Screaming, tears, disbelief at news MH370 is lost

AIMEE GULLIVER IN KUALA LUMPUR AND AGENCIES
Last updated 18:32 25/03/2014

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Malaysian Airlines still does not know how or why its flight MH370 crashed into the Indian Ocean, with the loss of all 239 people on board.

The next of kin of the passengers and crew have been offered US$5000 (NZ$6000) each as initial financial support by the airline, and it was preparing to offer additional payment in recognition of the financial strain on them, CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said in Kuala Lumpur on Tuesday.

At a press conference on a ''dark day'' for the airline, he said survival chances were zero.

"My heart breaks to think of the unimaginable pain suffered by all the family members... Everyone in Malaysia Airlines family is praying for the 239 souls on MH370 and for their loved ones on this dark day. We extend our prayers and sincere condolences," he said.

"We do not know why, we do not know how, we do not know how this terrible tragedy happened," Jauhari said.

The airline was supporting nearly 1000 people now, he said.

"We recognise that financial support is not the only consideration. But the prolonged search is naturally placing financial strain on the relatives."

But "no amount of compensation will help with the loss, and we accept that."

The airline's focus was on providing care for the families and support for those affected, Jauhari said.

Asked if he would resign after the investigation was complete, Jauhari said it was "a personal decision".

'ZERO' CHANCE OF SURVIVAL 

 

Relatives shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably. Men and women nearly collapsed, held up by loved ones. Their grief came pouring out after 17 days of waiting for definitive word on the fate of the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.

Malaysia's prime minister gave that word late Monday in an announcement from Kuala Lumpur, saying there was no longer any doubt that flight MH370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

Relatives of passengers in Beijing had been called to a hotel near the airport to hear the news, and some 50 of them gathered there. Afterward, they filed out of a conference room in heart-wrenching grief.

One woman collapsed and fell on her knees, crying: "My son! My son!"

Medical teams arrived at the Lido hotel with several stretchers and one elderly man was carried out of the conference room on one of them, his face covered by a jacket. Minutes later, a middle-aged woman was taken out on another stretcher, her face ashen and her blank eyes seemingly staring off into the distance.

Most of the relatives refused to speak to gathered reporters and some lashed out in anger, urging journalists not to film the scene. Security guards restrained a man with close-cropped hair as he kicked a TV cameraman and shouted: "Don't film. I'll beat you to death."

Some relatives staying at hotels in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur were notified in person of the imminent late-night news conference by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, and some heard over the phone.

Some received a heads-up by text message, said Sarah Bajc, who has been awaiting news of the fate of her boyfriend, Philip Wood, ever since the plane disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.

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"Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived," the text message said. "As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia's Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean."

The message was sent in English, merely compounding the confusion among Chinese families.

The airline later defended sending the text messages, saying all efforts were made to contact all families to inform them in person beforehand. Others were angered by the abrupt nature and brevity of Mr Najib's statement, which deferred to a further press conference to be held on Tuesday (local time).

"I've been waiting half a month, and they just give us one sentence?" one woman said.

Bajc noted in an email that the prime minister's announcement made no mention of confirmed wreckage, "so no real closure", but she also said the time for grief had begun.

Wang Zhen, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia, said he heard the announcement on television in the hotel where he has been staying.

"My mind is a mess right now. Can we talk later?" he said by telephone.

Nan Jinyan, whose brother-in-law Yan Ling, a medical company engineer, was aboard the flight on a business trip, said she was prepared for the worst when she heard the Malaysian prime minister would make a statement.

"This is a blow to us, and it is beyond description," Nan said.

At the Lido hotel, where many of the Chinese relatives have complained about what they have described as incomplete or contradictory information provided by the airline and Malaysian authorities, two distraught women and a man came to address journalists nearly two hours after the announcement.

"I tell you, this was the wrong way to release this information," one of the women said between sobs, speaking over the bellows of security guards trying to hold back the crush. "It's all so black," she said, using the Chinese expression for opacity and deceit.

In Kuala Lumpur, screaming could be heard from inside the Hotel Bangi Putrajaya, where some of the families of passengers have been given rooms.

Selamat Omar, father of a 29-year-old aviation engineer aboard the flight, said in a telephone interview that Malaysia Airlines had not yet briefed the families on whether they will be taken to Australia, closer to where the plane is believed to have gone down. He said they expected more details on Tuesday (today, NZT).

"We accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate," Selamat said.

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