China throws full weight behind search

03:42, Mar 24 2014
Inside the search for MH370
Loadmasters Sergeant Adam Roberts (L) and Flight Sergeant John Mancey launching a water-activated buoy from the Hercules C-130J.
Inside the search for MH370
Loadmasters Sergeant Adam Roberts (L) and Flight Sergeant John Mancey launching a water-activated buoy from the Hercules C-130J.
Inside the search for MH370
Loadmasters Sergeant Adam Roberts (L) and Flight Sergeant John Mancey launching a water-activated buoy from the Hercules C-130J.
Perth
The crew of one of two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft used in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 walk away from their plane in Perth.

With 153 of its citizens on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, China has thrown its full weight behind the multi-national search.

But it has come up empty-handed, and the trying process of working with Malaysian authorities in the investigation has revealed the limitations of China's power, influence, and military capability in the region, despite its surging military spend and the perceived threat it poses to the United States strategic dominance in the Asia-Pacific.

Not that you could tell through the China's state-run media coverage.

The MH370 story in pictures
The saga begins on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 departs Kuala Lumpur at 12:41am, local time. On board are 227 passengers and 12 crew.
The MH370 story in pictures
Captaining the flight of the Boeing 777-200 is 53-year old Zaharie Ahmad Shah, shown here on the right.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 1:21am the MH370's transponder stops signalling, halting the regular responses it usually gives to radar signals. The plane makes a series of strange but controlled movements, turning west sharply, then climbing above its designed height limit and back down.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 1.30am, on point 4, the plane is spotted for the last time on civilian radar. At 2.15am, on point 5, military radar spots it, although it is not clear at the time that this was MH370. Satellite data suggests the plane could also have angled towards point 6.
The MH370 story in pictures
At 6.32am air traffic control in Kuala Lumpur sends a radio signal on an emergency channel asking MH370 to contact them. The plane is now overdue at Beijing Airport, shown.
The MH370 story in pictures
Relatives of passengers despair, and the search begins.
The MH370 story in pictures
International news media focus on the story immediately.
The MH370 story in pictures
Multiple false leads pop up, like this oil spotted by a Vietnamese search plane.
The MH370 story in pictures
Malaysian government and airline officials have released confusing and contradictory information. Here, Malaysian Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, left, and Department of Civil Aviation director general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman take questions at a press conference.
The MH370 story in pictures
Concerns are raised when it becomes apparent that two Iranian men, shown here, boarded the plane with stolen passports. Interpol rejects the suggestion of terrorism, however, concluding the men were probably asylum seekers.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
The search intensifies, covering new areas with a wide array of international support.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
Outpourings of grief and support are expressed worldwide.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
The anguish of the relatives is palpable.
The MH370 story in pictures
Theories abound. Fellow pilot Chris Goodfellow has suggested that a tyre may have caught fire, causing the pilots to turn towards the closest suitable airport, with the rapid ascent and descent perhaps representing an attempt to extinguish the fire. Critics of this theory have pointed out that the change in path was programmed into the plane's computer 12 minutes before the calm toned "good night" transmission, suggesting the change in course was planned.
The MH370 story in pictures
Given the amount of fuel on board, the plane could have made it as far north as Kazakhstan, on a possible flight path shown in orange.
The MH370 story in pictures
Or somewhere southwest of Australia, on a possible flight path shown in orange.
The MH370 story in pictures
Others have speculated that the pilot or co-pilot may have intentionally crashed the plane. The FBI is trying to restore deleted simulator-flights from Pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah's computer – but these could be innocuous. Critics of the crash theory say neither the pilot nor co-pilot had ever expressed any kind of radical sentiment or displayed mental issues, and both possessed adequate flying experience.
The MH370 story in pictures
The ever-present worry of terrorism remains. No groups have claimed responsibility for the incident, and a political motivation is unclear - but that doesn't rule it out.
MH370
On March 20, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told his parliament that objects had been spotted in waters hundreds of kilometres off the western Australian coast. Further searches, by Australian, New Zealand and US planes, were needed to find out if they were part of the missing plane.
Perth
The crew of one of two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft used in the search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 walk away from their plane in Perth.
MH370 search
Thirty-eight days after the plane went missing, an Australian navy ship is guided into position by a Royal New Zealand Airforce P-3K2 Orion aircraft. Officials say they will deploy an underwater robot to aid in the hunt.
MH370
Announcing that an underwater drone will be deployed imminently, Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre chief Angus Houston says an oil slick has been detected in the search area for the missing plane.

Alongside generous coverage of President Xi Jinping meeting the Dutch King Willem-Alexander in Amsterdam, state media has been busy talking up Beijing's role in the latest phase of the search, in the Southern Indian Ocean off Australia's west coast.

Reports carried by official news agency Xinhua emphasised that the search had been recalibrated to take into suspected plane debris spotted by Chinese high-definition observation satellite Gaofen-1 last Tuesday.

It expounded on the arrival of two "highly-anticipated" Chinese Air Force planes which could help "precipitate a swift conclusion to the agonising international search".

Advertisement

Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76
RUNWAY: One of two Chinese Air Force Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, expected to join the search for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in Perth.

"With Australian and New Zealand airforce P3 Orions limited by the vast distances and their dependence on infrared imaging, the Chinese IL-76 will be a welcome relief to the authorities here as the challenges of the task at hand begin to overwhelm available resources," the Xinhua report said.

The IL-76, "emblazoned with a rich-red Chinese flag, as well as a sky-blue hull and a white underbelly, created a rare ripple of enthusiasm across the airbase that is currently home to a large international press corp", the report continued.

Among the benefits of the plane were its many windows, allowing a "very good visual search capability".

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 search area
GROUND TO COVER: Satellite image made available by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority shows a map of the planned search area for missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370.

No mention, then, of the plane landing at the wrong airport on Saturday, underlining the potentially logistical and language difficulties facing complex multi-national search effort.

"They landed at Perth and then they landed here," RAAF Corporal Janine Fabre told Reuters at Base Pearce, a dusty collection of runways and low-slung buildings about 35 kilometres north of Perth.

"We don't know why."

Chinese reports later denied the IL-76 had landed at the wrong airport.

For families, the agonising wait for news has stretched into a third week.

Many are maintaining a vigil at Beijing's Lido Hotel, where daily information updates from Malaysian officials are producing increasingly desperate scenes.

Police had to intervene on Saturday after infuriated relatives, convinced of a government cover-up, confronted a senior delegation of Malaysian officials after they cut short a morning briefing without answering all questions.

"The Malaysian government is deceiving us," one yelled. "They don't dare to face us. The Malaysian government are the biggest murderers."

On Sunday, media were banned from the day's briefing session, where both sides demanded apologies from each other. Malaysian officials are understood to have proposed conditions on the briefings, including pre-written questions, a ban on media, and beefed-up safety conditions.

"It's all a con, why are they torturing the families like this," one relative, Xu Dengqing, said.

A directive issued by the Central Propaganda Department soon after the plane went missing warned against any reportage that could "incite any discontented sentiment".

None of the ugly scenes, a telling demonstration of the distress family members are experiencing, have been reported in state media.

Sydney Morning Herald