Frustration mounts as families seek news about missing plane

Last updated 08:26 13/03/2014

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In the Grand Ballroom of the Metropark Lido Hotel in Beijing, its air stale with smoke, 200 family and friends of the passengers on Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 await word of the plane's fate.

Days of no significant news has taken its toll. Some people stare at a television with dull, heavily circled eyes. Others huddle in down jackets bent over their mobile phones chatting on social media. Frustration boils up. "Malaysian Air are liars," an old man shouts.

A white board in the middle of the room devoted to announcements is blank, a fitting symbol of the lack of information on what happened to the flight that disappeared early on March 8 Kuala Lumpur time.

"The Malaysian government hasn't said a word to us," said a man named Shi from Henan province, who was close to tears outside the ballroom. His younger, 27-year-old cousin was aboard the flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on his way home from a business trip in Perth.

Shi and many other next of kin gathered at the hotel had rejected an offer of 31,000 yuan (NZ$5957) by the airline to pay them financial assistance. Malaysia Airlines spokesman Ignatius Ong told a press conference in Beijing the money was not compensation.

"These are very difficult times and we understand a lot of people are very frustrated, especially the family members, especially after so many days the aircraft has not been found," Ong said.

The airline has also set up makeshift facilities in the ballroom to help families wishing to fly to Kuala Lumpur, offering visas, tickets and hotels.

"The money is not important," said Shi. "The important thing is to save lives. First they need to find the people."

The frustration playing out in Beijing comes after four days has failed to yield any tangible evidence of what happened to the flight.

After scouring the sea near Vietnam produced no clues, investigators have broadened their search to the western part of the country and land areas. The "most urgent task now" is to speed up the search and investigation, China's official Xinhua News Agency said, citing Guo Shaochun, the head of the Chinese working group in charge of the incident.

Meanwhile, Malaysian authorities and Interpol said that the two people who boarded the plane with stolen passports were Iranian and probably not linked to terror groups.

Pouria Nour Mohammad Mehrdad, 19, got on board using an Austrian passport and aimed to migrate to Germany, Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar said in Kuala Lumpur Tuesday. Normal procedures were followed by authorities in granting a visa when he entered Malaysia, Khalid said.

"We have been checking his background, we have also checked him, with other police organisations, on his profile, and we believe that he is not likely to be a member of any terrorist group," Khalid said.

The second man is Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble said Tuesday in Lyon, France. The group, which organises police forces around the world, said current information tends to exclude terrorism.

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Cui Weiwei said he's planning a candlelight vigil Wednesday to pray for his friend Lui Ching, 45, who was aboard the flight.

"If there's still hope, I want to cling to it," he said by phone.

Lui was on her way back to Beijing where she would soon start a job for an online restaurant finder. Her prospective boss, Wang Yinghao, 31, showed up at the Lido on March 10 clutching a piece of paper with her name written in English and Chinese.

"I came here because I wanted to confirm she was on the plane," said Wang, who received a WeChat message from her in Malaysia. "I called her for the next two days and the phone was always in shutdown mode."

Of the 239 people aboard the flight, 154 were from mainland China. One was 37-year-old Xiaomo Bai and her Indian-Canadian husband Muktesh Mukherjee, 42.

They were on their way home after a four-day stay in Amanoi resort about 90 minutes from Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, where they stayed in a US$1375 (NZ$1623) per night villa with a private pool. Xiaomo posted a photo of herself swimming on March 5, the day they checked out.

"They were a very lovely couple," said a hotel manager reached by telephone, who had first greeted the guests at their arrival and asked his name be withheld out of respect for their family. "I thought they were going to fly to Beijing from Ho Chi Minh City," he said upon hearing that they had taken the Kuala Lumpur flight. "That's horrible, horrible."

- Bloomberg News

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