BEIJING : Relatives of passengers aboard missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 were leaving their Beijing hotel on Friday, a day after the airline said it would stop providing them with accommodation.
‘I’m very angry,’ said Steven Wang, whose mother was on the flight, adding: ‘Malaysia Airlines have suddenly told us to leave.’ ‘They should have at least given us an adjustment period for us to make preparations and collect our things,’ said Wang, who himself lives in Beijing and has emerged as a spokesman for the relatives.
There was a heavy police presence at the Lido Hotel in Beijing Friday, with dozens of uniformed officers inside, following previous chaotic clashes between angry family members and Malaysia Airlines staff. The airline has provided the service for relatives in Malaysia and China - where they have suffered an agonising wait for news since the flight mysteriously disappeared on March 8.
The carrier announced late Thursday in a statement that it was ending all hotel accommodation for passenger relatives by next Wednesday, but several staying in Beijing said they had been told to leave even sooner. In the statement, the airline said it was advising families ‘to receive information updates on the progress of the search and investigation and other support by Malaysia Airlines within the comfort of their own homes’.
Malaysia’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Hamzah Zainuddin told reporters in Kuala Lumpur on Friday that the time had come for relatives to return home. The airline ‘has been supporting these family members in Beijing for the last 55 days’, he said. ‘That’s the reason I think it’s about time for us to actually accept the reality that the family members should go back and wait for the answer in their hometowns.’
- ‘I’m looking for a lawyer’ -
Relatives’ tempers have repeatedly flared throughout the ordeal of the missing plane, particularly at the Lido, where Chinese families have lashed out at officials from the Malaysian government and the airline over their inability to explain the disappearance. Chinese passengers account for about two-thirds of the total on the flight. ‘I’ve left the hotel,’ said Wen Wancheng, whose son was on MH370. ‘I’m already on the train going back home,’ he told AFP by phone.
‘We were asked to leave too suddenly,’ he said. ‘The impact on our family is big. Our family is in a bad state.’ Steven Wang said that a protest or group action of any kind was unlikely, adding that families would leave one by one rather than as a group. Low level local government officials have gone to Beijing to persuade relatives to leave the hotel and return home, some relatives said.
‘They said if we went home they could help us,’ a relative surnamed Wang, who had already returned home, told AFP. She added that three officials from her local neighbourhood committee, the lowest level of government administration in China, had accompanied her and other family members on a flight to her home in the eastern city of Nanjing.
‘I am looking for a lawyer and intend to sue Malaysia Airlines,’ she said. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in a statement that China ‘was willing to work with the Malaysian side to make progress in comforting the families of passengers.’ Chinese relatives posting in a group on China’s popular WeChat social networking service said that the airline notified them it would offer initial $50,000 payments to families for each of the passengers to ‘meet their economic needs’. Relatives were to be notified of details about the payments two weeks after they return home, the relatives said, citing the notice.