MH370: DAY 17

Relatives of Chinese passengers lash out in grief and anger

Some carried out on stretchers after hearing news of crash from KL

Emotions erupted when relatives were given the news, with some crying hysterically and others smashing chairs in a Beijing hotel ballroom soon after relatives of Chinese passengers on board the missing Flight MH370 heard news that the plane had crashed and none of their loved ones had survived.

Security guards pushed and shouted at cameramen and reporters waiting outside the room at Metropark Lido Hotel. Three medical teams were sent in while relatives leaving the room shouted angrily at the media: "Stop filming!"

Some family members, overcome by grief, were carried out on stretchers. Others were heard saying that they wanted to go to Australia so they could be "closer to their loved ones".

A middle-aged woman shouted: "The way they told us the news is too cruel. They should have come out and talked to us in person."

Relatives of the 153 Chinese passengers on board the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight had been called to gather in the ballroom to watch the live telecast of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's press conference at 10pm last night in Kuala Lumpur.

At around 9pm, MAS sent text messages to relatives informing them of what Datuk Seri Najib was going to say - that the latest analysis of satellite information showed that "the plane flew along the southern corridor and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth".

It read: "Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none on board survived."

It added that "as you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia's Prime Minister, we must now accept that all evidence suggests the plane went down" in the southern Indian Ocean.

The jet, which carried 239 crew and passengers and was en route to Beijing, went missing in the early hours of March 8 about an hour after leaving Kuala Lumpur.

As a multinational search effort involving ships, satellites and planes in the past two weeks yielded few results, confusing information from Kuala Lumpur frustrated relatives, triggered false alarms and raised false hopes.

It was thus not surprising that Chinese media and analysts were quick to express scepticism at Mr Najib's latest announcement, saying that final confirmation of the plane's fate would have to be made at a press conference by the Malaysian authorities today.

Aviation analyst Wang Yanan asked why Malaysia was able to say for certain, without providing more evidence, that the plane had flown along the southern corridor, crashed in the Indian Ocean and had no survivors.

"I wonder if there is more information gleaned from Malaysia's investigations of the pilots and passengers," the deputy editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine was quoted as saying on state broadcaster CCTV last night.

The latest news also left many Chinese netizens bewildered and puzzled, although some tried to sound upbeat by noting that it meant closure for the relatives.

"After 17 days of waiting, we still get the outcome that we most do not want. No survivors!" wrote user "gudemengan" on the Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging portal.

China's search-and-rescue team said it is studying possible measures overnight in response to Mr Najib's revelations.

"China will step up search efforts and send ships to the southern Indian Ocean to continue search efforts and salvage the plane wreckage," it said in a dispatch last night through the official Xinhua news agency.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

rchang@sph.com.sg


DEEPEST SYMPATHIES

Deeply saddened to hear about the tragic fate of MH370. For more than two weeks, we have been hoping against hope that somehow the worst did not happen. We know how anguished and desperate the families and friends of those on board felt. While we are still far from understanding what happened, I hope this latest news will nonetheless give some certainty and closure. My deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of those on board, and to the governments of Malaysia and China.

- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post last night on news that Flight MH370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean