France ramps up MH370 debris hunt

Relatives of MH370 passengers scuffling briefly with police who stopped them from entering a road leading to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing yesterday. The families are furious that Malaysia declared the debris as definitively from the plane when ot
Relatives of MH370 passengers scuffling briefly with police who stopped them from entering a road leading to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing yesterday. The families are furious that Malaysia declared the debris as definitively from the plane when other countries were more tentative in their conclusion.PHOTO: REUTERS

Mauritius looking for plane parts on its shores, passengers' kin stage emotional protest in Beijing

SAINT-DENIS DE LA REUNION • France has launched a hunt for more wreckage from Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 off Reunion island, even as Malaysia asked for more help in the search for the missing aircraft, and relatives of the Chinese passengers staged an emotional protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing yesterday.

France said yesterday that it was ramping up its search there with additional planes, helicopters and patrol boats after more debris, including a plane window and aluminium foil, were found. However, none of the new debris appeared to have come from MH370, said a spokesman for Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

Reunion, a tiny French Indian Ocean territory, has been under intense scrutiny since a beach cleaner found a washed-up wing part known as a flaperon last week.

Malaysia has also appealed to the governments of Mauritius and Madagascar, near Reunion, to help widen the search area.

Late on Thursday, Mauritius said it is searching for plane parts that may have landed on its shores. The hunt will involve foot patrols, helicopters and maritime units, the government said in a statement.

The flaperon is being examined by experts in southern France for possible clues as to why the aircraft veered off course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The discovery of the flaperon sparked anger and scepticism among the grieving Chinese families who want clearer answers and have accused Malaysia of withholding information.

In Beijing yesterday, some 30 relatives tried to break through a police barricade that sealed off the road leading to the embassy. Many scuffled with public security forces.

"Malaysia, return our loved ones," they shouted repeatedly in unison as many broke down in tears. Some also carried signs that said: Malaysia hides the truth, Malaysia delays the search.

At one point, some next-of-kin even kowtowed in front of the media scrum, begging the international community for help.

Their anger and frustration stem from what they claim is the "inhuman behaviour" of the Malaysian authorities, who have not sent an official to meet them since Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak declared on Thursday that the flaperon found on Reunion was "conclusively" from MH370.

Family representative Jiang Hui, whose mother was on the flight, said: "We are at the embassy simply to request for a Malaysian official to meet us... to fulfil their obligation and responsibility."

He added that they "have repeatedly failed to show up at meetings. I don't know what they are afraid of or what they are hiding".

Many of the relatives are sceptical that the debris found last week is from MH370 and believe that the plane is embroiled in a "political conspiracy". They are furious that Malaysia declared the debris as definitively from the plane when other countries were more tentative in their conclusion.

Ms Yang Rong, whose husband was on the flight, said: "Before any tests were done, the plane part was already said to be from MH370. Clearly, they just want to settle the issue and move on."

Earlier in the day, next-of-kin boycotted a scheduled meeting at the family support centre near the Beijing airport as only MAS officials turned up, despite repeated requests for a Malaysian government official to meet them. Some relatives want  Malaysia to help arrange a trip to the island where the suspected wreckage was found.

"To the international community, Malaysia makes all these promises but in reality they have failed to keep any of them," said Mr Jiang.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

•Additional reporting by Esther Teo in Beijing

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 08, 2015, with the headline 'France ramps up MH370 debris hunt'. Print Edition | Subscribe