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MH370 CRASH: A Malaysian first, a journalist second
Publication Date : 04-04-2014
My heart feels for the family members of MH370 passengers here, but I find it hard to justify their aggressive behaviour.
As I read the official transcript of communication between MH370 and the Subang Air Traffic Control, I was overwhelmed by a sudden wave of sadness.
I could almost imagine the confidence of the pilot and co-pilot when they brought the aircraft soaring into the night sky, but mysteriously, no one knows what happened after “Goodnight Malaysian Three Seven Zero” was uttered.
Was there panic? Was there fear? Was there anxiety?
It has been close to 30 days since MH370 went missing en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Public interest on the incident seems to have subsided a bit in Beijing.
“MAS aircraft lost contact” is no longer a trending hashtag on Weibo, and the city cabbies who were once eager to offer their two cents hardly bat an eyelid when I say I want to head to Lido Hotel, where the relatives of Chinese passengers are staying.
It is a stark contrast to the early stage where MH370 was the default topic of discussion everywhere I went.
Cab drivers have the most to comment, from Malaysia’s economy to various conspiracy theories of what could have happened to the aircraft.
Without knowing I am a Malaysian, some of them did not hold back on their criticisms.
Instead of retorting, I have learned to remain silent because experiences taught me that it is difficult to reason with those with a preconceived opinion.
Back in Lido Hotel, the number of journalists covering the issue has also reduced significantly.
The family members of the Chinese passengers remain solemn as they arrive at the ballroom to attend the daily briefings with the high-level delegation comprising Malaysian embassy officials, representatives from the Royal Malaysian Air Force, Department of Civil Aviation and Malaysia Airlines.
During these daily briefings, all kinds of questions were raised. There were some perplexing ones, like whether the pilot and co-pilot have access to parachutes, but many touched on the technical side of the incident, such as the accuracy of the Inmarsat and UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch analysis.
In the last few briefings, the family members were eager to know more about the aircraft’s Emergency Locator Transmitters, which were supposed to be activated in a crash or when submerged into water.
The families have been reasoning that if the search operations at various sea areas have proven to be fruitless so far, the aircraft could have landed elsewhere.
A family member even put in a request to the delegation to refrain from using the word “debris” during the briefings, because they believed the aircraft has not crashed into the sea.
Having been stationed at Lido Hotel since March 8 and having followed the families’ long and tiring journey, it was hard for me not to be affected as well.
Behind the exhausted eyes of the next-of-kin, hope lingered on.
A sombre mood prevailed as candles were lit and the relatives prayed for the safe return of their loved ones before the daily briefing began.
In a separate room, notes were pasted all over the walls carrying messages to those aboard the missing flight
A heartbreaking message read, “How I wish the aircraft has entered another dimension and you’ll return safe and sound two years later.”
My heart felt for the family members, whose grief and frustration were beyond anyone’s imagination, but I found it hard to justify their aggressive behaviour and belittling attitude.
As I stood at the back of the ballroom observing the briefing sessions, I sometimes couldn’t help but feel I am a Malaysian first and a journalist second as emotions ran high and words were hurled at the officers.
One day, the officers were caught off-guard as families staged a walkout, leaving them to face an empty ballroom and a barrage of local and foreign media.
Angry tears welled up in my eyes as a Chinese reporter commented aloud, “I don’t think the officers dare to leave the ballroom now.”
For Malaysians who have been quick to criticise the authorities on the way they handled the crisis, I wish they could have put themselves in the shoes of those working tirelessly to bring the issue to an end.
In Beijing, the relatives complained of “lack of truth”, but the delegation made it clear that many questions do not have a definite answer until the aircraft and the blackbox are located.
The high-level team picked their words carefully while responding to their questions and told them honestly that some questions were too speculative in nature.
On the families’ request to be given various records, the team explained that some of these documents were sealed pending investigation while some were already shared with the Chinese high-level team in Malaysia.
I understand that the Chinese families were desperate to know the whereabouts of the aircraft – so were the rest of us – but I found it difficult to see eye-to-eye with them on some of their demands.
It has been a long ride on the emotional roller coaster for everyone. As I wrote this story, I have just taken a flight for an outstation trip.
At the Beijing airport earlier, I ran into a fellow Malaysian who was also following the issue closely. We chatted for awhile and wished each other a safe flight before parting ways, knowing that it carries a deeper meaning this time.
Everyone I crossed paths with shared the same earnest hope that the aircraft could be found soon.
Let the mystery be solved, and let there be answers for the family members.
Until then, let us appreciate the efforts of those who are in the frontline, both in the search operations and the care giving missions.