Tears and anger in Beijing

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The search and rescue (SAR) operations for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 enters its 17th day today, amidst warning of tropical cyclone Gillian striking vessels and aircraft taking part in the SAR.

There have been three sightings of late from satellites, with France as well announcing yesterday that its satellite sighted possible debris from the plane in the southern Indian Ocean. This comes after Australia and China also made similar announcements.

Following this, The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) asked Malaysia to provide it with a copy of the cargo list or manifest carried by Flight MH370, after sightings of wooden pallets and strapping belts were reported on Saturday.

Below are updates and the latest coverage from various sources and news agencies:

MAS' text message comes under scrutiny

11.45pm: Malaysia Airlines comes under criticism for sending out a text message to inform families of Chinese passengers about the MH370's fate.
 
CNN reports MAS confirmed that the text message was indeed from the company, which read: "Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH 370 has been lost and that none of those onboard survived. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia's Prime Minster we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean."
 
The television network quoted MAS as saying that besides the text message, families also received phone calls and personal briefing from counsellors. It adds the test message was issued before the formal briefing.
 
Meanwhile, China's CCTV reports that the text message was in English and most recipients were thus unable to understand it.

No closure for some
 
11.30pm: According to WSJ , the partner of passenger Philip Wood said she received a text message informing her of the Najib's announcement a few minutes before the press conference took place.
 
"No confirmed wreckage, so no real closure," said Sarah Bajc in a statement in which she asked for privacy to allow her and Wood's family to grieve.
 
Bajc had led a Facebook campaign entitled "Finding Philip Wood" in an attempt to crowd-source an inquiry into Flight MH370's disappearance.
 
Wood, 51, was flying on board MH370 to see Bajc who is a school teacher in Beijing.
 
Inmarsat explains delay

11.15pm: According to the BBC , Inmarsat gave its data to UK's Air Accident Investigation Branch on Sunday and calculations were made, in an entirely new way, to model the movement of the aircraft.
 
A lot of data crunching was involved and the information needed to be verified before it could be made public.

Anguish in Beijing

11.00pm: Anguish fills Lido Hotel in Beijing as relatives of those missing on Flight MH370 receive news that the plane had ended in the Indian Ocean. Sydney Morning Herald reports that many were left wailing while some collapsed.
 
"One man threw himself down an escalator and refused to get up, having to be dragged onto his feet by reporters," read the report.
 
Family members in Beijing have been put up in this hotel for two weeks to receive updates and have hung on to every last bit of hope, before it was finally taken away.

The confirmation

10.05pm: The premier announces that the evidence suggests that MH370 likely ended in the Southern Indian Ocean. Details to be announced tomorrow.

PM to make major announcement

9.15pm: Hishammuddin Hussein announces in Parliament that Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak will hold press conference at the Putra World Trade Centre at 10 tonight.

On another note, family members of those on board MH370 are being asked to attend a briefing that will be held there soon.

Reporter says there are five objects, not two
 
7.25pm: Al Jazeera reporter Andrew Thomas, who was on board Australian P3 Orion aircraft that spotted the reported debris, claims that five objects were actually sighted.
 
Of the five, he says four are confirmed, meaning they were sighted by more than two people, and two had been photographed.
 
"We saw smoke flares dropped (from plane), GPS locators too. HMAS Success was very close and will be trying to find and bring inboard objects now #mh370," Thomas tweets.
 
Meanwhile, Capt Flight Lieutenant Josh Williams of P3 Orion describes one of the objects as rectangular or cylindrical in nature, measuring two metres long and about 30cm wide, while another is circular and "also cylindrical and shaped in a rough fish hook".

VMY14 plans halted as MH370 search continues

7pm: Tourism and Culture Minister Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz tells Parliament that all activities planned for Visit Malaysia Year this year is put on hold in consideration for the family members of those aboard missing Flight MH370.

Describing the loss of the plane as a sensitive issue, Nazri says there as is yet to be any closure on MH370, it is hard to have activities and roadshows to attract foreign tourists.

"We need to respect the family members (of passengers and crew). If we go on with the roadshows, then we will be seen as being insensitive to the situation, so the ministry has decided not to intensify our efforts to attract tourists, especially from China," he says in his winding up speech of his ministry following the royal address.

Vessel en route to retrieve sighted objects

6.01pm: Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak tweets that two objects have been located at sea and is to be retrieved within the next few hours.

“Just received a call from Australian PM @tonyabbottMHR - two objects were located and will be retrieved in the next few hours,” his post reads.

In an earlier tweet, Amsa states that the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Orion plane spotted two objects near search area.

It also states that HMAS Success vessel is attempting to relocate and identify the objects, one one grey or green and circular, while the other appearing orange and rectangular.

In the just-concluded press briefing, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein says HMS Success should be able to retrive the items in the next few hours, or tomorrow at the latest.

