News / Asia

Vietnam Frustrated as Missing Plane Search Moves West

A helicopter takes off Tuesday from Vietnam's southwest Phu Quoc Island to search for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (Photo: Lien Hoang for VOA)
A helicopter takes off Tuesday from Vietnam's southwest Phu Quoc Island to search for the passengers of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. (Photo: Lien Hoang for VOA)
Vietnam temporarily scaled back its search for the missing Malaysian Airlines plane Wednesday morning while blasting Malaysia for ignoring multiple requests for updates.

When asked if Vietnam was disappointed with Malaysia's silence, Vice Minister of Transport Pham Quy Tieu suggested that Malaysia hasn't done enough for passengers.

"In order to answer this question, I think you should ask the families of the people on that flight, they could better answer that," he said at a press briefing on this tourist island off the southwestern edge of Vietnam, where rescue teams had launched their searches.

Change in direction

Click to enlargeClick to enlarge
x
Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge
The suspension of full scale operations followed press reports Tuesday that the Malaysian military tracked flight MH370 to the west coast of Malaysia, far from where the plane lost contact with air traffic control Saturday. The jet was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared from radar screens in the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam.

Vietnam said it reached out to Malaysia twice for information but has not heard back.

"We're waiting to see if they need anything," Tieu said. "But we think, between last night and this morning, there's been a lot of information from the world media, but officially Malaysia has not been responding."

Besides China, whose citizens make up the majority of passengers, Vietnam has been a key search partner for Malaysia. As a precautionary measure, Vietnam will continue to monitor its air space for notable activity because Malaysia has not officially announced whether it's found flight MH370. Still, most of Vietnam's efforts are at least on pause.

"Today we announce that all air and naval forces now engaged in the airplane rescue mission have halted," said Pham Van Long, vice director of Vietnam's Southern Aviation Authority, also speaking at the command center here on Phu Quoc Island.

While Vietnam did not say the search was ending permanently, it is unlikely to resume looking for an aircraft that is believed to be near the Strait of Malacca. For Vietnam, the sudden tension with Malaysia could be a bittersweet coda to an aviation mystery that has perplexed the world.

Notable contribution

After flight MH370's disappearance, Vietnam jumped to help in the pursuit of the missing jetliner’s whereabouts. Its efforts were a point of pride for the country, which carried no blame for the crisis but had a chance to make a notable contribution.

“It’s the responsibility of Vietnam to do its best to support our friends in this search," Tieu said at an earlier briefing.

Vietnam started with naval searches from islands and coastal points to the south, before moving to the air. In addition to airplanes, rescue teams donned orange life-vests and piled into a yellow Russian-made helicopter that took off twice daily for four-hour search missions from Phu Quoc Island. In the air, the team members scoured the waters through two open doors on either side of the chopper.

News that MH370 vanished also brought out rare positive public opinion in Vietnam toward China, which ruled Vietnam for 1,000 years. That has made Vietnam’s response to the Malaysian Airlines crisis all the more noticeable. Vietnamese joined the global outpouring of sympathy for the Chinese and other MH370 passengers’ plight with comments on news stories and social media. “I’ve constantly refreshed Twitter and news sites for updates,” one Vietnamese tweeted. “My heart goes out to all the families. #PrayForMH370.”

But as the search wore on, Vietnam began to attract criticism for a series of false leads, including its reported sightings of debris and oil slicks that turned out to be unconnected to the Malaysian aircraft.

At the airport in Beijing, the daughter of a Chinese passenger slammed Vietnamese authorities. "We hope the Chinese government sends search teams as soon as possible,” she told a crush of journalists. “We don't trust the Vietnamese people. They're not very capable.”

Empty-handed and exhausted

Vietnam started to lose confidence in the mission too, emerging from eight-hour searches empty-handed.

“From all the assessments so far, we anticipate very little hope of any good news for this flight,” Tieu said before news broke that the jetliner might actually be nowhere near Vietnam. He also said authorities were preparing for the worst-case scenario, should rescue teams find bodies instead of survivors.

While Vietnam is scaling back its efforts as attention shifts to western Malaysia, it is still pursuing possible clues as they are reported.  On Wednesday, authorities dispatched an aircraft to investigate a burning object spotted by an oil rig worker off Vung Tau.

With the search shifting to include  the Straits of Malacca, Malaysian authorities will be under more pressure to produce results.

“When you’ve got the world media breathing down your neck, you can’t be seen to be doing nothing,” said Owen Geach, commercial director of the International Bureau of Aviation. He added, "They have to leave no stone unturned."

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs