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Sunday, 6 April 2014

Families staying strong 30 days on

The media covering Malaysian families of the missing MAS flight at Everly Hotel in Putrajaya.

The media covering Malaysian families of the missing MAS flight at Everly Hotel in Putrajaya.

PUTRAJAYA: It has been a month now since the MH370 flight has gone missing but hope still lingers among relatives of 38 Malaysian passengers who are staying at Everly Hotel.

When the relatives were first asked to gather at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on March 8, the day the plane disappeared, most looked anxious but hopeful.

They had put up a brave front when facing a group of more than 50 local and foreign media, vowing to stay positive until the facts are known.

It’s been 30 days since and true to their word, the families are still “hoping against hope” – words acting Transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had earlier used to describe his personal sentiments.

In the first week, the hotel lobby was crowded with media personnel camping out from early morning until past midnight, hoping to interview the families.

The large group has since dwindled to less than 10 journalists and reporters.

The high-ceilinged, spacious white lobby seems almost empty now but for hotel guests checking in and out.

The early chaotic atmosphere has since been replaced with a sense of calm.

Most of the foreign media have moved on to Perth, Australia, where the search-and-rescue (SAR) mission is now based.

Berita Harian reporter Zanariah Abd Mutalib who has been stationed at the hotel “every other day” since news of the incident broke, said the tension that was running high in the initial days has since simmered down.

“The families were upset and some journalists were behaving too aggressively in their bid to get a story.

“When things cooled down in the second week and we had a chance to get to know the families, we saw that the sadness, anger and sense of helplessness had been replaced by hope that the missing passengers may still be alive,” she said.

A photographer from a vernacular daily who declined to be named said the relatives he spoke to insist that until evidence is found, there is still a chance that the missing passengers are alive.

They keep stressing on Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s announcement that MH370 had “ended” in the Indian Ocean, he said.

“They do not want to equate ‘ended’ with ‘crashed’ until they see proof,” he added.

Only five families are believed to still be staying at the hotel now.

While the families have tried to remain strong, the uncertainty has seen some struggle to maintain their composure.

Met at the hotel recently, Selamat Omar, 60, the father of aviation engineer Mohd Khairul Amri, confessed he was fighting not to “blow up”.

“I’m not going to lie, some nights I am angry. I’ve lost my son.

“So I just pray in my room. And talk about him to the other families here, it calms me down,” he said.

Thread salesman Ch’ng Khai Cheak, 37, whose “ambitious” chemical engineer sister Mei Ling, 33, was among the 239 people on the plane, also admitted to being frustrated and afraid.

“I want them (authorities) to give me proof that my sister is dead. I won’t blame the Government or the pilot.

“I have parents, how am I going to go home empty handed and just tell them that Mei Ling is dead?”

Such emotional moments were rare, according to journalists who have been shadowing the families at the hotel.

Some do walk around teary eyed and anxious but this usually happens only after a press conference or when a new uncertainty emerges.

On most days, they stay in their rooms although some are quite friendly with the media.

“Initially, volunteers and officials tried to stop us from talking to them but relented eventually because the relatives found it comforting to share their stories with us.

“So when they feel like it, they come down to the lobby to speak to us.

“Otherwise, we try to respect their privacy,” a reporter who did not want to be named said.

Tags / Keywords: Transport Safety , MH370 30 day anniversary , MH370 , Malaysia Airlines , Missing flight


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