Missing MH370: Relatives' hopes dim with new lead

Missing MH370: Relatives' hopes dim with new lead

KUALA LUMPUR/BEIJING - Mr Chng teared up when asked about the latest - and best - lead so far on the whereabouts of the lost Malaysia Airlines (MAS) jetliner.

"I try to remain hopeful, but I am prepared for the worst," said Mr Chng, who did not give his full name. His heart sank when he first heard the news last Thursday that Australian satellite images revealed debris that could belong to the missing Flight MH370.

The debris was detected in the remote southern Indian Ocean some 2,500km south-west of Perth, indicating that the plane might have crashed into the sea.

Mr Chng's younger sister Chng Meiling, 33, a Malaysian senior process engineer working in the United States, was among 239 passengers and crew members on board the flight that vanished in the early hours of March 8 en route to Beijing.

"I am very angry, you know that? Why didn't the Australian government release the information earlier? My sister might have been saved," he said at the Everly Hotel in Putrajaya. Australia released the images four days after they were taken on March 16.

The authorities gave a special briefing on Thursday for 85 Chinese and 38 Malaysian relatives of the passengers at the Cyberview Resort and Spa in Cyberjaya. But it left families angry, Mr Chng told The Straits Times. "They didn't tell us anything new."

A high-level team, including the civil aviation authorities and MAS officials, arrived in Beijing on Thursday evening to explain the situation to the families there, said Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, who is leading the search operations.

Despite the latest news, one relative, Mr Selamat Omar, 60, father of engineer Khairul Selamat, 29, remains hopeful that everyone on the plane is still alive.

"If it is really MH370, we will accept that fate," he told reporters at the Everly Hotel.

At the Metropark Lido hotel in Beijing, where more than 400 relatives are staying, a hushed silence hung in a ballroom as some 100 people watched the Australian press briefing on TV screens.

In the ballroom, tealights had been arranged in the shape of a heart in front of whiteboards carrying hand-written wishes from the relatives. The most repeated phrases: "Come back", and "we are waiting for you" .

Hopes of their loved ones returning safe and sound dipped a little among those who heard news of a possible crash.

One of them, Mr Wen Wancheng, 63, from coastal Shandong province, refused to believe that his son on board might not have survived. "I don't believe it. My son is alive. He will come back," he told The Straits Times.

Ms Ju Jun, 29, whose cousin Ju Kun was also on the plane, said: "I don't know what to think. Nothing is confirmed, everything is so confusing. We won't stop hoping until the end."

Among the 14 nationalities of the 239 people on MH370, China had the largest group on board with 153 people, followed by Malaysia's 50, including the crew.

Throughout the search, Malaysia had been under constant pressure from the families, China and Western media to provide more information.

On Wednesday, four Chinese family members stormed a press conference at the Sama-Sama Hotel in Sepang where the search operations are based to express their dissatisfaction at being kept in the dark about the search.

Last Thursday, MAS chief executive Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the families from China and Malaysia were briefed up to three times daily. He added that the relatives would be flown to Australia if it is confirmed that the debris belongs to MH370.

Mr Hishammuddin said new information will be shared with the families, but "the one piece of information they want most is the information we just don't have: The location of MH370".

"I do feel for them, and I say that on record and I say that to the world," he said last Thursday at a press briefing at the Sama-Sama. For now, the families continue to hope, pray and wait.

"I will stay here until the plane is found, God willing," said Mr Selamat.

joycel@sph.com.sg

lestkong@sph.com.sg

rchang@sph.com.sg


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