The Abbott Government has told Malaysia Airlines that relatives of the passengers and crew aboard MH370 will not be granted visas to fly to Australia until any debris found in the Indian Ocean is confirmed to be from the plane.
The airline's chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya revealed the decision in Kuala Lumpur hours after family members were told the Boeing 777 had crashed into a remote area of the ocean and all on board must have been killed.
Asked about the decision, Ahmad said he cannot speak for Australia.
"Whether I agree or disagree it is the position of the Australian government," he said.
Malaysia Airlines has offered to fly family members to Perth which is expected to become the base for a multi-nation effort to recover the plane.
"When Malaysia Airlines receives approval from the investigating authorities arrangements will be made to bring the families to the recovery area," Ahmad Jauhari said.
Of the 239 people on board 153 were Chinese.
Many have said they want to travel to Perth to be close to the Australian-led recovery operation.
Ahmad Jauhari said after a 17-day search had proved fruitless and bad weather prevented search flights on Tuesday, it is impossible to say how long it will take to find any debris from the plane.
Many family members have lashed out at Malaysia Airlines' handling of the search effort and investigation into the mystery disappearance of the plane that was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
Ahmad Jauhari denied the airline callously delivered the news by sms messages on Monday night to relatives that all on board the plane had died.
He said the airline's sole motivation was to ensure the families heard the news before it was announced to the world at a media briefing in Kuala Lumpur by Malaysia's prime minister Najib Razak.
"Wherever it was humanly possible we did so in person with the families or telephone, using sms only as an additional means of ensuring fully that nearly 1000 family members heard the news from us and not the media," he said.
He said Malaysia Airlines does not know what happened to the ill-fated flight.
"We do not know why. We do not know how this terrible tragedy happened," he said.
He and the airline's chairman Nor Yusof declined to discuss possible causes at a media briefing.
He said the airline had no choice but to tell the family members their loved ones had died after Najib was briefed about satellite data pointing to the plane's last known position.
Ahmad Jauhari said although there have been an increasing number of apparent leads, there has been no definitive identification of any debris.
For several days now, search planes have been scouring seas 2500 kilometres southwest of Perth, Australia, and have spotted several floating objects, but none have been retrieved or proven to be from the missing plane.
‘‘It is impossible to predict how long this will take. But after 17 days, the announcement made last night and shared with the families is the reality which we must now accept,’’ he said.
CHINA DEMANDS DATA
China demanded Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to conclude that the jetliner had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean as gale-force winds and heavy rain halted efforts to search for any remains of the plane.
Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng told Malaysia’s ambassador to Beijing 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 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 of the Boeing 777 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.