Hu Xiufang, 63, left cries on June 11 with another relative of a Chinese passenger on missing jetliner MH370. / Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY
BEIJING - Chinese relatives of passengers onboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 reacted with shock and sympathy Friday as they learned of the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and the loss of 298 lives, in eastern Ukraine on Thursday.
No trace of Flight 370, also known as MH370, has been found despite a massive search effort after the plane diverted from its planned route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Many relatives of the 239 passengers and crew, over two-thirds of whom were Chinese citizens, remain highly critical of the airline and investigators.
Zhang Hongjie was "shocked" when he read about Flight 17 on his cellphone Thursday morning. "I feel so sorry for the passengers and their relatives," said Zhang, 44, whose wife - Zheng Ruixian, 40, an insurance saleswoman in Beijing - was on Flight 370.
"I think maybe it's just a coincidence, it's hard to explain, but the reason is not so important, I only care about the passengers and their relatives," he said. "I think Malaysian Airlines is just unlucky."
Li Xinmao, whose daughter and husband were on Flight 370, expressed condolences for Flight 17 victims, and feared the flight was targeted. "I was shocked by the news. I feel such sympathy for the relatives of people on Flight 17. They are so miserable now," said Li, 57, whose daughter Li Yan, 31, was traveling abroad for the first time.
"I don't think there is any problem with Malaysia Airlines now, I guess it's the problem with the Malaysian government, maybe terrorists are taking revenge on the Malaysian government, and MH370 must be another target (like MH17)," he said.
The new tragedy raised painful questions for Ma Tong, 29, a Beijing actuary whose mother Ma Wenzhi, 57, was among 153 Chinese passengers on Flight 370. "It's hard to describe my complicated feelings when I read the news this morning around 7, from my cellphone," he said. "Why Malaysia Airlines again? Why the same plane model again? I wish Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government can do further investigation on these questions," Ma said.
On the WeChat social media platform, the Chinese relatives' committee at first hoped it was fake news, then expressed sorrow and the hope those responsible will "pay a price for their crime", according to postings on the committee's collective account.
"Can't stop crying, praying for MH17. Who would launch such a murderous scheme on a civil commercial aircraft?" one posting read. "Those passengers on board are the same, ordinary and good people like our relatives. Why let them experience torture, why let other people feel our agony!!"
In their WeChat group, "there are endless discussions and prayers, we hope the relatives of MH17 can be strong," said another post. "The continuous flight accidents force us to ask these questions: what happened to flight safety? Does this mean taking a flight now has turned into the same terror as taking a roller coaster?"
The Chinese government was shocked by the crash and hoped the cause would be determined as soon as possible, said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang. "We convey our deep condolence to the victims and our sincere sympathy to their families," he said in a statement on the ministry website.
The search for Flight 370, whose disappearance remains unexplained, continues with underwater mapping of the target area in the southern Indian Ocean off western Australia. A renewed search is scheduled to begin next month.
Chinese relatives remain highly frustrated, despite the airline contacting them more frequently in recent weeks than has been typical since Flight 370 disappeared.
"Staff from Malaysian Airlines almost called me every day recently, but they just told me there is no progress. I complained and asked them why every time," Li Xinmao said. "I said if there is no progress, stop your nonsense," Zhang Hongjie said.
Contributing: Sunny Yang
Read the original story: Shock, sympathy from relatives of Flight 370 passengers