10 MAS staff held by passengers' kin in Beijing

KUALA LUMPUR - Ten Malaysia Airlines employees were held in the ballroom of Lido Hotel in Beijing for more than 10 hours by family members of the passengers on board missing flight MH370.

MAS regional senior vice-president Joshua Lau said a normal briefing was held, as had been done over the past weeks, at 3pm on Thursday.

But, it ended at 1.30am yesterday, as the families demanded answers to technical questions on the missing plane.

Lau said although the briefing was held to explain what had been discussed in a press conference by the Malaysian authorities on Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur, the families were adamant in wanting to know what had led to the plane's disappearance and other details of the search mission.

"It was a long-winded session between MAS representatives and the families, which lasted longer than expected.

"They asked various questions and requested that the representatives get replies from Kuala Lumpur, while everyone waited in the ballroom.

"Nothing untoward occurred. The term 'hostage' is too strong."

He said this in response to reports that the representatives were held hostage.

Lau said the briefing ended when the families started walking to the Malaysian embassy there at 2am. He did not elaborate further.

News portal The Mole yesterday quoted a source as saying the 400-odd family members were upset when informed by MAS officials that the unidentified material that had washed ashore in Augusta, southwest coast of Australia, on Wednesday was not from MH370.

It was reported that the families refused to listen to the explanation by MAS and demanded that government officials from Malaysia or Australia personally provide them with an official statement.

The Mole said it was understood that Chinese officials and hotel staff were never involved with the daily briefings, as MAS officials had always conducted them on their own.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) was reported to have said it was confident that the unidentified material that washed ashore was not from MH370.

The Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) yesterday said the ATSB, after having examined detailed photographs of the material, was satisfied with the conclusion.

Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Bluefin-21 has scanned 95 per cent of its focused underwater search area.

But, JACC said Bluefin-21, which had completed its 13th mission, failed to find any contacts of interest. The AUV was deployed in the hunt six weeks after the aircraft disappeared.

The search mission, which entered its 49th day yesterday, involves up to eight military aircraft and 10 ships.

Despite the rough weather, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has planned a visual search for an area of approximately 49,240 square kilometres, with the centre of the area being 1,584km northwest of Perth.

It said: "Weather in the area is expected to experience isolated showers, with southeasterly winds up to 25 knots."