KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China demanded that Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to conclude that a Malaysia Airlines jetliner had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean killing everyone on board, as gale-force winds and heavy rain on Tuesday halted the search for any remains of the plane.
The weather is expected to improve later Tuesday for the multinational search being conducted out of Perth, Australia, to possibly resume Wednesday. But even then, the searchers face a monumental task of combing the vast expanse of choppy seas for suspected remnants of the aircraft sighted earlier.
“We’re not searching for a needle in a haystack — we’re still trying to define where the haystack is,” Australia’s deputy defense chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, told reporters in Perth at a military base as idled planes remained parked behind him.
In remarks to the Malaysian Parliament, Prime Minister Najib Razak also cautioned that the search will take a long time and “we will have to face unexpected and extraordinary challenges.”
Late Monday, Najib announced that the Boeing 777 had gone down in the sea with no survivor. But that’s all that investigators and the Malaysian government have been able to say with certainty about Flight 370’s fate since it disappeared on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing. Left unanswered are many troubling questions about why it was so far off-course — the plane essentially back-tracked its route over Malaysia and then traveled in the opposite direction in the Indian Ocean.
Investigators will be looking at various possibilities including possible mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
“We do not know why. We do not know how. We do not how the terrible tragedy happened,” the airline’s chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, told reporters.
Monday night’s e announcement unleashed a storm of sorrow and anger among the families of the plane’s 239 passengers and crew — two-thirds of them Chinese. Family members of the missing passengers have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information and some say they are not being told the whole truth.
Nearly 100 relatives and their supporters marched on the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, where they threw plastic water bottles, tried to rush the gate and chanted, “Liars!”
Many wore white T-shirts that read “Let’s pray for MH370” as they held banners and shouted, “Tell the truth! Return our relatives!”
There was a heavy police presence at the embassy and there was a brief scuffle between police and a group of relatives who tried to approach journalists.
Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia’s ambassador to Beijing late Monday that China wanted to know exactly what led Najib to announce that the plane had been lost, a statement on the ministry’s website said.
Malaysia Airlines Chairman Mohammed Nor Mohammed Yusof said at a news conference Tuesday that it may take time for further answers to come clear.
“This has been an unprecedented event requiring an unprecedented response,” he said. “The investigation still underway may yet prove to be even longer and more complex than it has been since March 8th.”
He added that even though no wreckage has been found, there was no doubt it had crashed.
“This by the evidence given to us, and by rational deduction, we could only arrive at that conclusion: That is, for Malaysia Airlines to declare that it has lost its plane, and by extension, the people in the plane,” he said.
The conclusions were based on a more thorough analysis of the brief signals the plane sent every hour to a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, even after other communication systems on the jetliner shut down for unknown reasons.