04/01/2014, 00.00
MALAYSIA - CHINA
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Race against time to find missing plane's black box as relatives still hope for a miracle

The signals from the plane's black box could stop in a few days. For Australia' Defence minister, there is "little hope" of finding the plane. Meanwhile, Malaysian officials are attributing different last words to flight MH370 pilots. Chinese media call on relatives of missing passengers to be "rational" and "prepare" the funerals. However, family members still hope to find loved ones alive.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The international search teams looking for flight MH370, which disappeared on 8 March in the southern Indian Ocean (according to the official version), are racing against time to find the black box.

The signal could stop within a few days leaving no traces of the plane as well as no answers to what has been called "the greatest mystery" in modern civil aviation.

A Royal Australian Navy ship, fitted with a sophisticated US black box locator and an underwater drone, left Perth yesterday, but it will not reach the search site for three days.

Signals from the flight recorders last about 30 days and could go silent shortly since the Malaysian Airlines flight with 239 people on board that left Kuala Lumpur for Beijing disappeared on 8 March.

Australian Defence Minister David Johnston admits that there is little likelihood of it being recovered.

Following the latest information from Malaysian civilian authorities and their new version of the pilot's last words, ten planes and nine ships this morning set out to scour the seas looking for any trace of the flight.

Malaysia announced that the last words the pilot (or co-pilot) exchanged with air traffic controllers were "Good night Malaysian three seven zero", and not "all right, good night" as reported previously.

Shortly after these words, the Boeing 777 stopped communications and vanished.

"We are not hiding anything," said Malaysia's Defence Minister Hussein Hishammuddin, who is also acting transport minister, when questioned by the press. "We are just following the procedure that is being set."

However, Malaysia's handling of the emergency has come in for criticism, especially from the relatives of the Chinese victims who accuse the government of incompetence or even trying to cover up mistakes and faults.

However, in China, official media have urged family members to be "rational" and "prepare to make arrangements for funerals".

A commentary in the China Daily, an English-language newspaper run by the government, said: "It is certain that flight MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean and no one on board survived."

"We should not let anger prevail over facts and rationality," it added, noting that irrational words and behaviour does "not help matters".

These words stand in stark contrast to the hope relatives and friends still hold about their loved ones still being alive. "We just have to close our eyes and we see our loved ones there, out there, in pain, desperate for someone to rescue them," one man said.

Some have embraced bizarre conspiracy theories involving the plane being hijacked and taken to a secret location and the passengers held hostage.

Meanwhile, insurance companies have started to estimate damages to families. Standard & Poor's warned that insurers faced paying out up to US$ 450 million.

The Boeing 777-200, which had 239 people on board including a crew of 12, disappeared on 8 March over the sea south of Vietnam.

According to the passenger list, Flight 370 carried 153 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, 12 from Indonesia, and others from Australia, Europe and the United States.

So far, Malaysia Airlines has had a good record, with nearly four decades without major accidents. Its worst incident dates back to 1977, when 100 people died.

Every day, the company carries up to 37,000 passengers to 80 destinations worldwide. Still, it has lost money in recent years due to competition from low-cost competitors, including Malaysia-based Air Asia.

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