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MISSING MAS FLIGHT: Emotions run high in China as relatives wait for news

Publication Date : 09-03-2014


Many came with dazed looks on their faces, hoping to hear that their loved ones on the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) plane had been found safe and sound.

As the family members of passengers on Flight MH370 huddled in a guarded room in a Beijing hotel, their crying could be heard from outside.

But hours later, worry turned to anger over the lack of information from the airline reported to have one of the best safety records among full-service carriers in the Asia-Pacific region. The plane was piloted by Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old Malaysian who joined the carrier in 1981 and has 18,365 hours of flight experience.

Seething with anger, the relatives of passengers demanded that the Chinese government step up search-and-rescue efforts for the 153 Chinese nationals, the largest number among the 239 passengers and crew.

"All we have is a piece of paper saying the same things that you guys already know," bellowed a distraught-looking woman in her 30s in front of crowds of reporters.

As the wait for updates on the plane's status stretched on, emotions ran high at the hotel designated for family members. Some wept loudly as friends and relatives hugged them. Others slumped in chairs, offering prayers. An elderly man was seen crying in the corridor as his son and a woman consoled him.

Some grieving relatives were said to have fainted as hotel staff mulled plans to extricate them to the hospital without alerting the journalists.

Some Chinese reporters also emerged from the hotel with teary eyes, causing confusion as fellow journalists assumed they were grieving family members and tried to interview them.

Some family members even came with their luggage and told reporters they were prepared to travel to Vietnam, where the plane is feared to have crashed, according to a report by the Xinhua news agency.

A relative, who wanted to be known only as Liang, told The Sunday Times he awoke to news yesterday morning that his niece Bai Xiaomo, who is in her 30s, was on the flight.

As the family was unable to contact Bai, he and his wife rushed immediately to the hotel.

"Her parents and relatives are now all gathered at home and crying so we're here just to get some information," he added.

The scenes at the hotel were markedly different from those at the airport, which had returned to normalcy by noon. Many travellers looked unaware of what could prove to be the worst aviation disaster to ever hit China.

But it has shaken many of China's ruling elite as they are meeting at its ongoing National People's Congress and Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC).

"I hope the search can be carried out in an active manner. As long as there is 1 per cent of hope, there should be 100 per cent of effort given," said CPPCC delegate He Xiangjiu in a Xinhua report. "I am expecting their miraculous survival. I am praying for everyone on board."

Ordinary Chinese also flooded the Internet with prayers and encouragement for the passengers and their families.

"Let's pray for all the passengers on board. We are waiting for your safe landing," someone posted under the name "Xingzhe Chengzi".

Beijing-based Singaporeans are also frantically checking on friends returning to the Chinese capital from Malaysia.

Malcolm Nerva, 39, who runs a training consultancy firm, Genowledge Corp, in Beijing, was a bundle of nerves as he spoke to The Sunday Times moments before flying back on an MAS flight from Kuala Lumpur yesterday, barely 12 hours after hearing about the missing plane.

"When I first read the news at breakfast, I was shaking like a leaf," he said. "I'm still really nervous now and I worry because there's been no news and I wonder if it might be a maintenance problem."

He heard that other shaken passengers are changing their flight plans, an option he also considered but eventually decided against, in order to attend an important meeting tomorrow.

"The mood in the transit lounge is sombre, everyone is real quiet and wishing one another 'safe flight'," he said. "I'm only hoping that lightning will not strike twice."


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