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INTERVIEW-Malaysia Airlines CEO bats away criticism, says passenger relatives top priority

Source: Reuters - Sat, 5 Apr 2014 11:45 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* CEO says plane's loss "beyond reasonable doubt"

* Says airline will suffer financial blow

* Carrier found nothing suspicious on pilots

By Siva Govindasamy and Niluksi Koswanage

KUALA LUMPUR, April 5 (Reuters) - The Malaysia Airlines chief executive said on Saturday the airline's role was to take care of the families of passengers who were on its missing jetliner and that it had curbed its advertising out of respect for their well-being.

Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian authorities have faced heavy criticism, particularly from China, for mismanaging the search and holding back information. Most of the 239 people on board the missing flight MH370 were Chinese.

Chief Executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said it was "beyond any reasonable doubt the aircraft was lost". On Monday, it will be 30 days since the jetliner lost communications and disappeared from civilian radar.

"Our role is basically to take care of the needs of the families and relatives," he told Reuters, saying no efforts were being spared to ensure their "emotional and financial health".

But he said he understood the families' frustration.

"The lack of answers is not giving comfort to anyone, especially for the families. The families want answers. Sometimes, answers are something we can't give."

Malaysia Airlines has given initial financial assistance of $5,000 per passenger to their immediate families and put the families up in hotels in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, but has been the target of angry protests in China.

Four weeks after the disappearance of the jetliner, searchers have launched the most intensive hunt yet in the southern Indian Ocean, trying to find the plane's black box recorders before their batteries run out.

Up to 10 military planes, three civilian jets and 11 ships will scour a 217,000-sq-km (88,000-sq-mile) patch of desolate ocean northwest of Perth near where investigators believe the plane went down on March 8 with the loss of all on board.

Ahmad Jauhari said the plane's disappearance would have an impact on the carrier's profits, although he did not give further details.

Malaysia Airlines, Southeast Asia's fourth largest carrier by market value, was already loss-making before the incident. In 2013 it posted a net loss of 1.17 billion Malaysian ringgit, its third annual net loss in a row.

FOCUS ON PILOTS

Authorities have not ruled out mechanical problems as a cause but say the evidence suggests Flight MH370 was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometres from its scheduled route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The Malaysian police has narrowed the scope of its investigations to the pilots and cabin crew after clearing the passengers.

Malaysia Airlines has also conducted its own probe into the pilots, Zaharie Ahmad Shah and Fariq Abdul Hamid.

"We didn't find anything suspicious (about the pilots)," Ahmad Jauhari said. (Reporting by Siva Govindasamy and Niluksi Koswanage; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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