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Malaysia Airlines defends use of SMS to inform MH370 passengers' families of plane's fate

Published on Mar 25, 2014 1:47 PM
 
A family member of a passenger on board Malaysia Airlines MH370 at a protest in front of the Malaysian embassy in Beijing on March 25, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

Malaysia Airlines on Tuesday defended its use of text messages to inform the families of those on board Flight MH370 that the plane had been lost at sea, saying that it did so only as an additional means of contact.

Its chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said they contacted as many of the 900-plus family members as possible by phone or in person on Monday night before the announcement was made publicly.

"Our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did," he said at a press conference on Tuesday.

"Wherever humanly possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone, using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that the nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media."

Malaysia Airlines was criticised over social media for this text message sent late on Monday night. It was deemed insensitive to the anxious family members who had been waiting for news since the jetliner disappeared on March 8.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak said on Monday night that the plane had "ended" its journey in the Indian Ocean, shattering all hope for the survival of any of the 239 passengers on board.

MH370 Sequence of events map

Malaysia Airlines on Tuesday said it believed there are no survivors although no debris has yet to be found. The conclusion was drawn from the plane's last communication with a satellite, in the middle of the Indian Ocean with fuel running out.

Mr Najib said in Parliament on Tuesday that the late-night announcement, broadcast live over television, was organised as the government did not want to withhold information from the families.

He said the government had never hidden information from the families, even as grieving relatives in Beijing accuse Malaysia of not being transparent.

He was tabling a motion of condolence in Parliament over the loss of MH370.

He said he had the responsibility to inform the families regarding any new information. Malaysia, he added, will not begin the official mourning process by lowering the national flag to half-mast until the wreckage was found.

MH370 Indian Ocean object sightings map

"We are very committed to continue the search and rescue operation until we have detected traces of the plane," he said, adding that the many questions now being asked can only be answered if the black box was found.

carolynh@sph.com.sg

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