Conflict & Justice

Frustration hits the boiling point over the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet


A Chinese family member of a passenger onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 screams as she is being brought into a room outside the media conference area at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 19.


Edgar Su/Reuters

Relatives of passengers and crew aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 have become desperate to find out what happened.

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Just before the daily briefing Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, a woman began pleading with reporters to help her find her son.

"They give different messages every day," she said. "Where's the flight now? We can't stand it anymore."

Another family member said, "No members of the Malaysian government have met us. We launch our demands every day, but receive no answer, and they tell me to come back the next day. No answer, every day."

The BBC's Malaysia correspondent, Jennifer Pak, says the level of frustration among Chinese family members is especially high.

"They have not been able to speak to any high-level Malaysian officials, so they came to the hotel here trying to speak to journalists," Pak said. "One tried to unfurl a banner trying to say 'we protest against the Malaysian government for hiding the truth from us about the search.'"

They requested that the Malaysian government return their loved ones.

The search is now well into its second week and Malaysian officials are basically exactly where they started. Officials say the search in the South China Sea was in "vain." Now, they've refocused their searches on areas stretching from northern Thailand all the way up to Central Asia and from Indonesia south into deep and remote parts of the Indian Ocean.

Pak said the constantly changing stories have made relatives mistrust Malaysian officials.

"They've been cooped up in these hotel rooms, promised that they would be updated about the investigation, and yet, because Malaysian officials have been very guarded about what they will reveal, there is this sense that Malaysian officials are trying to hide something," Pak said.

Malaysian officials are now calling their search a criminal investigation, because they have reason to believe  the plane was deliberately diverted from its route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

“What we know is that the aircraft left early in the hours of March 8, was headed toward Beijing, but about an hour into the flight, suddenly the communications were turned off, and it then managed to cross the Malaysian peninsula undetected," she said. "[It] then managed to turn another sharp turn, up to the northwest." 

Investigators said they’ve discovered that data was deleted from the home flight simulator of the plane's pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, weeks before the plane disappeared on March 8. It's far from clear, though, whether this will have any significance. The FBI is involved with trying to recover the erased data, to see if it provides any clues.

The effort to search the two broad areas where the plane is believed to be has run into problems, but the situation is improving. Indonesia has now granted permission for surveillance aircraft from Australia, Japan and Malaysia to fly over its territory.

Indonesian ships are still awaiting instructions from Kuala Lumpur. China said it has deployed 21 satellites to help in the search. India is said to have suspended its search in the Andaman Sea as it awaits further instructions. In all, Malaysia has sought radar and satellite data, as well as search and surveillance vessels and aircraft, from 26 countries.

Without any hard evidence yet of a crash, Pak said conspiracy theories and speculation have taken hold among family members. Some think the plane was hijacked and landed somewhere, and that Malaysian officials may be working to get the passengers released.

"Family members are holding out this very tiny hope that their loved ones are still alive, and that's why it has driven them to this point of frustration," Pak said.