kuala Lumpur today to demand more information from the Malaysian authorities.

Their trip came as Australian and Chinese ships searching the southern Indian Ocean retrieved "a number of objects" - the first time in the search that material has been picked up.

The Australian Maritime Safety Administration - which is co-ordinating the search west of Perth - said that "so far" none of the objects had been confirmed as related to the missing Boeing 777 airliner.

Australia's HMAS Success and China's Haixun 01 collected the material. Another five ships were now on their way to the revised search zone, bringing the total involved in the international effort to nine, the agency said.

Eight aircraft also sighted "multiple items" yesterday in a search area that covered about 252,000 square kilometres.

Xinhua said white, red and orange "suspicious objects" had been seen by crew of a Chinese aircraft. The missing plane's exterior was red, white, blue and grey.

US Navy equipment to track the plane's black box recorders had arrived in Perth and would be deployed when needed, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

But time is running out, as the battery-powered beacons that help locate the black boxes operate for only about 30 days.

The Malaysia Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing disappeared on March 8.

Amid news of the possible breakthrough involving the retrieved objects, 40 Chinese family members boarded a flight from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur despite attempts by Chinese officials to dissuade them from travelling.

"We are going over to Malaysia simply because the technical delegation they have sent here [to Beijing] hasn't helped us solve any problems at all," said Steve Wang, a relatives' representative.

Of the 239 passengers and crew aboard the flight, 154 were Chinese. The next-of-kin were flown overnight to the Malaysian capital by Malaysia Airlines, which said it would pay for all aspects of the trip.

According to several family members, a representative from the Chinese Foreign Ministry tried to discourage them from going, citing the hot weather.

Officials urged relatives to be reasonable, respectful and avoid radical behaviour in Malaysia.

A meeting between 200 Chinese relatives and a Malaysian delegation resumed in Beijing yesterday, with relatives repeatedly interrupting with expletives and threats.

At least two Malaysian officials expressed concern that the fresh arrival of relatives in Kuala Lumpur would make communication with the rest of the bereaved families more difficult.

The relatives hope the Chinese embassy in Malaysia can help to arrange face-to-face meetings with high-level officials and speed up the search for the jet.

The hunt in the southern Indian Ocean has moved to a new zone 1,850 kilometres west of Perth.

Because the latest search zone is closer to Australia than previous locations, aircraft have more time over the ocean.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg, Kristine Kwok in Perth and Satish Cheney in Kuala Lumpur


Fraught week in hunt for Flight MH370

Far from bringing closure to three weeks of speculation over flight MH370's fate, Malaysia's announcement that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean enraged many Chinese - and fanned regional tensions.

Screams, tears and cries of disbelief echoed through the Lido Hotel in Beijing on Monday night, after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said new analysis of data confirmed the flight "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean west of Australia, killing all 239 people onboard, 154 of them Chinese.

"Malaysia is lying. Make China go down there and look," one relative said. "Murderers! Murderers!" one woman shouted the next day, as hundreds marched on the Malaysian embassy in Beijing accusing authorities in Kuala Lumpur of a cover-up and mishandling the disaster.

China's deputy foreign minister demanded Malaysian authorities provide the evidence for their conclusion. Some relatives still hope the plane and survivors may yet be found.

As Australia assumed a prominent role in search efforts, defence minister David Johnston said the search area was "probably one of the most remote parts of the planet".

On Tuesday, relatives delivered a letter to China's special envoy in Kuala Lumpur, blasting Malaysia's "inhumane" handling of the crisis.

Prominent bloggers and Chinese celebrities including actress Zhang Ziyi have called on their followers to boycott Malaysian products and tourism. Others called the remarks "stupid" and irresponsible. In Malaysia, the Chinese reactions are seen as being overly harsh.

In response to repeated questions from Chinese journalists about the delays, Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, snapped: "Can I also remind you that we received satellite data from China, regarding sightings in the South China Sea, which made us distract ourselves from the search and rescue operation to search areas that had already been searched?"

China's ties with many Southeast Asian nations are fraught with disputed claims over the South China Sea. China needs to maintain its relations with Malaysia to balance these disputes, say political analysts.

On Friday, as the weather cleared, the search zone moved again after Australian investigators calculated the plane had been going faster and used more fuel. The new area is larger but closer to Australia's west coast. Better weather means planes have been able to spend longer over the search area, while floating debris in the zone has been retrieved.

For now, the mystery of the flight's disappearance remains very much open.

Joanna Chiu