Malaysia said Tuesday that it has narrowed the search for a downed jetliner to an area the size of Texas and Oklahoma in the southern Indian Ocean, while Australia said improved weather would allow the hunt for possible debris from the plane to resume.
"We're not searching for a needle in a haystack — we're still trying to define where the haystack is," Australia's deputy defense chief, Air Marshal Mark Binskin, told reporters at a military base in Perth, Australia, as idled planes stood behind him.
The attempts to locate the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been put on hold for at least 24 hours due to unsafe weather conditions in the search area, Australian Defense Minister David Johnston told reporters, Tuesday.
Johnston acknowledged the urgency of the search, but stressed that the part of the Indian Ocean where possible debris from the flight has been spotted is both dangerous and remote.
"We cannot put pilots and crews at risk; we cannot put ship's company at risk; we just have to deal with this location as best we can," Johnston said.
Flight crews from six nations are putting in exhaustive hours to search the area. Yet, the massive international search for signs of the plane's location has not produced any concrete evidence and no wreckage has been retrieved. The search is expected to resume Wednesday when the weather improves.
In the latest news conference from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's transport minister explained how the suspected location of Flight MH370 was worked out using satellite data. He also said that the search area in the so-called northern corridor has been called off. "All search efforts are now focused on the southern part of the southern corridor," Hishammuddin Hussein said.
Earlier, Johnston said: "Let's be clear, to this point in time we have not successfully identified and recovered any debris from the aircraft in question."
Mark Binskin, vice chief of the Australian Defense Force, did not understate the challenge still facing the searchers. "We're not searching for a needle in the haystack. We're still trying to define where the haystack is."
Despite the lack of a definitive discovery, Johnston believes the plane went down in the Indian Ocean, because that is the best theory out there.
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya announced Tuesday that the airline will continue to provide food, hotel accommodations and transportation to the relatives of the missing passengers.
Ahmad also announced that the airline will give $5,000 to each missing passengers' next of kin.
"We recognize that financial support is not the only consideration, but the prolonged search is naturally placing financial strain on the relatives," Ahmad said. "We are therefore preparing to offer additional payment as the search continues."
In Beijing, furious relatives of the missing passengers marched on the Malaysia Embassy where they threw plastic water bottles, tried to rush the gate and chanted, "Liars!," according to the Associated Press.
The Chinese government has demanded that Malaysia turn over the satellite data it used to determine that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was crashed in the Indian Ocean with no survivors. Of the 239 people on board Flight 370, 153 were Chinese nationals.
Johnston was asked if he was surprised that Malaysian officials told the missing passengers' family members that all aboard the plane had died, before the wreck had been discovered.
"I am not surprised about anything with respect to this," Johnston said. "Until we recover and positively identify a piece of debris everything is virtually speculation."
Contributing: The Associated Press