18 Mar 2014

Missing flight MH370: families threaten hunger strike

Chinese relatives demand more information and threaten hunger strike, as Malaysia reveals the search area for the missing plane spans 2.24m square nautical miles.

  • Head of Malaysia Airlines says that the pilot and co-pilot have no experience of flying in the two corridors where the plane may have ended up
  • Background checks of Chinese passengers do not find political or criminal motive to hijack missing flight, says China
  • Chinese family members of passengers threaten hunger strike, and demand more information
  • Malaysian government faces criticism of the way it has been sharing information
Missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370: candle vigil in Thailand (picture: Getty)

Malaysian authorities are convinced that the disappearance of the Boeing 777-200ER is a deliberate act, and that someone on board who had expertise around the plane or commercial navigation is responsible.

What we want is the truth, don’t let them become victims of politics. Chinese relative of MH370 passenger

However, both Chinese officials and western security sources have failed to discover a passenger of member of crew that would have a motive to do so.

Huang Huikang, China’s ambassador to Malaysia, said that, following a thorough investigation, China can “rule out the possibilities of Chinese passengers suspected of being involved in any kind of terrorist or jeopardizing activities”.

At a press conference on Tuesday, it also emerged that both pilots do not have experience of flying over the northern and southern corridors where the plane is thought to be. Officials also said that the ACARS communications system was disabled at some point between 1.07am and 1.37am.

The search for the missing MH370 is still underway, but investigators are trying to lower expectations: the total search area was confirmed on Tuesday as 2.24m square nautical miles.

Australia is leading the search in the southern corridor, and the man in charge of the operation, John Young, said: “A needle in a haystack remains a good analogy.”

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority has said that it will reduce its search area to a field of 230,000 square miles – just 3 per cent of the 19m square nautical miles of Indian Ocean where it is thought the plane could be (see map below), based on satellite tracking data.

The US has sent a P-8A Poseidon, its most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft, to Perth, in Western Australia, to assist with the search.

Hunger strike

The majority of people on board the flight were Chinese, and on Tuesday their families, who have been waiting for information inside a Beijing hotel, threatened to go on hunger strike.

The family members say they feel Malaysia is not being up front with information about the missing flight.

Read more: After the missing Malaysia flight, is it safe to fly?

One family member at the hotel said: “What we want is the truth, don’t let them become victims of politics. No matter what political party you are, no matter how much power you have, if there isn’t life, what’s the point? Where is the compassion?”

Malaysia has also faced criticism from the US and China for allegedly not sharing as much information as it could with foreign governments about the missing jet.

US and European security sources said efforts by various governments to investigate the backgrounds of everyone on the flight had not, as of Monday, turned up links to militant groups or anything else that could explain the jet’s disappearance.

Timeline – Saturday 8 March
00.41am Flight leaves Kuala Lumpar
01.07am Last ACARS transmission received
01.19am Co-pilot radioed “all right good night”, as plane moved from Malaysia into Vietnam airspace
01.21am Transponders are turned off and plane turns around
01.37am Next ACARS transmission scheduled and doesn’t show up
02.15am Last radar contact is made in the Strait of Malacca, headed north
02.15am to 08.11am One signal an hour is picked up by an orbiting satellite. The plane is now thought to be either as far north as Kazakhstan, from northern Thailand (the north corridor) and as far south from Indonesia, to the south Indian Ocean (south corridor).

No trace

The focus has turned to the 227 passengers and 12 crew members on board the flight after it emerged that a tracking system was turned off before the last verbal communication from the flight.

Searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 (picture: Getty)

Police have already searched the homes of the plane’s pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, and Fariq Abdul Hamid, 27.

The enormous 26-nation hunt for the missing flight has failed tom find any trace of the flight after ten days. The search area covers to enormous arcs – the north and south corridors – including large parts of the Indian Ocean.