KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead.
It is a scene eerily reminiscent of just a few months ago. Anguished relatives of passengers at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport.
Malaysia’s flag carrier under global scrutiny -- and questions raised about its chances of survival in the wake of tragedy.
Malaysian government officials are back in the same cramped hotel conference room, struggling to answer tough questions from correspondents who have flown in from around the world.
The transport minister was asked if Malaysia Airlines, taking a shorter route over eastern Ukraine where military aircraft had recently been shot down by pro-Russian insurgents, put fuel cost savings ahead of safety.
Malaysia Transportation Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said, “That’s not true. And as mentioned just now, other airlines are taking the same route.”
As search teams continued recovering bodies scattered across Ukrainian farmland, Russia’s degree of responsibility in the destruction of a large airliner is being scrutinized.
Australia’s prime minister, Tony Abbott, is among the leaders most blunt in demanding an explanation from Moscow.
“The initial response of the Russian Ambassador was to blame Ukraine for this, and I have to say that is deeply, deeply unsatisfactory,” said Abbott.
Malaysia Flight 17, after a stop here, was to continue to Australia. And more than 100 aboard were headed there to attend an international AIDS Conference. The loss to the medical research community is incalculable. As one grieving colleague put it: ‘What if the cure for AIDS was on that plane?’”