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Malaysian PM to visit Perth as jet-search window narrows

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak will visit Australia to witness the race-against-time bid to locate a crash site for flight MH370, his government said Monday as a ship equipped to pinpoint its “black box” prepared to steam to the search area.
Ships and planes from seven nations scanned a vast zone far off western Australia for yet another day, but the hunt for debris that would prove the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago turned up nothing.
“The prime minister, who is going to Perth on Wednesday, will be briefed fully on how things have been conducted, and probably will be discussing what are the chances ahead,” Malaysian Transport and Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
Experts warn debris must be found within days to nail down a crash site in order for any use of the US-supplied black box detector — known as a towed pinger locator (TPL) — to be feasible.
The US Navy, which has supplied the detection device, said in a statement Monday: “Without confirmation of debris it will be virtually impossible to effectively employ the TPL since the range on the black-box pinger is only about a mile.” But Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said earlier in the day no time limit would be imposed on the search for clues as to what happened.
“We owe it to the families, we owe it to everyone that travels by air, we owe it to the anxious governments of the countries who had people on that aircraft. We owe it to the wider world which has been transfixed by this mystery for three weeks now,” Abbott said in Perth.
The Boeing 777 carrying 239 people vanished without a trace on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, leaving stunned relatives, the aviation industry, and ordinary travelers around the world hanging on the mystery.
Families of Chinese passengers have angrily attacked Malaysia, alleging incompetence and deceit in what even Malaysian officials call the “unprecedented” loss of a jumbo jet.
More than a dozen Chinese relatives — part of a group of nearly 30 who arrived on the weekend to press for answers — kept up the pressure after a prayer session Monday at a Kuala Lumpur Buddhist temple.
“We will never forgive those who hurt our families and don’t tell the truth and delay the rescue mission,” a spokesman for the group, Jiang Hui, told reporters, reiterating suspicions toward Malaysia voiced by many relatives of the 153 Chinese aboard.
The Australian vessel Ocean Shield, fitted with the pinger locator and an underwater drone designed to home in on the black box’s signal, was to conduct sea trials off Perth on Monday before heading to the search area.