Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Finding MH370 could take years, US Naval officer says

Statement comes as Chinese relatives of missing passengers demand answers from Malaysian government in Kuala Lumpur

The search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 could take years, a U.S. Naval Officer said Sunday, as a group of relatives of Chinese passengers from Beijing traveled to Kuala Lumpur to demand answers about the plane’s fate.

U.S. Navy Captain Mark Matthews, in charge of the U.S. Towed Pinger Locator (TPL), told journalists at Stirling Naval Base near Perth that the lack of information about where the plane went down hampers the search effort.

“Right now the search area is basically the size of the Indian Ocean, which would take an untenable amount of time to search,” he said.

“If you compare this to Air France flight 447, we had much better positional information of where that aircraft went into the water,” he said, referring to the plane that crashed in 2009 near Brazil. It took more than two years to find the wreckage from that accident.

Ten ships and as many aircraft are searching a massive area west of Perth, Australia in the Indian Ocean, trying to find any sign of the aircraft that went missing three weeks ago and is presumed to have crashed.

An Australian navy ship, the Ocean Shield – fitted Sunday with a sophisticated U.S. black box locator and an underwater drone, is expected to join the search later in the day.

Search officials have been following new leads after numerous objects were spotted floating in the ocean and a new analysis of radar and satellite data concluded that the Boeing 777 traveled faster and for a shorter distance after disappearing from civilian radar screens on March 8.

None of the objects have been confirmed as coming from MH370. Both a Chinese ship and an Australian navy vessel have picked up objects but nothing could be linked to the flight carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members.

The search has involved unprecedented cooperation between more than two dozen countries and 60 aircraft and ships but has also been hampered by regional rivalries and a perceived reluctance to share potentially crucial information due to security concerns.

Click here for reporting and analysis on the missing plane

The Malaysian government has come under strong criticism from China, home to more than 150 of the passengers, where relatives of the missing have accused the government of “delays and deception.”

Almost 30 relatives of Chinese passengers on the missing flight arrived Sunday in Kuala Lumpur to demand answers about the plane’s fate, with some calling for an apology and retraction from Malaysia’s government.

Twenty-nine family members arrived, according to an official of the Malaysian Chinese Association, a party in the ruling coalition that is providing support for them. An airline official had earlier put the number at 39.

At a hotel on the outskirts of the capital, the relatives wore white T-shirts reading “Pray for MH370” and held posters saying: “Tell us the truth. Give us our relatives back.”

Some of the passengers’ family members accused Malaysia of incompetence and of hiding information about the fate of the flight.

Among those, some are particularly angry at a March 24 announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak that, based on satellite data and other calculations, the plane was lost in the southern Indian Ocean after being diverted thousands of miles off course.

Relatives told reporters Sunday that they wanted Malaysia to retract and apologize for the announcement. They said they wanted more information and meetings with top Malaysian officials. Najib’s aid and a transport ministry official said no meeting had been scheduled for Sunday.

At a regular briefing by Malaysian officials for family members in Beijing, a female relative said the group did not all go to put pressure on the Malaysian government.

“Some of the next of kin want to see for themselves the last place where their loved ones ever set foot,” she added, as she broke down in tears.

Wire services

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