BEIJING - Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 still clung to hopes Friday that the aircraft might have been hijacked and their loved ones could somehow still be alive.
Emotions ran high in Beijing as the relatives met airline officials and demanded answers from Malaysian military and search-and-rescue officials about the missing plane.
The Beijing-bound flight from Kuala Lumpur disappeared off radar last Saturday with 239 people aboard -- 153 of them Chinese -- and multinational efforts have failed to find any remains.
"We want to know if there is any possibility that it has been hijacked, which is now what we all hope for most," said one woman.
Her relatives had travelled to the Malaysian capital to be closer to the search operation but were not receiving satisfactory updates from the airline, she said.
Malaysian radar data indicated that the plane may have inexplicably started to turn back, which could lend credence to a scenario involving a cockpit takeover.
As relatives pursued this theory, Malaysia Airlines commercial director Hugh Dunleavy was pressed on which direction the plane took soon after taking off and whether the flight had veered from its normal altitude.
"It has been reported that the flight was travelling at 9,000 metres (29,500 feet), when it should have been travelling at 10,000 metres, which suggests that it was turning back," said one relative.
"We have not received any information that it turned back at all," said one of Dunleavy's colleagues at the airline's Kuala Lumpur headquarters over a telephone loudspeaker that was set up in the conference room.
Dunleavy himself responded: "The altitude of the aircraft when it was in cruise mode was 35,000 feet (10,600 metres). And just for clarification, that was the planned flight path level."
- Agonising wait -
A support staff worker who has spoken to dozens of relatives told AFP: "There are a lot of conspiracy theories flying around in that room."
Dunleavy said the company would attempt to meet relatives' demands to meet Malaysian military officials.
But another woman responded furiously, saying: "You are always delaying, always delaying, we have waited so long for you to answer our questions."
The focus in the jet search has expanded into the Indian Ocean from an initial hunt in the South China Sea and adjacent Gulf of Thailand, where known radar contact with the plane ended.
About 300 relatives were crammed into a room -- more commonly used for weddings -- at a hotel where the airline was providing regular updates.
Some relatives interrupted their own questions halfway through, bursting out sobbing, while others stayed silent, occasionally staring at the mobile phones frantically seeking news updates. Many simply sat head bowed, linking arms with a nearby relative.
A flustered man whose 57-year-old mother had been on board the flight said all the relatives were "impatient" with the lack of information.
"I am sitting in front of the television and using my mobile phone to search for the latest news on the Internet," he said.
Yet a man surnamed Gao found hope despite the enormous stretch of sea to be searched.
"We are racing against time, if the search area is increased soon, then our family members' chances of survival will rise," he said, clasping his hands together as he spoke passionately.
"We are asking more nations to get involved in the rescue of this unparallelled catastrophe."
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