BEIJING – Days of anxious waiting and simmering anger exploded into full-blown outrage Tuesday as relatives of Chinese passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 marched to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing to demand answers.
Fueling their rage was Malaysian officials’ statement late Monday that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean and that they assumed none of the 239 passengers and crew members survived, a conclusion that destroyed the last shreds of hope for relatives and friends of those aboard the airliner. The flight manifest listed 153 passengers on the Beijing-bound flight as Chinese.
The rowdy crowd threw water bottles at the embassy, scuffled with police and hurled criticism, questions and curses at officials inside.
Although the crowd included many relatives, several people appeared to be Chinese government agents in plain clothes whose mission seemed to be not only to guide the protest but also to keep it under control. Some relatives said they thought authorities were giving them a way to release their anger for fear that it could turn back on the Chinese government.
Despite the announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on Monday night that “Flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” there has been no confirmed debris from the plane in the waters there. Search teams have continued to chase floating objects spotted by satellite, only to come up empty.
Under pressure to provide more evidence of how they came to their conclusion that the plane went down, Malaysian officials on Tuesday released more information describing how the British satellite company Inmarsat and the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch analyzed satellite data to conclude that Flight 370 had followed a southern route to its end.
The Australian-led search team suspended its quest for the plane’s wreckage because of rough weather. Choppy seas and long ocean swells were forecast for today and Thursday, but winds were expected to diminish from gale-force strength.
At a news conference Tuesday, Malaysia Airlines chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya declined to comment on the ongoing investigation into what caused the jet to veer off course.
“We do not know why,” he said. “We do not know how.”
The U.S. Navy dispatched more equipment to Australia on Tuesday. But like much of that already assembled in Perth as part of the international effort, the additional equipment will come into play only if the search area – almost three times the size of California – narrows sharply to a few dozen square miles of the ocean bottom.
NASA, whose satellites can spot objects as small as 50 feet, said it would target its satellites on the search area in the next few days.
Leading up to the Beijing protest, some of the plainclothesmen corralled the protesters onto buses, provided them with well-printed placards and T-shirts bearing slogans related to the plane, and lectured them on how to protest in an orderly fashion.
Many in the crowd, however, rejected the coaching, letting their most visceral emotions flow and accusing Malaysia’s leaders of lying. One woman cried, “Give me back my son.”
China’s Foreign Ministry has demanded a full accounting of how Malaysian investigators reached their conclusion. On Tuesday, according to state news media, Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a special envoy to Kuala Lumpur to deal with the issue.