Hijacking suspicions give hope to families [China Daily: Hong Kong Edition]
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Families of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 said on Saturday that the latest information that someone deliberately disabled the transponder and changed route gives them hope - if the jetliner was hijacked, their loved ones may be alive.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a news conference in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday: "Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: We are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path."
He did not accept any questions during the briefing.
Investigations have been launched into the crew and passengers. The search for the Boeing 777, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people, including 154 Chinese, on board has entered a new phase.
Najib said the unidentified aircraft the Malaysian military radar detected in the north of the Strait of Malacca early morning on March 8 is believed to be MH370.
The last communication between the missing plane and satellites was recorded at 8:11 am - more than six hours after it vanished from air traffic control screens. The last radio transmission from the cockpit was: "All right, good night."
Based on new satellite information, there is a high degree of certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System was disabled just before the aircraft reached peninsular Malaysia's east coast. The transponder was switched off shortly afterward, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control.
It then flew in a westerly direction back over peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest. These movements are consistent with deliberate actions by someone on the plane, Najib added.
The prime minister's words suggested a probability the aircraft was hijacked and its passengers are still alive, said a woman surnamed Ma, from Shandong province, whose brother-in-law was on board.
The news conference was broadcast live in Metropark Lido Hotel, Beijing to families of the Chinese passengers on the flight.
Another woman, whose nephew was on board, said she was somewhat comforted.
"It's actually the best information we've gotten all this time," said the woman, from Liaoning province's capital Shenyang.
"What we want to hear is that our relatives are safe.
"The update brings me some hope. My nephew's mother is exhausted. She's too weak to go downstairs to participate in the news conference. She cried when she learned someone had found suspicious things in the ocean."
The aunt believed the news will help calm her.
Another family member sighed with relief and said: "Malaysia confirmed someone disabled the transponder on the plane, which means our relatives may be still alive. That's much better than hearing that rescuers found wreckage."
Malaysia Airlines said later on Saturday afternoon that the criminal investigation has significantly changed the event's nature.
The airline will not hold any more news conferences in the hotel.
"There is a high possibility that the MH370 was hijacked based on the new details released," Dai Peng, director of the criminal investigation department of People's Public Security University of China. "If that's the case, it must have been plotted for a long time by a group of people, some of whom boarded the plane to carry out the plan while the rest remained on the ground.
"By investigating the backgrounds of the crew and passengers, authorities could find possible suspects who might be on the plane or have connections with those on board."
The company said it will continue to provide accommodation for the family members in the hotel but did not say for how long.
The latest information placed MH370's final location in one of two corridors: a northern sector around the borders of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and northern Thailand; and a southern sector stretching from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
Both are to the west of the Malaysian peninsula. International search efforts have focused on the east over the past week.
Vietnam's government announced on Saturday evening that it will halt search efforts as operations in the South China Sea have ended and the search teams are assessing redeployment.
Fourteen countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft have joined the search.
After the Malaysian prime minister's news conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang issued a stern statement urging Malaysia to continue providing "thorough and exact information" about MH370.
A Xinhua news agency editorial said it is undeniable that the disclosure of such vital information is painfully belated - more than seven excruciating days after the jetliner lost contact.
And because of the absence - or at least lack - of timely authoritative information, massive efforts have been squandered and numerous rumors have been spawned, repeatedly jostling waiting families' nerves, it said.
Given today's technology, the delay smacks of either dereliction of duty or reluctance to share information in a full and timely manner. That would be intolerable, the commentary said.
Contact the writers through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zhang Yan and Wang Wen contributed to this story.
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MH370 PM statement – 15/03/14
Seven days ago Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared. We realise this is an excruciating time for the families of those on board. No words can describe the pain they must be going through. Our thoughts and our prayers are with them.
I have been appraised of the on-going search operation round the clock. At the beginning of the operation, I ordered the search area to be broadened; I instructed the Malaysian authorities to share all relevant information freely and transparently with the wider investigation team; and I requested that our friends and allies join the operation. As of today, 14 countries, 43 ships and 58 aircraft are involved in the search. I wish to thank all the governments for their help at such a crucial time.
