Malaysia failing credibility test as flight confusion deepens

Malaysia failing credibility test as flight confusion deepens
Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein answers more questions as he leaves a crowded news conference about the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the hotel at Kuala Lumpur International Airport March 12, 2014.

KUALA LUMPUR - One of the world's most perplexing aviation mysteries is casting a harsh spotlight on Malaysia's government, as a leadership unused to heavy scrutiny comes under intense international criticism for a litany of confusing messages and a perceived lack of transparency.

Five days after Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared from civilian radar screens, a huge international search operation has failed to turn up a trace of the Boeing jetliner that was carrying 239 passengers and crew.

Frustration over the fruitless search has increasingly been directed at Malaysian officials after a series of fumbling news conferences, incorrect details given by the national airline, and a long delay in divulging details of the military's tracking of what could have been the plane hundreds of miles off course.

The missteps have ranged from conflicting information about the last time of contact with the jet to the sharing of photos of two passengers in which they had the same pair of legs.

"The Malaysians deserve to be criticised - their handling of this has been atrocious," said Ernest Bower, a Southeast Asia specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Government officials say they are coping as best they can with an exceptional, highly complex crisis.

Confusion, false leads, and misinformation are common in the initial hours of air disasters in any country. But China, whose citizens made up around two-thirds of the passengers on board the flight, has barely hidden its impatience with Malaysia, urging it several times to step up the search and investigation efforts.

The head of the Civil Aviation Authority of China, Li Jiaxiang, told reporters on Thursday that the message had been repeated to Malaysia's special envoy in the Chinese capital.

"Yesterday Malaysia's special envoy arrived in Beijing, and the CAAC asked of him that Malaysia step up search efforts and increase their scope, and that we hope that Malaysia's information release and communication can be smoother," he said.

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