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    Southeast Asia
     Mar 11, '14

Chinese anger mounts over missing plane
By Radio Free Asia

Family members and friends of Chinese passengers on a missing Malaysia Airlines flight expressed mounting frustration as the international search for the Beijing-bound aircraft widened.

Amid the public furor, China's state-run media lashed out at the Malaysian authorities and the national airline over their handling of the missing jetliner with 153 Chinese on board.

Colleagues of some of the Chinese among 227 passengers aboard flight MH370 say they have been unable to get through on the airline's external contact number since the plane disappeared from radar somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam after leaving the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on Saturday.

"I have been trying to call Malaysia Airlines ... all weekend but it's

hard to get through," Zheng Wenshan, whose Chinese colleagues at a painting and calligraphy exhibit in Kuala Lumpur are among those missing, was quoted as saying by Radio Free Asia. "Nobody picks up on the weekend."

"I haven't been able to get through this whole time," Zheng said, still hoping for good news about the other members of his group, whom he last saw at Kuala Lumpur's International Airport before he boarded separate flight home to Shanghai after the event.

"I still want them to come home, and I hope every day that they will trace [the plane]," he said. "But the current situation means I am no longer confident."

Malaysia Airlines said a response coordination center will be established once the aircraft is located. The airline was also expected to fly relatives of the passengers from Beijing to Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

While the desperate search for the Boeing 777 jet expanded across a 50-nautical-mile (92-kilometer) radius area around where the plane was last contacted, no definitive traces of wreckage or passengers who were en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing have been sighted. Xinhua quoted a Vietnamese official that it was unlikely that the missing Malaysian jet would be found.

Malaysian civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said investigators were extending their search to a radius of 100 nautical miles, up from 50 nautical miles from the last known position of Flight 370, covering land on the Malaysian peninsula, the waters off its west coast and an area to the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

But the more than 30 search aircraft and 40 ships drafted into the search operation have still found no sign of the flight, baffling experts around the world.

Pointing the finger
Chinese authorities have pointed the finger at Kuala Lumpur over the lack of information.

"The Malaysian side cannot shirk its responsibilities," the tabloid Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the ruling Chinese Communist Party, said in an editorial on Monday. "The initial response from Malaysia was not swift enough," it said.

A team of Chinese officials from government ministries headed for Malaysia on Monday, to offer support to the search operation and to relatives of Chinese passengers.

Earlier, tests on oil slicks and suspected aircraft debris in the South China Sea, near where the plane disappeared from the radar, showed they were unconnected to the flight.

"The search operation is still under way, and there has been no evidence to indicate the location of the missing flight MH370," a Malaysian Airlines spokesman told Radio Free Asia on Monday evening.

He said not all the relatives of those on board had been located by the airline.

"There are still some [who haven't been contacted]," the spokesman said. "For the latest updates, people can check our official website."

Mystery cause
Questions are being asked over possible security lapses and whether the flight was a target of a bomb, hijacking, or terrorist attack after at least two of the passengers were found to have traveled on stolen passports.

Wong Dong, a Macau-based Chinese military analyst, said the fact that MH370 disappeared so rapidly suggested it could have blown up in mid-flight.

"The plane disappeared very suddenly from the radar, so much so that there was no time to send a distress call," Wong said. "The biggest likelihood is that it exploded and disintegrated in mid-air."

"[I] believe that the likelihood of a terrorist attack is very large."

US and European government sources close to the investigation told Reuters that neither Malaysia's Special Branch, the agency leading the investigation locally, nor their own spy agencies have ruled out the possibility that militants may have been involved in downing Flight 370.

In detailed analysis of the the two passengers who boarded with stolen passports, the Financial Times found that the duo may have been aiming to illegally emigrate to Europe and may have been on the Malaysia Airlines flight by a quirk of ticketing. It is still unclear how the two passengers using their documents managed to board the flight.

Malaysian police said one of the two passengers using stolen passports on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was an Iranian asylum seeker, but no terror link is suspected.

Malaysia's police chief, Tan Sri Khalid Tan Sri, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur the 19-year-old Iranian man was believed to be planning to reach Germany and was not believed to be a member of any terrorist group. The identity of the other man traveling on a stolen passport is still being investigated.

US officials have said that an FBI team sent to help investigate the passengers has found no evidence so far of a terrorist attack. Agence-France Presse reported that plane-maker Boeing has joined a US National Transportation Safety Board team already in Southeast Asia, acting as technical adviser.

Nothing ruled out
Malaysian aviation chief Azharuddin, asked whether it was possible the plane had been hijacked or disintegrated mid-air, said the authorities were ruling nothing out.

"We are looking at every aspect of what could have happened," he told reporters. "This unprecedented missing aircraft mystery - it is mystifying and we are increasing our efforts to do what we have to do."

In Beijing, scores of tearful relatives lined up to apply for visas to travel to Malaysia to be closer to rescue operations, although others said they would not go while so much remained unknown.

"There is more we can do here in China," one woman told Agence France-Presse. "They haven't even found the plane yet."

A team of Chinese officials from government ministries headed for Malaysia on Monday to offer support to the search operation and to relatives of Chinese passengers.

Malaysian officials have said there was a possibility that Flight 370 may have inexplicably turned back towards Kuala Lumpur.

The plane, captained by a veteran pilot, had relayed no indications of distress, and weather at the time was said to be good.

With additional input by ATol correspondents.

Copyright (c) 2014, Radio Free Asia . Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Asia

(To view the original article, please click here.)



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