Unlike 1st, Malaysia’s 2nd disaster brings closure
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Less than five months ago, they had rushed to Kuala Lumpur International Airport — anxious relatives with a hope in their hearts, however faint, that a missing jumbo jet with their loved ones had not crashed, and would eventually be found.
This week, throngs of relatives came again with no hope, just a chilling certainty that everyone on board another Malaysia Airlines had perished.
They shed tears, sobbed and looked for comfort to ease the all-too-familiar pain of loss that’s visited a nation dealing with the second air disaster this year.
But the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that was downed over rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine is playing out in starkly different mood compared to the anguish surrounding Flight 370 that disappeared March 8.
CHAOS AND ANGER OF MH370:
In March, it took about four hours for Malaysia Airlines to announce that the Boeing 777 was missing while traveling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.
The airport was soon overwhelmed with angry relatives screaming and begging for answers — and holding out hope that the plane had landed somewhere or their loved ones were still alive.
But the answers would not come. Not that day, and for many, not up until now.
Most of the passengers were from China, and the first batch of kin had arrived from Beijing on the third day of what has become the biggest aviation mystery in the world. Investigators announced that the plane had vanished from radar screens, flying for hours to the southern Indian Ocean where it was last traced by satellite pings.
That did little to calm the relatives, some of whom accused the Malaysian government of conspiracy, hiding the truth and ineptitude.
People were shouting. Crying hysterically. Pointing fingers at officials only to be met with blank stares.
It took several days before the first news conference was organized to address the mystery of Flight 370. Several false leads followed, each punctured by high expectations then disappointment that turned into more anger and frustration.
The Chinese relatives were escorted to an airport hotel. Then transferred to another. They were finally asked to leave and wait for news at home.
Briefings by Malaysian officials were getting uglier by day. The Chinese families were storming out, accusing officials of not sharing relevant information.
Malaysian families, too, complained the briefings were useless and were being told what’s already been reported in the news.
A Chinese mother, crying “My son! My son!” stormed a news conference by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak after he solemnly read a statement that the plane had “ended in the southern Indian Ocean.” She and others were not ready to close the book without evidence of wreckage.
This Friday, and the airport was receiving crying relatives again.
This time, they knew the outcome of the disaster. The wreckage of the Boeing 777 was found, scattered over a Ukrainian field after a suspected missile shot it down. Most of the casualties were Dutch with 44 Malaysians, including 15 crew and two infants.
No one is wailing. No one is making a scene. There is no hope of anyone being found alive.
Counseling is set up immediately. The government addresses a stunned nation and the world without hours, at 4 a.m.
The relatives are briefed by a government minister. There is no storming out of the meeting.
The Malaysian government is not taking the blame. It falls on those responsible for shooting down the aircraft.
A social media account run by families of Flight 370 passengers posted 10 tips for relatives of those on Flight 17.
The tips include warnings to refrain from immediately contracting lawyers seeking business and to speak carefully to the media. It also advised the relatives to stick together and support each other.
“The most important thing is to stay with family members and friends, and with the relatives of other passengers,” said the message on Chinese social network WeChat. “Doing that will bring you comfort, and we hope you’ll suffer less than did the family members of 370.”
Associated Press writer Jack Chang in Beijing contributed to this report.