BEIJING // Relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines jet accused Malaysian government officials of wasting time when the two sides met for the first time on Friday.
The meeting came as search planes scoured a remote patch of the Indian Ocean but came back empty-handed after a 10-hour mission, another disappointing day in one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries.
The meeting began in a fury, with family members yelling at the group of political representatives and military officials to stand up when they were being introduced.
“We wanted to see you in the first 24 and 48 hours, so that we wouldn’t have had to bear the suffering of the last 13 days!” said a relative, his voice quivering.
“The plane turned around, but you denied this, and because of this you have wasted so much time.”
The man questioned why the military originally dismissed reports the plane had deviated from its original flight path before the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, confirmed it last weekend.
Chinese citizens make up 153 of those on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, two-thirds of the total, and the meeting took place at a hotel where their families have been waiting for news.
Australia released satellite photos of possible debris in the southern Indian Ocean on Thursday, but officials stressed that the sighting was unconfirmed.
Many of the Chinese relatives continue to believe that the plane is intact and their loved ones still alive, with some clinging to conspiracy theories that Kuala Lumpur has carried out a huge cover up.
“No matter what the reasons [for the plane going missing], can the Malaysian government leave behind the hatred and their own interests in this, and let our loved ones return home?” one mother said tearfully. Her statement was met by applause from other relatives.
She accused airline officials of not responding when she told them her son had tried to call his uncle three times from an overseas number two days after it went missing.
“This was obviously a call for help.”
Some raised with the Malaysian delegation media reports that flight captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah is distantly related to the daughter-in-law of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, as well as being a member of his political party.
“If the pilot did this to support this party, can Malaysia guarantee that they will put the lives of the passengers over any political interests?” the mother said.
One man bellowed: “We demand our relatives won’t become victims of Malaysian politics.”
The meeting began with a lengthy review of the search and rescue operation from the delegation, made up of the ambassador to China Iskandar Sarudin, a Malaysian air force commander, two Malaysian civil aviation officials, a Boeing 777 pilot and a government aviation official, before they invited questions, sparking the angry scenes.
Some relatives interrupted each other as they shouted questions, while others cried as they attempted to get their point across to the officials.
The answers were also regularly interrupted as relatives shouted at the delegation.
The Malaysia-based officials arrived in Beijing on Thursday after repeated, angry demands by relatives for an opportunity to question Kuala Lumpur about the search and rescue operation.
Previous daily meetings at the hotel have been with representatives of Malaysia Airlines, and the family members have been growing increasingly frustrated at the lack of answers.
Relatives have spoken of hunger strikes and demonstrations in recent days.
They have also been attempting to organise themselves into groups aimed at putting added pressure on the Malaysian government.
Meanwhile, Australian officials pledged to continue the search for two large objects spotted by a satellite on Sunday, which had raised hopes that the two-week hunt for the Boeing 777 that disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board was nearing a breakthrough.
But Australia’s deputy prime minister, Warren Truss, tamped down expectations.
“Something that was floating on the sea that long ago may no longer be floating – it may have slipped to the bottom,” he said. “It’s also certain that any debris or other material would have moved a significant distance over that time, potentially hundreds of kilometres.”
The search area indicated by the satellite images, about 2,500 kilometres south-west of Perth, is so remote it takes aircraft four hours to fly there and four hours back, leaving them with only enough fuel to search for about two hours.
On Friday, five planes made the trip. While search conditions had improved from Thursday, with much better visibility, there were no sightings of plane debris.
Searchers relied mostly on trained spotters aboard the planes scanning the ocean rather than radar because the use of radar found nothing during the first day of the search on Thursday.
Going forward, the search will focus more on visual sightings because civilian aircraft are being brought in to participate. The military planes will continue to use both radar and spotters.
* Agence France-Presse with additional reporting by Associated Press