Malaysia plane: Bad weather halts search for flight MH370

  • 25 March 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionAustralian Defence Minister has said international cooperation in the search efforts would continue

Australia officials say the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane has been suspended because of bad weather.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said high winds and rain meant planes could not fly safely.

Malaysian PM Najib Razak says satellite data showed the plane ended its journey in remote seas west of Australia.

In Beijing relatives of passengers clashed with police outside Malaysia's embassy, as China asked to see data on which Malaysia's conclusion was based.

About 200 relatives marched to the diplomatic mission, with scuffles breaking out as they confronted security personnel.

Image caption There were angry scenes in Beijing as relatives marched to Malaysia's embassy

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It was carrying a total of 239 people, including 153 Chinese nationals.

A multinational search effort has focused on seas some 2,500km (1,500 miles) to the southwest of the Australian city of Perth.

But in a news conference late on Monday, the Malaysian leader said it had to be concluded "with deep sadness and regret" that according to new data "flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean".

Media captionThe BBC's Celia Hatton: "We're witnessing a very rare street protest in Beijing"

Speaking to media on Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said: "We do not know why, we do not know how this terrible tragedy happened."

But he added: "The announcement made last night and shared with families is the reality that we must now accept."

Malaysia Airlines Chairman Mohammed Nor Yusof described the situation as "an unprecedented event requiring an unprecedented response".

"The investigation under way may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since 8 March," he said.

"But we will continue to support the families as we have done throughout, and to support the authorities as the search for definitive answers continues."

'Detailed evidence'

Planes from several nations have been scouring waters far off Perth for signs of the missing plane, in a search co-ordinated by Australia.

Image caption China has sent military aircraft to Perth - but on Tuesday the weather left them grounded
Image caption Teams from around the world have been working to find traces of the missing plane

There have been several sightings of debris, but none have yet been confirmed as linked to the plane.

In its statement, Amsa said it had undertaken a risk assessment "and determined that the current weather conditions would make any air and sea search activities hazardous and pose a risk to crew".

"Therefore, Amsa has suspended all sea and air search operations for today due to these weather conditions," it said.

Media captionMalaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya: "My heart breaks to think of the families suffering"

Australia's Defence Minister David Johnston said search efforts were unlikely to start again for "at least another 24 hours".

He described the search as a "massive logistical exercise" in an "extremely remote" part of the world.

Mark Binskin, vice-chief of the Australian Defence Force, said: "We're not searching for a needle in a haystack. We're still trying to define where the haystack is."

China, meanwhile, has asked Malaysia to hand over the data that led it to conclude the plane had flown into the sea.

"We demand the Malaysian side state the detailed evidence that leads them to this judgement as well as supply all the relevant information and evidence about the satellite data analysis," Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng said, according to a statement on the ministry's website.

Media captionRelatives' grief for MH370 victims

"The search and rescue work cannot stop now. We demand the Malaysian side continue to finish all the work including search and rescue," he added.

Mr Najib said the conclusion the plane was lost was based on new satellite analysis by British firm Inmarsat and information from the UK's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).

Inmarsat had already said it received automated "pings" from the plane over its satellite network after the aircraft ceased radio and radar contact.

Mr Najib said Inmarsat had been able to shed further light on the plane's flight path by performing further calculations "using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort".

Beijing protest

The fact that Malaysian officials sent news of Mr Najib's announcement to some relatives by SMS has attracted criticism.

Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, the airline's CEO, said on Tuesday that SMS was used only as a last resort, when the news could not be delivered in person or by telephone, with the "sole and only motivation" of ensuring that families heard the news first.

In Beijing, meanwhile, relatives of passengers on board the plane released a statement accusing the Malaysian government of trying to "delay, distort and hide the truth".

Dozens of them then left their Beijing hotel on a protest bound for the Malaysian embassy, carrying banners asking Kuala Lumpur to be truthful with the relatives.

Police blocked their buses from leaving, so they left the buses and walked there themselves, with scuffles later erupting outside the diplomatic mission.

In Malaysia, newspapers ran black or darkened front pages in tribute to those now believed to have died.