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Weather suspends search for Malaysia Airlines jet

March 25, 2014, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Bad weather suspended the search Tuesday for any remains of a Malaysian jetliner as China demanded information a day after Malaysia's leader said the heartbreaking conclusion was that Flight 370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean with no survivors.


March 25, 2014
By The Associated Press

Planes and ships have been crisscrossing a remote area of ocean 2,500
kilometres (1,550 miles) southwest of Australia, but the search was
called off because of waves up to 4 metres (12 feet), high winds and
heavy rain.

 

The suspension comes after a sombre
announcement late Monday by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak saying
the plane had crashed in the sea, but which also left unanswered many
troubling questions about why the Boeing 777, which was en route to
Beijing on March 8 when it disappeared, was so far off-course.

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It also unleashed a storm of sorrow and
anger among the families of the jet's 239 passengers and crew —
two-thirds of them Chinese.

 

China responded Tuesday by demanding that
Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to conclude that the jet had
gone down in the southern Indian Ocean.

 

Given that 153 of the passengers aboard
Flight 370 were Chinese, the incident was a highly emotional one for
Beijing.

 

Family members of the missing passengers have complained
bitterly about a lack of reliable information and some say they are not
being told the whole truth.

 

Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng
told Malaysia's ambassador to Beijing that China wanted to know exactly
what led Najib to announce that the plane had been lost, a statement on
the ministry's website said.

 

"We demand the Malaysian side to make
clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment," Xie was
quoted as telling Iskandar Bin Sarudin during their meeting late Monday.

 

There was no immediate response from Malaysia.

 

The families planned to
march on the Malaysian Embassy on Tuesday, and dozens of police were
already outside the embassy compound.

 

Najib, clad in a black suit, read a brief
statement on what he called an unparalleled study of the jet's
last-known signals to a satellite. That analysis showed that the missing
plane veered "to a remote location, far from any possible landing
sites."

 

"It is therefore with deep sadness and
regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, Flight
MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean," he said.

 

He did not directly address the fate of
those aboard, but in a separate message sent to some of the relatives of
the passengers, Malaysia Airlines said that "we have to assume beyond
any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on
board survived."

 

The conclusions were based on a
more-thorough analysis of the brief signals the plane sent every hour to
a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, even after other
communication systems on the jetliner shut down for unknown reasons.

 

The pings did not include any location
information. But Inmarsat and British aviation officials used "a type of
analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort" to zero in
on the plane's last direction, as it reached the end of its fuel, Najib
said.

 

In a statement, Inmarsat said the company
used "detailed analysis and modelling" of transmissions from the
Malaysia Airlines jet and other known flights to describe "the likely
direction of flight of MH370."

 

Najib gave no indication of exactly where in the Indian Ocean the plane was last heard from.

 

Australian Transport Minister Warren
Truss said that under international agreements governing air travel
"Malaysia needs to take control" and decide how to proceed.

 

High waves, gale-force
winds and low-hanging clouds forced the multinational search to be
suspended for 24 hours

Tuesday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority
said in a statement.

 

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he had spoken to Najib to offer help with the ongoing search and investigation.

 

"What up until now has been a search,
moves into a recovery and investigation phase," Abbott said. "I have
offered Malaysia, as the country legally responsible for this, every
assistance and co-operation from Australia."

 

Abbott also said Australia would waive
visa fees for relatives of the passengers and crew on Flight 370 who
wanted to come to Australia.

 

Some of the relatives who gathered to
hear Najib met the news with shrieks and uncontrolled sobs. Others
collapsed into the arms of loved ones.

 

"My son! My son!" cried a woman in a
group of about 50 gathered at a hotel near Beijing's airport, before
falling to her knees. Minutes later, medical teams carried one elderly
man out of the conference room on a stretcher, his face

covered by a
jacket.

 

Other relatives in Beijing went before
cameras to criticize the Malaysian officials who "have concealed,
delayed and hid the truth" about what happened to the plane. About
two-thirds of the passengers on board were Chinese.

 

"If the 154 of our loved ones lose their
lives, then Malaysia Airlines, the government of Malaysia and the
military are really the executors of our loved ones," said a spokesman
for the group who, like many Chinese, would give only his surname,
Jiang. China includes one Taiwanese national in its total of Chinese on
the flight.

 

Najib's announcement did nothing to
answer why the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff. More
specifically, it sheds no light on investigators' questions about
possible mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage,
terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or
someone else on board.

 

And it is not clear if the
latest information can provide an exact location or just a rough
estimate of where the jet crashed into the sea.

 

But several countries had already been
moving specialized equipment into the area to prepare for a possible
search for the plane and its black boxes, the common name for the
cockpit voice and data recorders.

 

And there is a race against the clock to
find any trace of the plane that could lead them to the location of the
black boxes, whose battery-powered "pinger" could stop sending signals
within two weeks. The batteries are designed to last at least a month
and can last longer.

 

An Australian navy support vessel, the
Ocean Shield, was expected to arrive in several days in the search zone,
a defence official said. The ship is equipped with acoustic detection
equipment that can search for the black boxes.

 

Without them, it would be
virtually impossible for investigators to say definitively what
happened to the plane.

 

"We've got to get lucky," said John
Goglia, a former member of the U.S. National Transportation Safety
Board. "It's a race to get to the area in time to catch the black box
pinger while it's still working."

 

The U.S. Pacific Command said before
Najib's announcement that it was sending a black box locator in case a
debris field is located.

 

The Towed Pinger Locator, which is pulled
behind a vessel at slow speeds, has highly sensitive listening
capability that can hear the black box pinger down to a depth of about
20,000 feet (6,100 metres), Cmdr. Chris Budde, a U.S. 7th

Fleet
operations officer, said in a statement. He called it "a prudent effort
to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search
area."

 

The U.S. Navy has also sent an unmanned
underwater vehicle to Perth that could be used if debris is located,
said Rear Adm. John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman. The Bluefin-21,
expected to arrive in Perth on Wednesday, has side-scanning sonar and
what is called a "multi-beam echo sounder" that can be used to take a
closer look at objects under water, he added. It can operate at a depth
of 4,500 metres (14,700 feet).

 

The search for the wreckage and the
plane's recorders could take years because the ocean can extend to up to
7,000 metres (23,000 feet) deep in that part of the ocean. It took two
years to find the black box from an Air France jet that went down in the
Atlantic Ocean on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009, and
searchers knew within days where the crash site was.