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‘Credible lead’ on missing jet only provokes family members’ anger

Satellite imagery provided to Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) of objects that may be possible debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in a revised area 185 km to the south east of the original search area in this picture released by AMSA March 20, 2014.

REUTERS/Australian Maritime Safety Authority/Handout

For the searchers scouring a vast swath of ocean for a vanished airliner, the objects on the satellite images provided hope that the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 may be found.

But in the Beijing hotel that has become the outlet for fury and desperation among families of those on that flight, the images offered little. The families have now endured a wait of nearly two weeks, with each bit of new information, to this point, yielding nothing. For Wen Wancheng, whose son was on the Boeing-777, the possible debris located on Australian satellite images – which authorities called a "credible lead" to the aircraft's whereabouts – served only to provoke anger.

The long wait means the best search window has already been "lost," he said, spitting out his words outside the family room on the second floor of Beijing's Lido Hotel.

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He lashed out at the inability by authorities to quickly identify radar and satellite signals that only in recent days directed search efforts to the waters some 2,500 kilometres south-west of Australia, where the satellite spotted two large objects in the water. Even those images offered reason for anger, with a date stamp of March 16, four days earlier. Malaysian authorities said it was unclear when the images were captured. But for the families, the seemingly-lengthy delays are "the same as killing people," said Mr. Wen, nearly shouting. "This is murder."

The discovery of the objects sparked a rapid bid to verify what they are, amid cautions that they may prove to be nothing. In fact, debris such as floating containers is relatively common in the area.

"The task of locating these objects will be extremely difficult and it may turn out that they are not related to the search for flight MH370," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said.

Still, four aircraft were diverted to look more closely and failed to find anything Thursday. They will continue the search Friday morning. Merchant ships and an Australian naval ship were also dispatched to look for the debris.

In Malaysia, meanwhile, those overseeing the search have already begun to cast their mind to what might happen if the debris is shown to belong to MH370. At a daily update briefing, Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein made frequent references to the search for Air France flight 447, which took nearly two years to recover the "black box" flight data recorder.

"Deep sea searches and surveillance is something that we are already looking into," Mr. Hussein said.

Even if the wreckage is located, black boxes are designed to send out location pings for 30 days. After that, the search for information on what happened to the vanished aircraft becomes significantly more difficult. The first signs of wreckage from the Air France flight, for example, were spotted less than two days after it crashed. It has now been nearly two weeks since MH370 disappeared, a length of time that would allow ocean currents to substantially move any wreckage from the site of impact.

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Yet for some of those with loved ones aboard the plane, hope continues. Family members have scrawled messages on a paper inside a room at the Lido Hotel. Photos of the messages posted on Chinese social media offer a window into their continuing agony.

One is addressed to "dear husband," and says: "every day I insist on calling you and sending you a QQ [mobile chat] message. I firmly believe that I will definitely see you. Today is my birthday. Did you forget it?"

A son writes to his father: "I just want to see your face. I just want to hold your hand. I just to want to listen to what you have to teach me." A wife to her husband: "You must be strong. I am waiting for you."

Another, written to "Little Bean," says: "I have bought your favourite Tiffany and Co. ring for you. I am waiting for you to come back so I can put the ring on your finger and ask you to marry me."

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About the Author
Asia Bureau Chief

Nathan VanderKlippe is the Asia correspondent for The Globe and Mail. He was previously a print and television correspondent in Western Canada based in Calgary, Vancouver and Yellowknife, where he covered the energy industry, aboriginal issues and Canada’s north.He is the recipient of a National Magazine Award and a Best in Business award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. More


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