A relative of Chinese passengers aboard the Malaysia Airlines MH370, cries after being told the latest update in Beijing, China, Monday, March 24, 2014. A new analysis of satellite data indicates the missing Malaysia Airlines plane crashed into a remote corner of the Indian Ocean, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Monday. The news is a major breakthrough in the unprecedented two-week struggle to find out what happened to Flight 370, which disappeared shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard on March 8. / Ng Han Guan AP
BEIJING â?? After 17 agonizing days, the most predictable yet worst possible news lay in wait. Chinese relatives collapsed and cried Monday night as they reacted with anger and some disbelief at statements by first Malaysia Airlines and then the Malaysian Prime Minister that all hope is lost for the 239 passengers and crew aboard the missing plane.
"Bastards, they are not human beings," screamed one distraught woman about the airline, as she left the Beijing hotel meeting room where they have gathered daily and waited since March 8. "The hijackers are not mentally ill, why would they hijack the plane to such a remote place?" she shouted, repeating the stubborn belief here among many family members that someone took over flight MH370.
Some relatives, overcome by emotion, were stretchered out of the building by medics. Others lashed out at the media scrum. Inside the room, where Chinese television relayed the bad news, some people collapsed, while others broke chairs and raged against what they had just heard, said Ma Tong, a Beijing actuary whose mother Ma Wenzhi, 57, was among 153 Chinese passengers. "I have cried so much these past days, but today I was quite calm," he said.
Like many relatives, Ma, 29, reserved his anger for the Malaysian authorities. "We Chinese relatives are just the playthings of the Malaysians. After 17 days, they release this speculative conclusion, one they could have reached after two or three days," he said. "They have long cheated us with excuses. After so much time has gone by, they had ample time to fabricate evidence," said Ma.
"It's only speculation. I have not seen any plane debris, so I definitely won't go to Australia now. If they find debris, I want my relative's body too," he said. Chinese Internet giant NetEase reported that several relatives held similar doubts about the Malaysian announcement. Without real evidence, this could just be a plot, so there is still hope and no need to go to Australia now, said a NetEase report Monday.
The families of the 239 passengers on the plane have been on an erratic and emotional roller-coaster as they await news about the jet, missing since March 8. Information from the Malaysian government, Malaysia Airlines and other countries helping in the search has been conflicting and confusing. Relatives have complained that government and airline officials have not been forthcoming,
Today, initial reports said the families were told by text message that all lives on the plane were lost. However, Malaysia Airlines issued a statement saying managers informed most families in person and by telephone before the prime minister's announcement. The statement said text messages were used "only as an additional means of communicating with families."
Some of the families issued a scathing statement condemning the Malaysian government and the airline, according to the online news site Mashable.
"The Malaysian prime minister sent a statement to the families of MH370 passengers without any direct evidence that MH370 crashed in the south Indian ocean and no people survived," the statement said. "From March 8 when they announced that MH370 lost contact to today, 18 days have passed during which the Malaysian government and military constantly tried to delay, deceive the passengers' families and cheat the whole world. This shameless behaviour not only fooled and hurt the families of the 154 passengers but also misguided and delayed rescue actions."
The statement goes on to call the government and airline the "real executioners" for their delay and obfuscation.
Larry Palinkas, a social work professor at the University of Southern California who specializes in disasters, said Monday's announcement doesn't end the uncertainty for the families of the missing passengers.
He said a lack of confidence in information from the Malaysian government and the airline compounds the uncertainty and anguish relatives feel.
"This will inhibit the ability of families to deal with the disaster," he said.
Relatives will go through a second stage of uncertainty when they will second-guess what they could have done to keep their loved one from boarding the flight, he said.
"They will do a lot of 'if only,' " Palinkas said, and some will never reach a point when they are convinced that there was nothing they could have done to prevent the family member's death.
For several weeks, he said, relatives focused on finding out the location of their loved ones.
"The anger, anxiety, was all related to the immediate need to understand the whereabouts of their loved ones," he said. He said today's announcement answers that question, and now relatives will increasingly turn their focus on why the tragedy happened.
"That is likely to persist a long, long time for the families," he said.
For Ma Tong, the disappearance of his mother, Ma Wenzhi, tore the deep emotional bond they shared after his father died when he was four and she raised him alone. A business woman in Beijing, she retired a few years ago to enjoy some leisure before her son, newly married this year, has a child that she, as a Chinese grandma, will need to care for, he said.
Seizing her chance, Ma Wenzhi, a devout Buddhist, often made tourist trips abroad in the company of friends including Zheng Ruixian, whose husband, Zhang Hongjie, was too upset to talk Monday night. Ma Tong said he wished he had driven her to the airport on her departure, for some final contact, as his mum never switched on international roaming so his texts never reached her abroad.
Ma has another regret, after pushing her to buy travel insurance ahead of her Malaysia holiday. "I always told her she must have lots of insurance for her trips, but now I regret it," he said. "In China, it's inauspicious to buy insurance."
To protest Malaysia's handling of the crisis, as the lead nation, and especially its failure to narrow the search scope, Ma intends to boycott all travel to Malaysia, and all Malaysian goods. "Many of my friends will also avoid going there, they are bullying us common people," he said. "I feel helpless. This is all we can do. The Chinese government is trying its best, but if China was stronger, Malaysia would not play with us like this."
For the family of the only American adult aboard Flight 370, it was a struggle to take in the news that the jet had gone down in the Indian Ocean.
Shortly after the announcement by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razar, Sarah Bajc, the girlfriend of missing passenger Philip Wood, sent an e-mail to journalists canceling interviews and asking for privacy.
"I need to regroup," Bajc, a business teacher in China, said in the e-mail. "It looks like the first phase of our mission has ended. Now Philip's family and I will need some time for private grief. We will find some greater good for the momentum we have built to help the families, and to prevent something like this happening again."
She included the text message she received from Malaysia Airlines, which read, "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. 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."
Wood, 50, an IBM executive, was in Malaysia looking for an apartment for him and Bajc to move into. He was on his way back to China to see her, his father, Aubrey Wood, said.
Reached by cellphone after the news was announced, Aubrey Wood, 76, said, "I just can't talk to you right now."
Last week, he told USA TODAY that he was holding out hope that his son was alive, but that he was trusting a higher power.
"We're putting it in God's hands," Wood said in an interview. "I personally feel he's still alive. â?¦ We believe they're somewhere on land. And we're going to find him."
"I'm at peace about it," Aubrey Wood said. "If he passed on, he's with the Lord. We'll see him again either way."
The other Americans aboard were children: Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, 2.
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