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Asia

Confusion reigns over MH370

As the search for the missing plane continues, Malaysia Airlines goes into damage control. And as hopes fade that the plane will ever be found, conspiracy theories abound.

US president Barack Obama has offered support to Malaysia in finding missing flight MH370 as he arrived in the capital Kuala Lumpur last week.

Hishammudin Hussein, the country's transport minister who is leading efforts to determine the fate of the passenger jet, told local media that he spoke briefly with Obama after his arrival.

"He said he knows it is a tough, long road ahead. We'll work together. There is always support," he said.

US President Barack Obama gestures as he arrives at the Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Subang on April 26, 2014.

US President Barack Obama has pledged support for the search

On March 8, the Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines flight with 239 people aboard disappeared without warning shortly after take-off from Kuala Lumpur. Based on satellite data analysis, it is believed to have veered far off course and crashed into a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean.

The US has already provided Malaysia with military assistance in the search for the missing airline. But weeks of searching for wreckage - including two weeks of deep sea scanning by a US Navy submersible sonar device - has found nothing.

Authorities involved in the multi-nation search led by Australia have warned that a long, expensive and challenging struggle lies ahead to find the plane.

Air of resignation

As the search continues, so does the news cycle, and once again, local media in Malaysia have returned to reporting on domestic politics and religious tensions - themes ever present in the Muslim-majority country.

As I talk to friends and colleagues in the capital, an air of resignation is apparent, and many are pondering the question few want to utter out loud - what if MH370 is never found?

"It's been more than a month, and nothing," says Siti Abdullah, a university student.

"While other countries are leading the search effort, our government is dealt with the task of assisting the families and organizing means of compensation. There's very little we can do if they do not have any closure, and I am not sure they ever will."

In mid March, Prime Minister Najib Razak appeared before the press to announce that the missing flight "ended in the southern Indian Ocean."

In a recent interview however, Najib steered clear of admitting outright the plane would never be found. "I do not want to speculate that far, out of respect to these grief stricken relatives."

Taskforce created

Abdul Hussein, an aviation expert told DW that there's "no giving up."

"This plane has to be found. It needs to be found, firstly for closure for the families, and secondly, for the aviation industry to find out what happened aboard this flight, and for it to never happen again."

On April 7, the aviation industry's safety experts gathered in Kuala Lumpur and reiterated the need to find MH370.

Director General of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Tony Tyler told delegates, "The best way for all of us involved in aviation to honor the memory of those on board is to learn from what happened to improve safety in the future."

The fact that the plane was able to vanish has worried an industry that is proud of its safety record. Figures released prior to the meeting showed that in 2013, for every 2.4 million flights involving Western-built aircraft, there was one accident after which the plane could not be repaired. That was an improvement of nearly 15 percent over the five-year average.

IATA, which represents 240 global airlines, also set up a special taskforce to advise on how to best ensure an aircraft can never again go missing. It is due to present its finding in December and then it will be up to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to introduce any recommendations.

As reporters from across the globe gathered at daily news conferences, it became increasingly apparent that Malaysian authorities could not handle a crisis of this magnitude. Amid mounting criticism, officials repeatedly fudged details or contradicted each other.

Relatively free from natural disasters and other calamities, Malaysia has had little experience in handling a crisis like this.

'Unfair criticism'

Aishah Hashim, a media analyst, told DW that this was to be expected. "I think people seem to forget that Malaysia Airlines has had an impeccable safety record. I do not think it's fair to heavily criticize their handling of this because this has never happened before."

However, it is clear the airline has gone into damage control. Last week, it released a corporate video interviewing employees and pilots, garnering their views on MH370. Cabin crew detailed their grief of losing their colleagues, while pilots assured potential passengers that the airline was safe.

Despite these efforts, most observers have reacted to the Malaysian response with bewilderment.

Charlie Teo, a finance executive, told DW this was nothing new. "We have been putting up with this our entire lives," he said.

The Bluefin-21 Autonomous Underwater Vehicle is craned over the side of the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield in the southern Indian Ocean during the continuing search for the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 in this picture released by the Australian Defence Force April 17, 2014.

The search for the missing flight has gone undersea

During these briefings, families of the passengers continuously pressed officials for further information, and there was a consensus that the government was hiding vital information.

Malaysian society has come to expect they will never get any answers from their government, and according to Nik Azrul, a writer based in Penang, "The only way to cope is by indulging in conspiracy theories.

"Some I have talked to blame the plane's disappearance on everyone from our own government to the United States, to China, North Korea, Iran, Afghanistan, and yes, even aliens," he told DW.

As the search continues, there is little doubt these theories will persist.

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