China urges Malaysia to intensify search for flight MH370

Chinese relatives of passengers tell the BBC they are holding on to glimmers of hope

China has urged Malaysia to "step up its efforts" in the search for the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane that disappeared on Saturday.

Malaysia said it was widening the hunt, after days of searching found no trace of the plane or the 239 people on board - most of whom were Chinese.

Rescue teams from nine countries will now scour areas stretching from the Malacca Strait to the South China Sea.

Beijing-bound flight MH370 vanished shortly after it left Kuala Lumpur.

Analysis

This sudden disappearance is baffling experts. Pilots and investigators have described it as "weird" and "bizarre".

Most problems leave some kind of trace. If an aircraft's engines fail, it can still potentially glide for around 80 or 90 miles, giving the pilot time to radio a mayday call. If the cabin depressurises, maybe because it loses a window, the crew will rush to lose altitude, but the aircraft would not break up. Even if the pilots fell unconscious through lack of oxygen, the aircraft would keep flying and someone on the ground would notice it had gone quiet.

There are emergency codes pilots can enter if a hijacker's trying to break into the flight deck. And other aircraft flying around normally listen across to the emergency channel so they're likely to have heard any distress call. It all points to a sudden, catastrophic break-up in mid-air. But until they find the aircraft they will struggle to work out why.

Relatives of the missing passengers have been told to prepare for the worst.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang had earlier urged the Malaysian authorities to sharpen its search efforts.

"We have a responsibility to demand and urge the Malaysian side to step up search efforts, start an investigation as soon as possible and provide relevant information to China correctly and in a timely manner," he said.

Patience appears to be wearing thin in the search for the missing aeroplane, says the BBC's Celia Hatton in Beijing.

The Malaysian authorities are attempting to address Chinese concerns - they have reissued a pledge to fly worried family members to Kuala Lumpur so they can be closer to the search efforts, our correspondent adds.

But one victim's relative - Guo Qishun, whose son-in-law was on the plane - said he did not see the point of flying to Malaysia.

"If we go to Malaysia, we can do nothing but wait, just like we are doing in Beijing now. If we go to Malaysia, who can we rely on? Most of us don't speak English," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Military officers work within the cockpit of an aircraft AN-26 belonging to the Vietnam Air Force during a search and rescue mission off Vietnam's Tho Chu island March 10 Air force personnel from countries including Vietnam have been scouring the sea
A Malaysian-Chinese child at a vigil for missing Malaysia Airlines passengers at the Independence Square in Kuala Lumpur on March 10 Malaysian-Chinese people have held vigils to pray for passengers on board the flight
Passengers' families wait for news at Beijing's Lido Hotel on March 10 Some relatives of passengers in China gathered at a Beijing hotel to wait for news of their loved ones

Earlier, the Malaysian authorities said they had identified one of the two men travelling on the missing plane on stolen passports.

Police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said they could not reveal his identity, but confirmed the man was not Malaysian.

International police agency Interpol has confirmed the passengers were travelling with Italian and Austrian passports stolen in Thailand years ago.

At a news conference on Monday, Malaysia's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the two men were "not Asian-looking men".

He insisted that all security protocols had been complied with before the plane took off.

Experts say the presence of two passengers with stolen passports is a breach of security, but is relatively common in the region and could relate to illegal migration.

Search continues

Analysis

According to Interpol, it takes just two-tenths of a second to scan a passenger's passport against Interpol's database of missing travel documents. Yet somehow, at least two of the passengers on board the missing Malaysian Airline flight had stolen passports that were not spotted.

There has long been a flourishing trade in lost and stolen passports in South East Asia, mostly involving crime, drug trafficking and people smuggling. The two stolen passports used to board flight MH370 on Saturday were both lost in Thailand in 2012 and 2013.

"The database system is there, it is available and we would encourage people to use it," said an Interpol official. The agency says about four out of 10 air passenger journeys undertaken do not include a check against its database, something it says is a security loophole.

Some 40 ships and 34 aircraft from nine different nations are taking part in the search in the seas off Vietnam and Malaysia.

Commander William Marks from the US Seventh Fleet, which is taking part in the search, said he expected the plane's flight recorders to be floating in the water.

He said the recorders, also known as "black boxes", were fitted with radio beacons that can be picked up by radar.

Despite a wide search, radar had not so far picked up any signals, he said.

None of the debris and oil slicks spotted in the water so far have proven to be linked to the disappearance.

Flight MH370 left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 00:41 local time on Saturday (16:41 GMT on Friday). But radio contact was lost at 17:30 GMT, somewhere between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Officials say they still have no idea what went wrong.

Malaysian military officials said on Sunday they were widening the search area because of indications the plane, a Boeing 777-200ER, may have turned back from its scheduled route shortly before vanishing from radar screens.

The BBC's Richard Westcott examines how a plane can vanish without trace

Investigators are looking at all angles, including a possible terrorist attack. Counter-terrorism agencies and the FBI are involved in the operation.

The passengers on the flight were of 14 different nationalities. Two-thirds were from China, while others were from elsewhere in Asia, North America and Europe.

Malaysia Airlines is the country's national carrier, flying nearly 37,000 passengers daily to some 80 destinations worldwide.

On Monday, shares in Malaysia Airlines fell 18% to a record low.

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