MH370: the unbearable pain of waiting

'She is my sister, I need to wait for her and take her home'

Some relatives of the plane passengers have left for home, but others are still waiting

Mr Selamat Umar has been awaiting news of his missing son at The Everly Hotel in Putrajaya for the past two weeks. He says the vigil will continue until his son is found.

The 60-year-old is among nine relatives of Malaysian passengers of Flight MH370 who are still staying put. Others have gone home.

Over at the Hotel Equatorial Bangi Putrajaya, 26 Chinese nationals are still waiting for any information about their missing family members.

"No one knows where the plane is. Has it been hijacked or has it crashed?" asks Mr Selamat, who runs a small oil palm plantation in Pahang. His son, Mr Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, an aviation engineer, was heading to Beijing to repair a plane.

"One by one, I watched the others leave the hotel, with their bags in tow. I don't think they will return until the plane is found. If I go home, I will not be able to get the latest news."

With the missing plane gaining global attention, the relatives of the passengers have been besieged by the dozens of journalists covering the news. Some have chosen to stay mostly in their rooms to avoid the reporters and photographers.

"It's like being in jail," says one relative who wants to be known only as Mr Chng. "There's nothing I can do but wait. There is a huge shopping mall next to the hotel, but do you think I have the mood to go shopping? Or use the hotel's facilities?"

Mr Chng, who keeps mostly to himself, is one of the loneliest people in the hotel. He is often seen sitting alone in a quiet corner in the lobby in the early hours of the morning when the place is quiet.

He says he has not slept much since his sister Chng Meiling went missing. Ms Chng, 33, works as a senior process engineer in the United States and was heading there via Beijing.

As the eldest of five children, Mr Chng feels responsible for his sister. "She is my sister, I need to wait for her and take her home. No matter how long I have to wait, I will not leave the hotel, even if I have to pay for the stay myself."

With each passing day, hope fades a little. But with no trace of the aircraft or its passengers, there is a tiny straw to cling to, that some, or most, may still be alive.

Mr Selamat tells The Sunday Times he keeps his sanity by maintaining a set routine. Every day, he wakes up at 7am to watch the news on TV, before ploughing through the newspapers for more news. Then he takes a walk around the hotel.

Unlike Mr Chng, he speaks freely to the media, sometimes even holding his own mini press conference to voice his frustrations. He is always around when politicians or other VIPs drop in on the relatives at The Everly Hotel.

Among the 150 trained counsellors who have been there to support the family members is Mr Abdul Jalil Hassan, 43, who says: "The first 72 hours of a newsbreak are the most critical as this is when the relatives need plenty of support to absorb the news. They would experience all kinds of emotions, from shock to feeling depressed, stressed and sad.

"Once they calm down, even though there's plenty of uncertainty, they would realise that there are only two possible scenarios - Flight MH370 will return or they will lose their loved ones.

"Of course, many are hoping against hope for a miracle."

joycel@sph.com.sg