Sleepless nights for families of MH370 passengers

Pak Selamat listening to a live telecast press conference at the hotel.

PUTRAJAYA - While most people are sound asleep, Selamat Omar will be pacing in his room at The Everly Putrajaya hotel, thinking of his son.

Aviation engineer Mohd Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, was aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 flight, which disappeared in the wee hours of March 8.

Since then, Pak Selamat - as he is fondly known - has been experiencing sleeping problems.

"I cannot sleep at night. I end up taking walks outside the room along the corridor or go to the lobby to talk to volunteers," he said.

Pak Selamat is just one of many family members of Malaysian passengers on the flight experiencing similar symptoms.

Since the plane's disappearance, many of those staying in the hotel have sought assistance from counsellors under a caregiver system set up by MAS.

Some have been referred to psychiatrists for medical attention.

Psychiatrist Dr Toh Chin Lee, who is part of a team assigned here by the Health Ministry, said most of the patients referred to the team experienced breathing problems.

"In our quick general assessment, we discovered that they did not suffer breathing problems due to environment or medical conditions, but because of mental and emotional stress," he said.

A family member of one passenger had to be rushed to the nearby Putrajaya Hospital for severe breathing problems. She was warded overnight before returning to the hotel.

Some family members were also given medication to help them recover from bouts of depression and lack of sleep.

Ten days after the flight disappeared, MAS reportedly informed families their expenses after Friday would be borne by Putrajaya Corporation and the Welfare Department.

This caused many families to pack up and leave, preferring to continue their lives back home.

Dr Toh also said it would do the families good to return to their homes and be surrounded by their extended families and friends.

"While being here gives them support in the form of interaction with other families in the same boat, a change of mood is necessary for them to overcome their stress at this point," he noted.

Despite the many days and allegations that his son may have something to do with the plane's disappearance, Pak Selamat remains optimistic that all will be well and that his son is innocent.

"I know my son well, there is no way he would do wrong. I may be able to accept any possible bad news, but I still hope for his safe return."