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Liow denies MAS took risky route to save fuel

Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai denied today that Malaysia Airlines was trying to save fuel with Flight MH17 taking the route over south-eastern Ukraine.

"(It is) not true. As mentioned, it has been over many years MAS has taken the same route and there are many other countries taking the same route," Liow told a press conference at Sama-Sama Hotel in Sepang.

He said 15 out of 16 Association of Asia Pacific Airlines countries were also using the route.

"In fact, during that period, many other aircraft were using the same route," he added.

Liow was asked to respond to a Daily Telegraph report that quoted an expert as saying that many aircraft continued to use the route despite risks as it was faster and more economical.

Despite the explanation, the minister was still bombarded with queries on whether it was a mistake to use the route even though it had been declared safe.

Liow stressed that the route was declared safe by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and MAS was never given any notice not to use the route.

He added that it was only after the incident that ICAO declared the route closed.

"After this (incident), ICAO has suggested a different route and they have closed this route," he said.

He added that Flight MH17 was on the correct path and did not veer from it.

No confirmation on black box

On a another matter, Liow said the Malaysian authorities have yet to confirm reports that the aircraft’s black box was taken by Russian-backed separatists in Ukraine and sent to Moscow.

However, he said, if this was true, Ukraine would need to take it up with Russia as the former is the official investigating authority since the aircraft crashed in its territory, as per ICAO rules.

He stressed that the integrity of the crash site must be protected and a Malaysian team comprising 30 special disaster assistance and rescue team members, 15 medical staff, 10 Royal Malaysian Air Force officers and two Department of Civil Aviation officers was on the way to Kiev.

Liow said Ukraine has assured Malaysia that a commission would be set up to investigate the downing of Flight MH17 and would possibly comprise international members.

He also explained why the nationalities of 41 out of the 298 passengers and crew on board Flight M17 could not be verified, stating that they did not need to go through passport checks when transiting in Amsterdam.

Since then, Liow said the authorities have confirmed the nationalities of 21 of the 41 passengers.

"The breakdown now is as follow: 173 from the Netherlands, 44 Malaysians, 27 Australians, 12 Indonesians, nine from United Kingdom, four Germans, four Belgians, three Filipinos, one Canadian and one from New Zealand," he said.

Meanwhile, Malaysia Airlines operations director Izham Ismail said there was no plan to fly the families of victims to Kiev.

"We will repatriate (the dead) as they (families) would like us to oblige," he said.

Also present at the press conference were Deputy Transport Minister Aziz Kaprawi, Deputy Communications and Multimedia Minister Jailani Johari and Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) director-general Azharuddin Abdul Rahman.

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