Since day one, the Malaysian authorities have worked hand-in-hand with our international partners – including neighbouring countries, the aviation authorities and a multinational search force – many of whom have been here on the ground since Sunday.
We have shared information in real time with authorities who have the necessary experience to interpret the data. We have been working nonstop to assist the investigation. And we have put our national security second to the search for the missing plane.
It is widely understood that this has been a situation without precedent.
We have conducted search operations over land, in the South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, the Andaman Sea and the Indian Ocean. At every stage, we acted on the basis of verified information, and we followed every credible lead. Sometimes these leads have led nowhere.
There has been intense speculation. We understand the desperate need for information on behalf of the families and those watching around the world. But we have a responsibility to the investigation and the families to only release information that has been corroborated. And our primary motivation has always been to find the plane.
In the first phase of the search operation, we searched near MH370's last known position, in the South China Sea. At the same time, it was brought to our attention by the Royal Malaysian Air Force that, based on their primary radar, an aircraft – the identity of which could not be confirmed – made a turn back. The primary radar data showed the aircraft proceeding on a flight path which took it to an area north of the Straits of Malacca.
Given this credible data, which was subsequently corroborated with the relevant international authorities, we expanded the area of search to include the Straits of Malacca and, later, to the Andaman Sea.
Early this morning I was briefed by the investigation team – which includes the FAA, NTSB, the AAIB, the Malaysian authorities and the Acting Minister of Transport – on new information that sheds further light on what happened to MH370.
Based on new satellite information, we can say with a high degreeof certainty that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) was disabled just before the aircraft reached the East coast of peninsular Malaysia. Shortly afterwards, near the border between Malaysian and Vietnamese air traffic control, the aircraft's transponder was switched off.
From this point onwards, the Royal Malaysian Air Force primary radar showed that an aircraft which was believed – but not confirmed – to be MH370 did indeed turn back. It then flew in a westerly direction back over peninsular Malaysia before turning northwest. Up until the point at which it left military primary radar coverage, these movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane.
Today, based on raw satellite data that was obtained from the satellite data service provider, we can confirm that the aircraft shown in the primary radar data was flight MH370. After much forensic work and deliberation, the FAA, NTSB, AAIB and the Malaysian authorities, working separately on the same data, concur.
According to the new data, the last confirmed communication between the plane and the satellite was at 8:11AM Malaysian time on Saturday 8th March. The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after this last point of contact. This will help us to refine the search.
Due to the type of satellite data, we are unable to confirm the precise location of the plane when it last made contact with the satellite.
However, based on this new data, the aviation authorities of Malaysia and their international counterparts have determined that the plane's last communication with the satellite was in one of two possible corridors: a northern corridor stretching approximately from the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to northern Thailand, or a southern corridor stretching approximately from Indonesia to the southern Indian ocean. The investigation team is working to further refine the information.
In view of this latest development the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board. Despite media reports that the plane was hijacked, I wish to be very clear: we are still investigating all possibilities as to what caused MH370 to deviate from its original flight path.
This new satellite information has a significant impact on the nature and scope of the search operation. We are ending our operations in the South China Sea and reassessing the redeployment of our assets. We are working with the relevant countries to request all information relevant to the search, including radar data.
As the two new corridors involve many countries, the relevant foreign embassies have been invited to a briefing on the new information today by the Malaysian Foreign Ministry and the technical experts. I have also instructed the Foreign Ministry to provide a full briefing to foreign governments which had passengers on the plane. This morning, Malaysia Airlines has been informing the families of the passengers and crew of these new developments.
Clearly, the search for MH370 has entered a new phase. Over the last seven days, we have followed every lead and looked into every possibility. For the families and friends of those involved, we hope this new information brings us one step closer to finding the plane.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak (center) addresses reporters about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, as Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (left) and Department of Civil Aviation's Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman stand by him, at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday. Damir Sagolj / Reuters
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