Cargo carried wooden pallets

6pm: The media briefing and subsequent press conference ends. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Police to date have questioned more than 100 people including family members of the pilot and co-pilot.

 

  • Authorities confirm plane was carrying wooden pallets but say there is no confirmation if this is related to that spotted in the search over the southern Indian Ocean yesterday.
  •  

  • Once it is confirmed objects cited are indeed linked to the missing plane, Hishammuddin says all assets will be shifted to search in the southern corridor. Until that time, he says it will not be fair to the families of those on board should search operations be focused solely in the southern corridor.
  •  

  • MAS CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya refutes claims Malaysian Airlines (MAS) has not been following standard operating procedures (SOP), such as the recent incident in which it allegedly failed to inform air traffic control (ATC) when flight MH114 hit a flock of ducks when landing in Kathmandu, Nepal. He says the pilot immediately informed the ATC and has submitted a report.
  •  

  • As for South Korea-bound Flight MH66 being forced to make emergency landing in Hong Kong due to a generator malfunction, he says it was not a safety issue but a technical one.
  •  

  • MAS confirms co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid completed his training on piloting the Boeing 777. Ahmad Jauhari says this was Fariq's sixth flight in a Boeing upon graduating from a lower fleet without incident, and hence, he is no longer required to fly with a “check co-pilot”. He adds that in any case, MH370 pilot, Zaharie Abdul Ahmad Shah is also a Boeing 777 examinor.
  •  

  • To question, on looking back, what authorities would have done differently to prevent the MH370 disappearance, Hishammuddin says: “ I do not look back, but am looking forward”. He says since the place’s disappearance, focus has been on locating aircraft and to narrow the search area, using the most sophisticated technology, thanks to help from "friends" from around the world.
  •  

  • On whether the Malaysia will now consider hiring air marshals to prevent recurrence of MH370 crisis, Hishammuddin says there are many aspects of this case which can be studied and learnt from, not just by Malaysia but by the global aviation industry, however, this can only happen “at a later date” once plane is found. "More information must come from the plane itself".
  •  

  • Authorities confirms that no distress signal from the plane was picked up by any vessels or ships on that day.
  •  

  • The aircraft cargo contained several tonnes of mangosteen, 200kg of lithium batteries, deemed to be non-hazardous, and radios believed to be manufactured in Malaysia. The cargo manifest is with the investigating team and a formal request would have to be made for it.
  •  

  • Hishammuddin says investigators are not discounting any possibility, including pilots involvement and understands that the lack of any ransom demands or note claiming responsibility by any parties "leads to further speculation".
  • 5.30pm : The daily press briefing on the status of the ongoing seach for MAS Flight MH370 begins. As usual, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein leads the session.

    However, beginning today, the daily briefings are no longer being held at the Sama-Sama Hotel near the KL International Airport in Sepang.

    Instead the venue has been shifted to the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) in the centre of Kuala Lumpur.

    China "rushing" to analyse pics

    5pm:

    The Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 plane that spotted the "white, square floating objects" was able to take photographs, BBC reports.

    It quotes Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei as saying China is “rushing” to analyse the photographs

    Report: Plane turnback intentional

    4.09pm: MH370 changed altitude after making a sharp turn over the South China Sea as it headed toward the Straits of Malacca, a source close to the investigation into the missing flight tells CNN .

    The plane flew as low as 12,000 feet at some point before it disappeared from radar, according to the source.

    The report states that the sharp turn appeared to be intentional since executing it would have taken the Boeing 777 two minutes.

    This, the source adds, provids enough time for the pilot or co-pilot to have sent an emergency signal if there had been a fire or other emergency onboard.

    Authorities say the plane didn't send any emergency signals, though some analysts points out that it is still unclear whether the pilots tried but were not able to communicate due to a catastrophic failure.

    Objects appears Perth-bound

    3.59pm: The Amsa says that the objects earlier sighted by a Chinese search plane was spotted heading back towards Perth.

    It tweets that drift modelling was undertaken upon the sighting being made.

    However, it posts that the US Navy P8 Poseidon, tasked with investigating the sightings, is yet to relocate the objects.

    D CA questioning just to assist probe, says Zahid

    3.40pm: Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi confirms that the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) officers were questioned by police to assist in the MH370 investigation.

    However, Zahid stresses that the officers, reportedly numbering 40, are not under investigation, according to The Star .

    "We (police) questioned the DCA officials to get more information in the hope of assisting with ongoing investigations.

    "I do not want the DCA to be viewed in a negative light, and I hope that this clears the air pertaining to the matter," Zahid is quoted saying.

    China: Objects not confirmed from MH370

    3.35pm: China's Foreign Ministry stresses that the Chinese government cannot confirm objects spotted by a Chinese military aircraft earlier are indeed linked with the missing Flight MH370, Reuters reports.

