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Tensions Spill Over as Chinese MH370 Relatives Demand Answers

Frustration over the lack of progress in the search for a missing Malaysia Airlines jet erupted Wednesday at a daily news conference, where Chinese relatives of missing passengers confronted Malaysian officials.

The grieving families burst into the room where the media briefing was to be held, yelling and holding a banner demanding Malaysia "tell the truth" about what happened to the plane that has been missing since March 8.

One unidentified woman directed her frustration at a Malaysia Airlines official.

"Everyday I'm confronted by your boring questions, I'm facing you everyday, I'm fed up with it. I know you know we can do nothing but vent our anger and cry, we can do nothing to you. Aside from lying, deceiving, you have been playing the gangster."

Two-thirds of the plane's 227 passengers were Chinese. Many of their families have become increasingly angry about what they feel is contradictory or confusing information released by Malaysia. Some have even threatened a hunger strike.

Malaysian security forces forcibly removed the wailing Chinese relatives from the room and blocked the entrance, as scores of international and local media recorded the incident.

Once the news conference began, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said authorities are "trying our very best" to locate the plane and to narrow the search area, which now covers more than seven million square kilometers.

The minister, who is leading the multinational operation, said he understands emotions are high. He said Malaysia is sending another high-level delegation to Beijing to explain more details of the search.

Scott Hamilton of the U.S.-based aviation consulting firm Leeham & Company tells VOA the Malaysian government appears to be "completely over their heads" with the investigation.

"They've probably never had anything even remotely like this to deal with. (They) didn't know what to do with it, didn't know how to deal with the pressure from the Chinese government, which of course was very immense given the number of Chinese on the airplane. You had one agency of the government saying one thing, you've had another agency saying something contradictory. I just think they've been totally over their heads on this."

Political science professor James Chin with Australia's Monash University agrees that the situation is unprecedented for Malaysian authorities.

"Part of the reason is that the Malaysians don't have any experience with this sort of issue, and also secondly because the Malaysians are very cautious about giving information. Almost information they have they always want to double check it. And unfortunately living in today's age where social media is present at all times, this sort of time luxury does not exist for Malaysian authorities."

The airliner, bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard, vanished over Southeast Asia March 8, triggering the largest missing airplane search in aviation history. Investigators believe it was deliberately diverted, either south toward the Indian Ocean or north toward Central Asia.

Hishammuddin said he could rule out reports that the plane was spotted in the Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. Eyewitnesses have reported seeing a low-flying aircraft around the time the plane went missing.

He also said background checks on all but three of the plane's passengers have yielded "no information of significance." Authorities are still waiting for background reports on two Ukrainian passengers and one Russian passenger.

Meanwhile, U.S. law enforcement officials say investigators searching a home flight simulator and e-mails of the pilots of the airliner have failed to find evidence that either pilot purposely steered the flight away from its destination.

One of the U.S. officials said authorities were trying to learn whether pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah might have been training on the simulator on how to disable transponders and other in-flight devices ahead of takeoff from Kuala Lumpur. Investigators were also seeking to learn whether he had practiced flight patterns taking the plane away from its destination.

The two U.S. law enforcement officials spoke Tuesday after being briefed by Malaysian authorities. They were quoted in the Los Angeles Times.

On Wednesday, Hishammuddin confirmed reports that some data has been deleted from the flight simulator and that experts are trying to reconstruct the data. But he stressed that both the passengers and crew are "innocent until proven guilty."

Authorities have so far refused to rule out any possibility, including terrorism, hijacking, a mechanical malfunction or pilot suicide.

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