Flight MH370: Pandemonium as relatives notified by text

By Malcolm Moore in Beijing

A relative of one of the Chinese passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370 is taken away on a stretcher. Photo / AP
A relative of one of the Chinese passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370 is taken away on a stretcher. Photo / AP

When the news finally arrived in Beijing, it was not from a spokesperson, or even in a language the relatives could understand. Phones began to beep inside the conference room at the Lido hotel, receiving a text message in English.

After 16 days of doubt and mistrust, and heavy criticism of the calamitous misjudgements of the Malaysian authorities, the text message was a final insult. It prompted rage from the families of the 154 Chinese on board the missing plane.

By the end of the night, they would denounce Malaysia Airlines, and the Malaysian government and military as the "executioners" who had taken their loved ones' lives by their dithering and deceit.

"We will do everything possible to pursue these three, to hold them responsible for their unforgivable crime," the families said in a statement.

The vague wording of the text message brought no sense of closure for the scores inside the room, some of whom continued to cling on to hope.

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There was no hard evidence of flight MH370's demise, simply an "assumption beyond all reasonable doubt" that all aboard had been lost.

Later, Malaysia Airlines claimed they told "the majority" of the relatives the news in person. But most of those gathered in Beijing said they had not been briefed before their phones buzzed.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak , left, and acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein. Photo / AP

At first there was silence. Then, at 10pm, as the Malaysian prime minister appeared on television screens to confirm the news, the screaming started. Relatives stumbled out one-by-one into a bear pit of flashing cameras and microphones.

"I'm devastated, devastated, devastated," wailed one elderly woman. Another refused to believe the news. "The information they released is wrong! Those governments just keep lying to us!" she screamed. "Do they have children? Their children must be dead."

A relative of one of the Chinese passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 grieves. Photo / AP

Distrustful of all officials, the relatives cycled between anger and despair, sustained each other's false hopes and conspiracy theories.

Now as the emotions among the relatives began to run out of control, a stream of policemen flowed into the room to keep order. At least six stretchers were brought in for those who fainted.

Inside, many sat silently, the men smoking, the women pale with grief. Outside, one group of relatives stood quietly away from the media, weeping.

Watch: Finding announced, relatives react

Some lost control. Two men rushed outside to rage at the aggressive media. "Murderers! Murderers!" one man screamed as he was dragged away by the police, veins in his neck popping as he lunged at the cameras.

Midnight then one o'clock passed and most of the relatives remained in the room. Then, just after 2am, representatives of the families faced the media and delivered their damning statement.

"Eighteen days have passed, during which the Malaysian government and military constantly tried to delay, deceive the passengers' families and cheat the whole world," they said.

"This shameless behaviour not only fooled and hurt the families of the 154 passengers but also misguided and delayed rescue actions, wasting a large quantity of human resources and materials and valuable time for the rescue effort.

"If the 154 passengers did lose their lives, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and military are the real executioners who killed them. We the families of those on board submit our strongest protest against them."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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