China: Satellite images show possible plane debris

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by CALUM MACLEOD / USA TODAY

KREM.com

Posted on March 13, 2014 at 5:07 AM

Updated Thursday, Mar 13 at 11:23 AM

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The Chinese government has published satellite images of what authorities suggested may be wreckage from the Malaysia Airlines flight missing since early Saturday.

The images, taken Sunday, show three fragments in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. They were posted Wednesday on the website of China's State Administration of Science, the BBC and CNN reported.

Beijing-bound Flight 370, with 239 people aboard, vanished about an hour after it took off from Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Its final transmission indicated no problems just minutes before it disappeared over the South China Sea, south of Vietnam's Ca Mau peninsula.

Malaysia doubled the size of the search area for the airliner after releasing the last words radioed by the Boeing 777: "All right, good night."

The words from someone in the cockpit were picked up by air traffic controllers early Saturday and provided to relatives of some of the passengers in Beijing Wednesday.

The search for the missing plane was expanded to 35,800 square miles of Southeast Asia ocean that now includes part of the Indian Ocean.

A Malaysia military radar indicated an unidentified plane was in the air hundreds of miles west of Flight 370's last recorded position about one hour after it vanished. That would've put Flight 370 well off course, but it is not known if the radar was accurate.

Still, Malaysia moved additional search and rescue assets to the Straits of Malacca in case, said Gen. Seri Zulkifli Mohdzin, Malaysia's chief of armed forces.

Ships and aircraft from 12 countries are hunting for the plane. No trace of it has been found. The operation includes the USS Pinckney, USS Kidd and USNS John Ericsson.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein defended the government's handling of the disappearance. "Our information is consistent, it's transparent, we have nothing to hide," he said.

The confusion upsets relatives of the missing passengers, especially in China, home to the majority of passengers.

"There is much contradictory news, I really don't know what to believe, I am waiting anxiously with my family relatives," said Zhang Hongjie, a Beijinger whose wife was on the flight after a holiday in Malaysia.

The military radar indicated a plane was flying 200 miles northwest of Penang at 2:15 a.m. Saturday morning, said Malaysia air force chief Gen. Rodzali Daud. The data indicate a "possible turn back" from the expected flight path of Flight 370, he told an evening press briefing.

Authorities are working with the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board to confirm if the plane is the missing MH370. To pinpoint the plane's last location, U.S. experts will assist Malaysian officials in analyzing both civilian and military data.

The last civilian radar data ended at 1:30 a.m., on the east side of the peninsula, said the country's civilian aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman. The physical search involves 42 ships and 39 aircraft, said Hishammuddin.

Malaysia Airlines has offered Chinese families of the missing a $5,000 'condolence' payment they say is not related to compensation. Some relatives have rejected the payment, but Zhang said he would probably accept.

If the plane is found, Zhang will travel to the location. Malaysia Airlines has already flown some family members to Kuala Lumpur, where they await news in a suburban hotel. The limit per family was set at two, but Zhang has five family members who want to go, including the couple's 18 year-old daughter. Concerned about the painful purpose of the journey, Zhang has not yet decided if the girl should accompany him, he said Wednesday.

In Beijing, efforts continue to offer comfort to the relatives gathered in three hotels. "The relatives are very upset and in pain, we offered them help such as translation, snacks and drinks, and asked people in sorrow to think positively," said Zeng Yunji, 53, a volunteer for the Taiwan Compassion Relief Tzu-Chi Foundation, a Buddhist charity.

"We told them, everything is not clear now, let's hope for the best," said Zeng, who cheered one weeping woman, whose husband is missing, by encouraging her to pray in her heart and repeat over and over, to her husband, "you must come back safely."

The charity's volunteers include Buddhists, Christians, Catholics and Muslims, she said. "Religion has power, but you don't have to believe to have influence, we all have a kind heart, that's what we share," said Zeng. "We will stay here until all the relatives have left."

Authorities in Malaysia appear to be working hard to get results they can verify and release. The confusion has followed contradictory statements by some of the multiple government agencies and the Malaysian military, working together with several Asian neighbors and the U.S. Navy, involved in the search for the plane and investigation into its disappearance.

Local media eagerly report every possible new lead and apparent government quote. On several occasions now, government officials have later made denials or given remarks that contradict earlier statements from colleagues in other departments, such as on whether some passengers booked the flight but did not board. There were 239 passengers and crew on board the plane when it disappeared.

"There's too much information and confusion right now. It is very hard for us to decide whether a given piece of information is accurate," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing. "We will not give it up as long as there's still a shred of hope."

With the world's attention on their country, some Malaysians wish the government would find a better public communicator to run the packed daily press briefings. "The quality and competency of the officials involved are somewhat lacking," Tan Eng Bee wrote in a letter published Wednesday in the New Straits Times newspaper.
 

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