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Malaysian credibility in jet hunt challenged again

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - It may mean little to investigators that the last words air traffic controllers heard from the lost jetliner were "Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero," rather than "All right, good night." But to Malaysian officials whose credibility has been questioned almost from the beginning, it means a great deal.

Malaysian officials said more than two weeks ago that "All right, good night," were the last words, and that the co-pilot uttered them. They changed the account late Monday and said they are still investigating who it was that spoke. The discrepancy added to the confusion and frustration families of the missing already felt more than three weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, and as of Tuesday officials had not explained how they got it wrong.

"This sort of mistake hits at the heart of trust in their communications. If Malaysia is changing what the pilot said, people start thinking, 'What are they going to change next?'" said Hamish McLean, an expert in risk and crisis communication at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

"Information in a crisis is absolutely critical. When we are dealing with such a small amount of information it needs to be handled very carefully," he said.

Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about - or even involvement in - the plane's disappearance. In part responding to domestic political criticism, defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein has taken to retweeting supportive comments on Twitter. He has twice in recent days proclaimed that "history would judge us well" over the handling of the crisis.

The government's opponents disagree. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the correction set off a "medley of shame, sadness and anger" and strengthened the case for creating an opposition-led parliamentary committee to investigate the government's performance in the search.

The communications skills of any government or airline would have been severely tested by the search for the Boeing 777-200 and its 239 passengers and crew. So far not a scrap of debris has been found.

"There has been very little to tell and a lot of unanswered questions," said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. "There is frustration on the lack of new information, frustration over progress with investigations and the search. That frustration is being channeled to the Malaysian authorities but I think it's a bit premature to use that to reflect adversely on how they are doing."

Still, the government's handling of information has at times fed perceptions that it was holding back. From the first day of the search, crews were looking far to the west of the plane's last point of contact with air-traffic controllers, but it took about a week for officials to explain that radar had detected the plane in the area.

"There are some things that I can tell you and some things that I can't," Malaysia's civil aviation chief said cryptically in the early days of the search.

"That was a terrible, terrible response," said Lyall Mercer, the principal of Australian-based Mercer PR, a public relations company. "It says to the families that 'we know things that we are not going to share' and that 'something else is more important than you'."

The piece of information that families most want to hear - whether their relatives are alive or dead - has remained impossible to say with finality, creating a dilemma for the government.

On March 24, it tried to address that. Malaysia Airlines officials met families in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing and sent a text message to others saying "we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived."

At a news conference half an hour later, Prime Minister Najib Razak was less direct. He said with "deep sadness and regret" that the plane's last known position was "a remote location, far from any possible landing sites," and that the flight "ended" in the southern Indian Ocean.

Sarah Bacj, a 48-year-old American expatriate teacher whose boyfriend, Philip Wood, was on the flight, said the decision by Malaysia Airlines to inject some certainty into the fate of the passengers was a mistake. Until then, she said she thought the Malaysian government had acted responsibly, but the text message "totally violated my trust."

"I fell off the cliff," Bacj said. "The way the text message came, I expected proof. That they had found the bodies, or that they had found confirmed wreckage, or something ... but they didn't actually tell us anything at all. The only thing they did was make a judgment statement about evidence - unconfirmed evidence, mind you."

The final words from the cockpit, and who said them, are of interest not only because there are few other clues to the disappearance, but because the communication occurred just a minute before the plane's transponders were shut off. The words were in English, as aviation communications are around the world.

PR experts and professionals said the important thing now is to try and give the families as much information as possible, before the media gets hold of it, and to keep paying attention to them even when the media gaze had drifted.

On Tuesday, the Malaysian government announced that technical experts from Malaysia, China and Australia would brief the families in a closed-door session in Kuala Lumpur.

Join the discussion

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Bobby April 01 2014 at 3:24 PM

I'm sorry folks, but I don't think we will ever know what happened to that magnificent airplane and all those beautiful people. Something very strange going on here !!! I feel so bad for the families of the passengers, the agonizing they have to endure. GOD bless them all !!!

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Sharon April 01 2014 at 3:54 PM

Personally, I think the plane is either hidden very well somewhere, or crashed in an area that no one knows about yet. IF terrorists had hijacked, or crashed, the plane, somebody would have already taken credit for it. That makes me think that there's a cover up going on. I have no evidence of that, but something is definitely going on, & we're not being told the truth.