    'Military didn't err in not intercepting plane'

    3.30pm: The Malaysian military did not do anything wrong in not reporting the MH370 turnback across the South China Sea into the Straits of Malacca, says a report by The Star Online .

    According to ab aerospace defence consultant Ravi Madavaram, this is because it was not a military aircraft that they missed.

     
    "They missed a commercial aircraft, which is not their job anyway (to monitor)," he says, and adds that the military's primary radar and commercial secondary radar are very different. 
     
    Ravi says the secondary radar is used by the air traffic control (ATC) to track commercial aircraft, while the military's primary radar tracks whether an airplane is a friend or foe. 
     
    However, the daily quotes expert Hans Weber as saying that when an unidentified plane is detected, the chain of command of the radar site will try to contact the plane by radio and asked to identify itself.

    If there is no answer, fighter jets should be launched.

    Services of deepsea subs offered

    2:50pm: German Der Spiegel magazine reports that German and American oceanographers have offered to deploy three unmanned "Abyss" deep sea search submarines which can go to a depth of 6,000metres and remain submerged for up to 24 hours.

    Its report claims the Helmholtz Oceanography Institute, along with the American-based Woods Hole Institute, made the offer to send the vessels.

    "We have already agreed to launch a joint search with our American colleagues," Peter Herzig, the director of the Helmholtz Institute is quoted as saying by UK daily The Telegraph .

    Black box locater 'a precautionary measure'

    1.25pm: The US Navy is sending a black box locator to an area of the southern Indian Ocean, following several debris sightings over the weekend.

    The navy calls the move a "precautionary measure" in case those sightings confirm the location of MH370.

     

    "If a debris field is confirmed, The Navy’s Towed Pinger Locator 25 will add a significant advantage in locating the missing Malaysian aircraft’s black  box," Commander William Marks, a spokesperson for the US Seventh Fleet, says in an emailed statement.

    The system provides the capability to detect and locate emergency relocation pingers on downed aircraft to a maximum depth of 6,000 metres anywhere in the world.

    The system consists of the tow fish, tow cable, winch, hydraulic power unit, generator and topside control console. The tow fish carries a passive listening device for detecting pingers that automatically transmit an acoustic pulse.

    However, the statement cautions that the deployment did not mean the the plane's location is confirmed.

     

    "Please note that movement of the Towed Pinger Locator into the region is not an indication that we have confirmed a debris field," it says.

    China plane spots 'suspicious objects'

    1.48pm: Amsa says it has been advised on the possible sightings made by a Chinese search plane and attempts are being made to locate the objects.

    Xinhua reports that Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft has spotted two "relatively big" floating objects and several smaller white ones dispersed over several kilometres.

    12.15pm: According to China news agency Xinhua , the crew of a Chinese IL-76 plane has sighted "suspicious objects" while searching the south Indian Ocean.

    However, no further details are provided on the nature of these objects, but that coordinates have been relayed to the Australian command centre, as well as Chinese merchant vessel, the icebreaker Xuelong, which is currently on its way to search site.

    Read this Reuters report in full here .

    Oldest passenger cheated death six times

    12.13pm: In a report, the Brisbane Times claims that the oldest passenger on board Flight MH370, Chinese national Liu Rusheng has cheated death six times in the past.

    It relates how the 77-year-old, who was one of 34 artists who were in KL for an exhibition, was abandoned as a baby when his parents fled the Japanese during the invasion.

    On top of that, Liu is said to have been knocked down by a truck while learning to ride a bicycle, almost drowned while swimming and survived three heart attacks.

    Plane insurers to pay families

    12pm: UK-based The Telegraph reports that MAS has been paid US$110 million (RM364 million) from insurers following the loss of the MH370 Boeing 777-200ER aircraft and has agreed to award hardship payments to families of those onboard the plane.

    The payment, the daily reports, is in accordance with standard air travel policy that states if a place goes missing for more than two days, it is assumed to have been destroyed.

    It estimates insurers could fork out more to families as international rules stipulate a minimum payment of £105,000 (RM572,000) per passenger.

    Cyclone not affecting search operations

    11.58am: Amsa confirms that the ongoing search operations in the sourthern Indian Ocean will not be affected by Tropical Cyclone Gillian.

    13 days left before black box battery dies

    10.50am: Just to recap, it has been 17 days since MAS Flight MH370 disappeared. That leaves less than two weeks, just 13 days, for search teams to find the plane before the black box battery runs out and it ceases to emit 'pings'.

    According to Australia's news.com.au , the black box emits one 'ping' per second for 30 days, which can be picked up by sonar and acoustic-locating equipment.

    However, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has vowed that search for the missing plane will not stop even after the black box battery runs out after the 30-day mark.

    He says there are other means investigators and search parties can employ to locate the black box.

