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Malaysian credibility in jet hunt challenged again

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FILE – In this Tuesday, March 25, 2014 file photo, Chinese relatives of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH370, shout in protest as they march towards the Malaysia embassy in Beijing, China. Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about – or even involvement in – the disappearance of Flight 370. The blue placard reads: “We won’t leave or ditch you, we will wait right here.” (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 25, 2014 file photo, Chinese relatives of passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH370, shout in protest as they march towards the Malaysia embassy in Beijing, China. Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about – or even involvement in – the disappearance of Flight 370. The blue placard reads: “We won’t leave or ditch you, we will wait right here.” (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

FILE – In this Saturday, March 22, 2014 file photo, Flight officer Rayan Gharazeddine on board a Royal Australian Air Force AP-3C Orion, searches for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in southern Indian Ocean, Australia. From “All right, good night†to “Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero.” Malaysia’s tweak to the final words received from the cockpit of the missing jetliner would appear insignificant to the investigation or hunt for the plane. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith, Pool)

FILE – In this Wednesday, March 26, 2014 file photo, Malaysia’s Defense Minister and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein shows a printout of the latest satellite image of objects that might be from the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, at Putra World Trade Center in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Hussein has been pressed on whether there might be any survivors. He has said he was still “hoping against hope†that passengers might be still found alive. This response was seen by some as contradictory to the Malaysian Airlines statement, creating a new discrepancy even on something which is fundamentally unknowable. (AP Photo/Joshua Paul, File)

FILE – In this Tuesday, March 18, 2014 file photo, a relative of Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 rests on a chair as he waits for a news briefing by the Airlines’ officials at a hotel ballroom in Beijing, China. The piece of information that families most wanted to hear – whether their relatives were alive or dead – has remained impossible to say with finality, creating a dilemma for the government. On March 24, it tried to address that. Malaysian Airline officials met families in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing and sent a text message to others saying “we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.†(AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines, flight MH370, turn to journalists to shout their demands for answers after Malaysian government representatives left a briefing in Beijing, China. Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about – or even involvement in – the disappearance of Flight 370. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, File)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — It may mean little to investigators that the last words air traffic controllers heard from the lost jetliner were “Good night, Malaysian three-seven-zero,” rather than “All right, good night.” But to Malaysian officials whose credibility has been questioned almost from the beginning, it means a great deal.

Malaysian officials said more than two weeks ago that “All right, good night,” were the last words, and that the co-pilot uttered them. They changed the account late Monday and said they are still investigating who it was that spoke. The discrepancy added to the confusion and frustration families of the missing already felt more than three weeks after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared, and as of Tuesday officials had not explained how they got it wrong.

“This sort of mistake hits at the heart of trust in their communications. If Malaysia is changing what the pilot said, people start thinking, ‘What are they going to change next?” said Hamish McLean, an expert in risk and crisis communication at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.

“Information is in a crisis is absolutely critical. When we are dealing with such a small amount of information its needs to be handled very carefully,” he said.

Authorities have been forced on the defensive by the criticism, the most forceful of which has come from a group of Chinese relatives who accuse them of lying about — or even involvement in — the plane’s disappearance. In part responding to domestic political criticism, defense minister Hishammuddin Hussein has taken to retweeting supportive comments on Twitter. He has twice in recent days proclaimed that “history would judge us well” over the handling of the crisis.

The government’s opponents disagree. Opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the correction set off a “medley of shame, sadness and anger” and strengthened the case for creating an opposition-led parliamentary committee to investigate the government’s performance in the search.

The communications skills of any government or airline would have been severely tested by the search for the Boeing 777-200 and its 239 passengers and crew. So far not a scrap of debris has been found.

“There has been very little to tell and a lot of unanswered questions,” said Andrew Herdman, director-general of the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines. “There is frustration on the lack of new information, frustration over progress with investigations and the search. That frustration is being channeled to the Malaysian authorities but I think it’s a bit premature

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