Malaysia promises to find wreckage of MH370 as relatives protest in China

Minister says Malaysia will do whatever it takes to find missing plane after announcement that it is believed to have crashed

Malaysia has vowed to do whatever it takes to find the wreckage of missing flight MH370, as angry family members in China protested outside its embassy in Beijing.

Malaysia’s prime minister announced on Monday that the plane was believed to have crashed in the remote Indian Ocean with the loss of all 239 people on board.

But the massive multinational search for wreckage halted on Tuesday as gale-force winds and heavy rain drove aircraft and vessels from the zone. It was expected to resume in the morning.

Relatives of passengers on flight MH370 protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Relatives of passengers on flight MH370 protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Malaysia’s transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told reporters: “My problem is giving the family members the answer they really want to know: where are their loved ones and where MH370 is. Until we can find debris and confirm it is from MH370 it is very difficult for me to give more closure for the families.

“Whenever there is hope, even if it is against hope, we will do whatever it takes.”

He said authorities had called off the search of a northern corridor where it was previously thought the flight might be found, and narrowed the southern corridor further – albeit to an area still spanning almost 470,000 square nautical miles.

Earlier, Australian Air Marshal Mark Binskin warned: “We’re not searching for a needle in the haystack. We’re searching for where the haystack is.”

The conclusion that the flight had crashed was based on unprecedented analysis of the plane’s contact with a satellite as it continued flying after disappearing from radar. Some family members have said they cannot accept their loved ones are dead without physical evidence.

“I’m really not seeing any proof,” Tom Wood, the brother of the American passenger Philip Wood, told CNN.

Around 200 relatives marched to the Malaysian embassy, where some hurled plastic bottles at the building, scuffled with police and cursed diplomats for not coming out to speak to them.

Chinese authorities normally crack down on street protests, but are much more tolerant of those targeting other countries and facilitated the march. Relatives were initially shepherded on to buses with a police escort before they decided to walk the mile and a half (2.5km) from the hotel where they have been staying. The Washington Post said plain-clothes officers urged protesters to remain orderly and gave them their matching T-shirts – reading Pray for MH370 – as well as printed placards with slogans such as: “Tell us the truth.”

The mood was sombre and mostly quiet as they walked, though periodically they chanted slogans including: “The Malaysian government cheated us.” They were bussed back to the hotel to meet the ambassador after a two-hour protest.

The channelling of grieving relatives’ anger – as well as the heavy security presence – suggested Chinese authorities were concerned that the fury might turn on them.

A vice-secretary of the State Council was among five officials to brief family members at the hotel in Beijing on Tuesday afternoon; the most senior official to meet them since the plane vanished on 8 March. High-ranking leaders – often the premier or the president himself – are usually quick to make consolation visits to those involved in high-profile tragedies.

Relatives shouted at the men to ensure China pressed Malaysia to tell the truth about the plane.

The president, Xi Jinping, ordered a special envoy to travel to Kuala Lumpur to handle the case, state media reported, while the premier, Li Keqiang, urged Malaysia to include Chinese experts in its in-depth investigation. Chinese aviation investigators and public security officials have already been helping officials in Malaysia.

Malaysian authorities have said they believe the diversion of the Boeing 777 – less than an hour after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur – was deliberate. The communications systems stopped working or were shut off at around the time it turned west, away from its course to Beijing.

Investigators say they have not ruled out any possibilities, from hijacking and sabotage to technical problems. Experts say there is little hope of learning what happened unless the wreckage can be found.

“This is a mystery and until we recover and positively identify a piece of debris, everything is virtually speculation,” the Australian defence minister, David Johnston, told reporters at the RAAF Pearce airbase north of Perth.

The Australian and US navies are sending specialist equipment to hunt for the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, which emit signals for at least 30 days after a crash.

Malaysia Airline’s chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told reporters on Tuesday: “My heart breaks to think of the unimaginable pain suffered by all the families. There are no words which can ease that pain.

“Everyone in the Malaysia Airlines family is praying for the 239 souls on MH370 and for their loved ones on this dark day.”

Asked whether he would resign, he said it was “a personal question” that he would consider later.

• Additional research by Cecily Huang


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