Malaysian authorities are feeling the heat over their handling of the search for the Malaysia Airlines aircraft missing with 239 people on board, amid perceived bungles and conflicting statements.
Since the Boeing 777-200 vanished from the radar around an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur International Airport on Saturday, Malaysian officials have given out contradictory information about the flight and its passengers.
There was confusion over whether military radar tracked the aircraft in the Strait of Malacca, off the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula, and more than 100 kilometres from its northeasterly course to Beijing.
Malay-language daily Berita Harian cited air force chief General Rodzali Daud saying the plane had veered from its flight path.
But the general later said he only meant that the plane might have tried to turn back before it went missing.
“The sudden disappearance of the plane was already mystifying but the way the government is handling this is more perplexing,” said Terrence Netto, a political analyst.
The Malaysian Insider online news portal slammed the government for fumbling the release of information to the public.
“The mood among Malaysians now is moving from patience in the search for the 239 people aboard the missing flight MH370 to embarrassment and anger over discrepancies about passengers, offloaded baggage and concealed information about its last known position,” it said in a commentary online.
Government officials have issued conflicting information about the five passengers who reportedly checked in to the ill-fated flight but did not board.
Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, told a press conference on Monday all the luggage of the five passengers was removed from the plane before it took off, and aviation officials found the items “clean” on examination.
But on Tuesday, chief of police Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said the report was untrue.
“Everybody who checked in to the flight boarded,” he said. “There is nobody who checked in and did not board.”
Conflicting accounts emerged concerning the two passengers who boarded using fake passports.
Malaysian immigration chief Aloyah Mama said the two Iranians who boarded with stolen passports used those documents to fly to Malaysia from Iran on February 28. Interpol said on Tuesday the two used their own passports to enter Malaysia, which does not require entry visas for Iranians.