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MISSING MH370: After false leads, KL reacts with caution to new data
Publication Date : 21-03-2014
For Malaysia, news that Australia has tracked down possible debris from the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner should end two weeks of high anxiety, compounded by intense criticism from Chinese and Western media about its handling of the crisis.
But having seen leads fizzle out in the initial days after Flight MH370's disappearance, the Malaysian authorities reacted very cautiously yesterday to the new information, which has yet to be verified.
Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called it "a credible lead", but added that Kuala Lumpur was waiting for information and reports from aircraft and ships sent to the southern Indian Ocean on whether the two objects spotted by satellite were debris from MH370.
"Any time now," he said.
Yesterday morning, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak received a phone call from his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott telling him of the latest discovery.
"After call from @TonyAbbottMHR, awaiting confirmation from Australia on the objects found. #PrayForMH370," Najib wrote on his Twitter account.
After almost two weeks of a massive but hitherto fruitless search - first in the South China Sea and Strait of Malacca, before moving west to the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean - this was "the best lead right now", according to Australian officials. But it would take "two or three days" before any conclusions could be made.
Hishammuddin said at yesterday's press conference: "Today, what I am comfortable with saying is that at least there is a credible lead... That gives us hope."
In order not to raise hopes too high, he referred to earlier satellite images from China that also appeared to show debris in the area where the plane lost contact with civilian radar. But that turned out to be unrelated to MH370.
"We consider all leads to be at the same level of importance, but the... experience that we went through in respect of the images from the Chinese satellite confirms our position right from the start," he said.
"Any leads that we receive must be corroborated and verified because if found false, not only will it jeopardise our investigations and our search, but it will give false hopes to the families."
Malaysia has come under fire for not giving timely disclosures and for providing conflicting information. Some Malaysians accused the authorities of incompetence.
But the government has asserted repeatedly that it was doing the best it could with the help of 26 nations, and that MH370 was an unprecedented case.
This is said to be the first case in which a missing airliner has had to be tracked by its communications with a satellite.
The Beijing-bound plane lost contact after its communication system was disabled soon after it took off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8.
Some media, however, have drawn a comparison between Malaysia and Australia's handling of the crisis.
The Malay Mail Online wrote that the Australian response "could not have been more different from Malaysia's". It noted that Mr Abbott made the first announcement in the Australian Parliament, while the Malaysian government excluded opposition MPs from a briefing to lawmakers.
But it added that Malaysia had never experienced anything on such a scale, and was still coming to grips with the situation.