Malaysia's jet crash announcement draws criticism

Malaysia's jet crash announcement draws criticism
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak (L) delivers his statement on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 while Malaysian Minister of Defence and Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein (R) looks on.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia drew criticism on Tuesday for its announcement that a missing passenger jet had been lost at sea, even before any wreckage was found.

A sombre Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday that Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which vanished more than two weeks ago with 239 people on board, had "ended in the southern Indian Ocean".

He cited fresh satellite tracking data and said the information was being shared "out of a commitment to openness and respect for the families, two principles which have guided this investigation".

Malaysian authorities have come in for repeated criticism for perceived secretiveness or contradictory information since the plane fell of air traffic control screens on March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Najib's announcement flew further flak. In Beijing some relatives of passengers vented their anger, decrying Malaysian authorities as "murderers".

And China's deputy foreign minister demanded authorities in Kuala Lumpur hand over the new satellite data.

Malaysia Airlines was also criticised for informing some next-of-kin in a text message that the plane was lost with no survivors.

The airline said most families were told in advance of Najib's statement in person and by telephone, with SMS used only as an additional means.

Bridget Welsh, an expert on Malaysian politics at the Singapore Management University, said the authorities' intentions were good but the means of breaking the news could have been improved.

"The use of SMS messages even for additional communication could have been rethought. I imagine every time a person looks at their phone they will be reminded of their loss," she told AFP.

Paul Yap, an aviation lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore, said Najib should have delayed his announcement until debris confirmed as coming from the plane had been found.

Online criticism abounded, together with messages of condolences for the victims - two-thirds of them from China.

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