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.
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