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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
No answers, only hope as MH370 China father heads home
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) May 03, 2014


Chinese MH370 relatives say forced to leave hotel
Beijing (AFP) May 02, 2014 - 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.

Almost two months after he dashed to Beijing following the disappearance of his son's flight, Yan Jiacheng finally left a hotel he shared with other desperate Chinese relatives, still clinging to the hope that he could be alive.

"I don't want to leave of course, but I have no choice," Yan told AFP as relatives drove him 800 kilometres (500 miles) home after Malaysia Airlines said it would no longer provide accommodation in Beijing.

Softly spoken and non-confrontational, Yan was one of the quiet ones at the Lido hotel in the Chinese capital.

The hotel became a powder keg of conflict between highly emotional relatives seeking answers about their missing loved ones, and airline officials and Malaysian government representatives stymied by the way flight MH370 vanished.

Yan's younger son Yan Ling, 30, was one of the 153 Chinese passengers on the flight -- making up two-thirds of those on board.

The last time the pair had spent time together was when Yan Ling returned to the family home for Chinese New Year in late January.

The annual pilgrimage is replicated in tens of millions of homes across the country, where high-achieving offspring often find work in the booming cities after university, rather than in their backwater hometowns.

- 'Nothing but despair' -

During regular family briefings at the hotel, the 60-year-old would sit near the back of the hall, sipping a cup of iced water provided by airline support staff and lifting his head only during the occasions when tempers frayed.

Sometimes he would find solitude away from the insults and allegations, sitting outside in the car park with his thoughts and a cigarette, while relatives burst out of the door behind him sobbing into their handkerchiefs.

In the early days after the plane's disappearance, the signs of sleepless nights were etched on his face, with bags under his eyes and his thin hair ruffled.

Now Yan is more outwardly composed, but inside he remains crippled.

He has "felt nothing but despair", he says, since his life was turned upside down by a phone call from his son's girlfriend on the morning of March 8, 56 days ago.

"She said two sentences. She told me 'The plane is missing. Yan is missing'. Then she said nothing more, as she burst out crying," said Yan, from Yancheng in the eastern province of Jiangsu.

His son's boss telephoned him to say that the aircraft was missing and he should travel to the capital.

"I dropped everything and made the journey here."

There were no flights available to Beijing from nearby airports, so he had no choice but to buy a standing ticket on a train which took "a day and night".

Even at normal times the crowded journey would be gruelling. In the circumstances it was mental torture.

"The plane has gone. The plane has gone. I knew it was something terrible," he said, recalling the thoughts that raced through his mind.

Yan described his missing son as "introverted", but his tone brightened as he proudly exclaimed: "His boss says he is an excellent worker. A really good engineer."

Yan Ling works for a medical equipment company in Beijing's Haidian district and had travelled to Malaysia on a work-sponsored "short-study trip" with a colleague, his father said.

The family are close, said Yan, who was joined in Beijing by his elder son while his wife, who has health problems, stayed in Yancheng.

- 'I will always hope' -

A vast multi-national search has failed to find any sign of wreckage, and some Chinese relatives have embraced improbable conspiracy theories of hijackings and hostage-takings.

At times the reality of the most likely outcome hits Yan.

"The passengers have probably already died," he said. "I think so, but I don't dare to tell my family that."

Even so, as his voice broke with emotion, Yan refused to accept that he may have spent his last Chinese New Year with his son.

He still clings to the thought of Yan Ling one day walking through the door of the family home once again.

"That would be great. I would be so happy. I hope this day will come, and I will always keep that hope."

.


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