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ColoMtnLvr April 01 2014 at 3:56 PM

It's high time to 'duplicate' the flight pattern from what information is known with another Boeing 777 aircraft.

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1 reply
andsleet ColoMtnLvr April 01 2014 at 6:12 PM

Colo, how do you duplicate the flight if you dont even know what exactly were onboard? They didnt even know about two guys with false documents until the plane disappeared. Someone is trying very hard to make sure what or who was onboard that plane will remain disappeared.

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plansmaker April 01 2014 at 3:56 PM

It sounds bizarre when Prim Minister of Malaysia goes on national TV telling the world and families of flight 370 that there is no survivor. Flight 370 has crashed into Indian Ocean.
The fact remains no evidence is found what so ever to support Prime Ministers claim. Its one thing to give comfort and closure to 370 families, but its another to make false claim that has no bases.
I give Australia Government great credit for their tireless search of missing jumbo jet with 240 lives on board. But their efforts and valuable time were wasted by confusing bad information.

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Josephine April 01 2014 at 2:48 PM

What is wrong with these people?
They need to get their facts straight, they have a lot of explaining to do!
Relatives want answers, and they better come up with the right ones!

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LewTag April 01 2014 at 2:47 PM

The big govt secret is how did that plane fly back across the continent without being flagged as a rogue and was never intercepted...no one is even asking that question...it had more than one hour over controlled airspace and yet was totally ignored...or was it??...maybe it was intercepted and shot down...and no one wants to say so...think of what that would do to the families...just saying...

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Greg April 01 2014 at 2:47 PM

Is it just me or did the headline lead you to believe that the Malaysian officials were caught in another bit of misinformation since yesterday when they anounced that they screwed up what the pilot/co-pilots actual last words were? But NO... this wasn't new news... this was yesterdays news!

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hoppinhogz April 01 2014 at 2:45 PM

Maylasias airlines very first mistake was to allow two people with stolen passports on the plane(not to say they were the problem). Stolen passports, to me, in any country should put up flags. Why couldn't they get legal passports, in their own names? Maylasias avoidance of the facts and the hemming and hawing around makes me wonder if there was something on the plane that they did not want to be known. Its hard to believe that they just did not know what they were doing? To make such a positive statement that the plane had gone down into the ocean and all on board did not survive, makes me wonder if they already knew the where and when and why. I also wonder if they went into the water on the 6th ping(via satellite) and went no farther, would this change where they would be searching?

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1 reply
mwymer212 hoppinhogz April 01 2014 at 3:10 PM

The two men who used stolen passports also had their own passports. They used their own passports on the flight iinto Kuala Lumpur and then they changed and used the stolen passports when they boarded flight 370.

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RockNHula April 01 2014 at 2:44 PM

As an investigator, I can tell from what they are saying--that they know nothing, at all. I even question the transponder and engine maintenance tracks. If the plane flew North, it would have entered the most restricted airspace in the world, the border between India and China. Check out "Kongka La, India" to see what I am referring to. If the plane flew S.E. as they believe, a couple of our gov't agencies, like the NRO, track everything in that area, so if the plane went down they should know the location. The only Intel agency in the world that believes the plane could be on a runway somewhere being prepared for an attack is--Israel. The good that will come out of this is that all planes will be required to have cameras in the cockpit, passenger compartment, and baggage, and there will be a location device that cannot be turned off.

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2 replies
stee1er316 RockNHula April 01 2014 at 2:56 PM

I agree with you. They haven't found a thing. With all the satellites looking down, the boats in the water, the planes flying over the ocean...this plane would be in thousands of pieces if it hit the water. There would be luggage and plane parts floating around. SOMETHING would have been found after three weeks. That fact that they found nothing leads me to believe what I have been saying all along; and it is that I agree with Israel on this.

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1 reply
BUBBA stee1er316 April 01 2014 at 3:08 PM

please quit giving the friends and kinfolks hope

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becky.leach RockNHula April 01 2014 at 2:57 PM

I think those cameras in the cockpit should def. happen and in addition other back up tracking/communication devices.

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lawrie April 01 2014 at 2:41 PM

well, maybe these malaysian people thought they were "saving face" but it has gone so far beyond that they will never be able to be held to any standard except just plain liars.

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