    Search focuses in the same area

    10.39am: Amsa reports that five SAR aircraft are now in the search area, with another two on their way.

    9.35am: Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) denies today’s search areas have been widened to take into account French satellite sightings of objects 850km north of where searches are being conducted.

    A spokesperson tells Reuters : “We are taking it (French information) into account but at this stage we are still focussed on the same search area.

    "We are taking every bit of information seriously and examining it and cross-referencing it with every other bit of information."

    This contradicts an earlier statement by Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss that the search area is expanded north.

    Instead, the spokesperson says Amsa only recently received the information and are still examining.

    Read this Reuters report in full here .

    Nasa lends a hand

    9.30am: The US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) says it will use high-resolution cameras aboard satellites and the International Space Station to look for possible crash sites in the Indian Ocean, reports Reuters .

    It is also mining archived images collected by instruments on its Terra and Aqua environmental satellites, spokesperson Allard Beutel is quoted as saying.

    However, he warns that its satellites and space-based cameras are not meant to look for a missing aircraft but says Nasa wishes to support the search.

    Read the full Reuters report here .

    Australia ‘clutching’ at info on MH370

    9.07am: Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss cautions that despite Australian, Chinese and French satellites detecting objects at sea, authorities are still uncertain if indeed any of them are from the missing Boeing 777.

    "We still don't know for certain that the aircraft is even in this area.

    "We're just, I guess, clutching at whatever little piece of information  comes along to try and find a place where we might be able to concentrate the efforts," he tells ABC radio, the AFP reports.

    Malaysia's 'lack of openess' frustrating

    8.55am : Malaysia’s handling of the MH370 crises continues to draw criticism from international parties. This time, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) , two American lawmakers cite lack of openness by the government.

    Republican Patrick Meehan is quoted saying that "across the board, people are looking for more openness from the Malaysian government in terms of sharing of information".

    "The reports I am getting are frustration. We're invited in only a little bit," Meehan, who is also a member of the Homeland Security Committee says.

    Another Republican Michael McCaul reportedly accuses Malaysia of fumbling the initial search, spending too much time focussing on the Gulf of Thailand and Kazakhstan.

    However, in a different light, WSJ quotes US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken as praising the cooperation shown by Malaysia, China as well as other countries in the search as "you have countries working together in ways they have not done before."

    Report: Lower possibility of a foul play in cockpit

    8.40am: After Flight MH370 made the turnback towards the west, it drastically dropped to less than 4,000 metres or 12,000 feet, CNN reports

    Citing military radar data and a source with the investigations, it says the finding somewhat reduces but does not rule out suspicions on foul play in the cockpit.

    In its news broadcast, CNN further says the sudden drop in altitude may indicate an emergency situation could have arose, as there is could be a lack of air in the plane.

    This revelation appears to slash the theory that someone reprogrammed the plane's flight path before the co-pilot, 27-year-old Fariq Abdul Hamid, signed off with air-traffic controllers for the last time at 1.07am on March 8.

    CNN 's aviation analyst Miles O Brien describes the new information as a possible "game-changer:

    "Now we have no evidence the crew did anything wrong. In fact now we should be operating with the primary assumption being that something bad happened to that plane shortly after they said good night."

    China joins air search

    8.30am:

    The Amsa reports that five  aircraft have now departed Perth for the search site, and this includes a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) P3 Orion and two civil jets.

    8.20am: Amsa reports that 10 aircraft will be participating in the search for possible objects in an area 2,500kilometre southwest of Perth in Western Australia.

    Planes include military and three civilian aircraft from Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan and the United States. The search area has been split into two areas covering 68,500 sq km.  

    China, which has 153 passengers onboard the missing MAS flight, will be participating in the air search for the first time and they will be using two Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft.

    Weather wise, the search is likeli to be hampered by rain.

    Australian naval vessel HMAS Success is already there while several Chinese ships are en route to the search area.

    French satellite images from radar echo

    8.00am: The satellite images of objects in the southern Indian Ocean, detected by the French, were detected via radar echoes, Reuters reports.

    In its report yesterday, it states: “The French Foreign Ministry said radar echoes from a satellite put the new debris finding about 2,300km (1,430 miles) from Perth, without giving a direction or a date.”

    A radar echo is an electronic signal which is bounced or reflected off objects, which can indicate the location and distance of said objects.

    Background:

    • The Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200ER aircraft went missing not long after taking off from KL International Airport in the early hours of March 8, with 12 crew members and 227 passengers.

     

  • Its whereabouts remains a mystery as 26 countries race to locate the missing plane, believed to be either in the nothern corridor, anywhere between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, or in the southern corridor covering Indonesia and to the south of the India Ocean.
  •  

  • This comes after the authorities determined that the plane intentionally made a turn-back and altered its course shortly after cutting communications with tower controllers.

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