Malaysia Airlines flight MH370: Authorities defend text message to families revealing missing plane's fate

Malaysia Airlines officials have defended the way they broke the news of flight MH370's fate to the families of the passengers and crew, saying their "sole and only motivation" was making sure they heard the news before the rest of the world.

Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak announced overnight that new satellite data from UK company Inmarsat showed the Malaysia Airlines plane flew into the Indian Ocean.

Malaysia Airlines sent a text message to relatives ahead of Mr Najib's announcement, saying: "We have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived".

Airline CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya this afternoon fronted a press conference and said: "I stand before you today as a representative of Malaysia Airlines...

but also as a parent, as a brother, and as a son."

"My heart breaks to think of the unimaginable pain suffered by all the families.

There are no words which can ease that pain," he said.

"Everyone in the Malaysia Airlines family is praying for the 239 souls on MH370 and for their loved ones on this dark day.

We extend our prayers and sincere condolences.

"We all feel enormous sorrow and pain.

Sorrow that all those who boarded MH370 on Saturday 8 March will not see their families again, and that those families will now have to live on without those they love. 

"It must be remembered too that 13 of our own colleagues and fellow Malaysians were also on board." 

Mr Ahmad defended the use of the text messages to notify family members.

"Let me be very clear on the events of yesterday evening: our sole and only motivation last night was to ensure that in the incredibly short amount of time available to us, the families heard the tragic news before the world did," he said.

"Wherever humanly possible, we did so in person with the families or by telephone, using SMS only as an additional means of ensuring fully that the nearly 1,000 family members heard the news from us and not from the media."

Mr Ahmad said his company had already provided initial financial assistance of about $5,500 per passenger to each next of kin and that the airline is prepared to provide further compensation.

"We recognise that financial support is not the only consideration.

But the prolonged search is naturally placing financial strain on the relatives," he said.

"We are therefore preparing to offer additional payments as the search continues."

Mr Ahmad has also brushed aside questions calling for his resignation, saying he will make a decision later.

Family members protest in Beijing

Meanwhile, angry family members of Chinese passengers on board the plane marched on the Malaysian embassy in Beijing to protest against the handling of the tragedy.

Chinese police cordoned off the road leading to the embassy because the relatives of the Chinese passengers said they intended to stage a sit down protest outside.

They let the roughly 100 chanting protesters through the cordons, but held the media back.

The chanting soon stopped.

Family members have issued a statement through Chinese social media saying they were very unhappy with the way the Malaysian government has handled the tragedy.

They believe they have been deceived by the Malaysian government since the plane vanished.

The relatives intend to submit a letter of protest to the Malaysian ambassador in Beijing.

Aircraft and ships from more than 20 nations have been hunting for any signs of the Boeing 777 since it disappeared on March 8.

Authorities will be forced to wait at least another 24 hours before resuming a search for wreckage off the West Australian coast.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was today hoping to retrieve two pieces of wreckage spotted by surveillance planes, but the Weather Bureau's Luke Huntington says conditions are far too rough.

"Today it's really not too good for search conditions.

We've got heavy rain, broken low cloud and gale force winds," he said.

The search will recommence once weather conditions improve.

Speaking in Perth, Vice Chief of the Defence Force Air Marshall Mark Binskin reiterated the scale and difficulty of the search.

"We're not searching for a needle in a haystack, we're trying to determine where the haystack is," he said.

Defence Minister David Johnston said the search was one of the largest maritime surveillance operations in history, but horrendous weather meant the safety of search teams cannot be put at risk.

"Remember, this part of the world, this Southern Ocean, has shipwrecked many, many sailors in our history in Western Australia," he said.

"There are 20 to 30 metre waves.

It is very, very dangerous even for big, Panamax class ships."

He said it would be at least 24 hours before any debris from the missing flight could be positively identified.

"This is a mystery, and until we recover and positively identify a piece of debris, everything is virtually speculation."

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