Relatives of the Chinese passengers on missing flight MH370 vented almost two weeks of pent-up rage and frustration yesterday as they met the first high-level Malaysian delegation to visit Beijing since the flight vanished.
Top brass from the military and civilian wings of Malaysia's aviation industry arrived in the city with the aim of clearing up confusion but were met with a barrage of criticism. The family members slammed the group for its slowness in travelling to China to face them, and for the way they have handled the search for the missing flight.
Led by Kuala Lumpur's ambassador to Beijing, Datuk Iskandar Sarudin, the delegation included a lieutenant general in charge of flight operations for the Royal Malaysian Air Force, a colonel in the Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia, a Boeing 777 pilot and a Malaysia Airlines vice-president.
The delegation emphasised that finding the plane remained their first priority. They said there were many possible reasons for the airliner's disappearance, including a terrorist attack or hijacking, either of which might require information to be withheld to protect the safety of the passengers.
The distraught wife of a man who was returning home from work in Singapore on the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 said: "[The Malaysians] release one piece of news today, and then deny it tomorrow. My heart is going up and down … It's just like being tortured."
Two unnamed staff members of the Cyberview Spa & Resort hotel in Malaysia, where some of the Chinese family members were staying, said yesterday morning that Malaysia Airlines had booked 50 rooms for the relatives but that more than 40 were unoccupied because most of the relatives had refused to fly to Kuala Lumpur, believing the trip to be pointless.
Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, later told reporters in Kuala Lumpur the delegation had brought the authorities and families closer together.
"We had a very constructive and frank discussion" Hishammuddin said. "Although we answered most of the questions they raised, we could not answer them all."
Search and rescue operations in the southern Indian Ocean and in the flight corridor to the north continued yesterday following Australia's announcement on Thursday that satellite images showed what could be debris from the plane. So far, the objects shown in the satellite images have yet to be found.
"The southern corridor has always been a challenge," Hishammuddin said. "I will be seeking further assistance from the US secretary of defence tonight."
Satish Cheney contributed reporting