Anguished wait: Chinese relatives of passengers from the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 reacting as they wait for news at the Metro Park Lido Hotel in Beijing. - AFP
BEIJING: Frustrated relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing MH370 grilled a senior officer of the Royal Malaysian Air Force, demanding to know if Malaysia was doing all it could to find the missing MH370 aircraft.
RMAF air operations commander Lt-Jeneral Datuk Seri Ackbal Abdul Samad stressed to the families that any perceived slow release of information did not impede the search and rescue mission for MH370.
Operations to recover the plane started the very first day the plane was confirmed to have gone missing, added Ackbal, who is part of the high-level team sent over here by the Malaysian Government to brief the family members.
He added that although the statement on Aircraft Communication Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was made on Saturday, work based on ACARS signals quickly began on Mac 8.
“Besides, satellite search with a country, which I cannot disclose, also began on the second or third day.
“We also started to search both the eastern and western side (of the peninsula) on the first day as well,” said Ackbal, whose team members include Department of Civil Aviation air traffic services director Ahmad Nizar Zolfakar, representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, Foreign Affairs Ministry and Malaysia Airlines.
In the three-and-a-half-hour meeting on Friday, the team gave a presentation of the search and rescue mission which began after MH370 last contacted the Kuala Lumpur air traffic controller.
The announcement by Najib on Saturday that the flight did a turn back and flew north-west came as a surprise to the families, who questioned the delay in releasing the information.
They feared that it would hamper the search and rescue mission as the plane was originally thought to have disappeared near the border of Vietnam and Malaysia.
A female family member questioned why the military did not take any action when it detected MH370 deviating from its original path, and Ackbal explained that it was not intercepted because the commercial aircraft was identified as a “friend” and not a “foe” from the moment it took off from KLIA.
“Does it mean that the status would not be changed even if the aircraft changed its route? Are you not afraid of another 911?” someone asked.
Ackbal responded: “Your statement is valid, and I do admit that obviously there are lessons to be learned here.”
The recent report on the pilot being a PKR member and a relative of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had also worried some family members, who were afraid that the incident had a political agenda.
Ackbal explained that the reason behind the disappearance of MH370 could not be ascertained without the black box and concrete evidence.
“If we do have enough evidence (to prove it), I can assure you on behalf of the government that justice will prevail,” he said.
A man also demanded to know the possibility of the aircraft being shot down by the military of any country, to which Ackbal said it was highly not possible based on the data they have at this point in time.
To another question posed by a family member on the possible survival rate of the passengers, Ackbal replied, “Sir, it is very difficult to answer the question, but we will try our very best to look for survivors.”