Beijing hotel a temporary home for relatives of missing passengers

Grief, sadness and anger have ebbed and flowed at the north Beijing hotel where many of the relatives of the missing passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 are staying.

A relative of passengers from the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 waits for new information at a hotel in Beijing on March 15. The needle-in-a-haystack hunt for the missing Malaysian airliner spread to the vast Indian Ocean on March 14 after the White House cited "new information" that it might have flown for hours after vanishing nearly seven days ago. Wang Zhao/AFP Photo
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BEIJING // Relatives of the 153 Chinese people on board the missing Malaysian Airlines flight on Saturday reacted with anger and hope to a statement by prime minster Najib Razak that the jet disappeared as a result of a “deliberate action”.

Mr Razak’s words mark the first official confirmation that the plane carried on flying west for several hours after Malaysian Air traffic control last heard from it around 1.30am on Saturday, giving weight to the theory that it was hijacked.

“It’s a good sign,” shouted one man into his mobile phone as he walked out of the hotel banquet hall where many of the relatives gathered to watch the Malaysian prime minister’s address.

Another woman told The National: "We all hope it was hijacked, at least that means our relatives might still be alive."

Others emerged from the hall crying or staggering from grief and exhaustion.

“Of course I am not satisfied with this explanation,” fumed one man. “It’s too late and it’s meaningless,” he added.

Another said: “ These are just details, our relatives are not coming back.”

Throughout the past week, grief, sadness and anger have ebbed and flowed at the north Beijing hotel where many of the relatives of the missing passengers aboard Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 are holed up.

The faded banquet hall, to which the families troop two or three times a day, was turned into a briefing and visa application centre, so people can fly to Malaysia if they want. The gentle hubbub of the lobby is intermittently pierced by the sound of people wailing.

On Monday, anger at the lack of information and poor quality of the translation — all the Malaysia Airline briefings are given in English — led some family members to hurl water bottles at the carrier’s Commercial Director, Hugh Dunleavy.

On Friday, security guards tussled with several male relatives of the missing passengers who wanted to allow journalists into the hall to witness the poor treatment that they were receiving.

“It’s all bull****,” a man named Wang said of the conferences. “All they do is stall.”

Some family members said they were told not to speak with journalists, while others say they don’t want to give their names or appear on TV because they are shielding older and younger relatives from the news that someone they love was on the plane.

Among the Chinese passengers — who made up about two thirds of the 239 people on board — there were migrant workers, businessmen, artists, scientists, first time holidaymakers, martial arts experts and children.

It was, in many ways, a microcosm of China, a county whose people have only been travelled abroad relatively freely in the last 15 years or so.

The different clothes and accents in the banquet hall illustrated the diversity.

Many here would not be able to afford to stay in the hotel if the airline weren’t paying for them to. Occasionally, especially on some of the technical issues, the social faultlines were exposed, when some people grasp certain theories and others do not.

“You’re the experts. I don’t understand this stuff,” a man in an old army jacket told assembled media when asked for his opinion on news that the plane had continued to emit data “pings”, after all other methods of communication had gone silent.

Yet, despite the differences, many have drawn huge comfort from this accidental grouping.

“Here there are people to support me,” said one woman, speaking of her decision not to travel to Kuala Lumpur as the airline had offered. “What would I do if I went there?”

However, either on Saturday or Sunday, it appears the airline will stop renting the hall and may stop paying for relatives to stay in Beijing.

“If they ask us to go, we will go,” said red-eyed one man in forties. “But if they do that the airline won’t get out of this country alive”.