Hijacking suspicions give hope

Updated: 2014-03-16 08:07

By Cao Yin, Hou Liqiang and Cui Jia in Beijing, Peng Yining in Kuala Lumpur(China Daily)

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Families say those on board missing plane may be alive

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.

Hijacking suspicions give hope

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.

Hijacking suspicions give hope

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 cuijia@chinadaily.com.cn.

Zhang Yan and Wang Wen contributed to this story.

 Hijacking suspicions give hope

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

Hijacking suspicions give hope

(China Daily 03/16/2014 page1)