Pain and anger as reality sets in for relatives of those missing on MH370
Chinese relatives of passengers on the flight vent their frustration at not knowing fate of loved ones, and experts question Malaysia's reaction
Keith Zhai, Jane Cai and Stephen Chen in Beijing
About 100 distraught family members of passengers feared killed on flight MH370 yesterday issued a public statement demanding the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of the plane carrying 239 passengers and crew.
In a letter, the families called for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help get the truth from the Malaysian government, and asked Beijing to send officials to meet the passengers' families and negotiate with related parties in Malaysia.
"So far only the airline company has contacted us," a woman said. "I hope the Chinese government will come to talk to us. The earlier the government takes proper action, the bigger the possibility of survival."
Malaysia Airlines yesterday told distressed families of the missing passengers to "prepare for the worst" 30 hours after the disappearance of the flight.
"After 30 hours of loss of contact [with the plane], I have advised the families should prepare for the worst," Dr Hugh Dunleavy, the airline's commercial director, told reporters in Beijing.
The words chilled the air in Beijing's Metropark Lido Hotel, where family members of the passengers were staying.
Many burst into tears. Some fell to the ground after learning the situation. Some knelt and prayed quietly.
About 200 family members were housed in two hotels arranged by airline companies, anxiously awaiting news of their beloved.
"The carrier executive told us the situation is pessimistic," a family member said. "They said they would arrange for us to take flights to Kuala Lumpur as soon as possible."
Malaysia Airlines was preparing visa application forms for family members of the passengers for their trip to Kuala Lumpur yesterday and those who wanted to take the trip would have to submit the form by 9am today. They were told that some would be able to leave as early as tomorrow.
The aircraft had not been found yet, Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China said yesterday, and a mainland military radar expert said Malaysia's response was "too late" and "unacceptable".
"A modern radar tracking system is very sensitive and capable. It can obtain much physical data about the aircraft, such as speed and altitude, which can be used to estimate quite precisely the final impact zone," the expert said.
"I suspect the Malaysian authorities are holding back some information. We haven't heard anything useful from the Vietnamese authorities, either.
"The sharing and analysis of radar data should have begun minutes after losing contact and finished long ago.
"If there were any survivors, the arrival of rescuers would be too late."
Professor Sun Jinping, a radar expert with Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, said there was a small chance that the plane flew into a "no radar zone" and left flight observers unable to pinpoint its location.
"Most military radars have a range of less than 200km and they won't power on all the time if militaries feel safe about the area or cannot afford the radars' costly electricity consumption," Sun said.
"So, if no one is lying, the plane may likely be in an area not covered by any radar of any country."
Some people are still hoping for the best.
A man from Hebei province raised brief excitement after ringing the mobile phone of his brother, which responded both times when he made calls yesterday morning.
The phone went silent after a few seconds, the caller, in his 20s, told the South China Morning Post.
He shouted with excitement and rushed to Malaysia Airlines officials, saying there might still be some hope.
Other relatives of flight passengers in the hotel started to ring the phones of their kin after the Hebei man raised hopes.
However, when the man rang the phone for a third time, there was no response, he said.
He was later told by the airline that the carrier was not capable of positioning mobile phones.
"[The carrier said] only the Malaysian government is capable of doing so. It's unknown what the government has done," the young man said.
Family members are urging Beijing to do more and do it quickly.
An elderly woman whose son was on board, said: "I don't remember if I have seen any Chinese government official show up. Such a long time has passed. No progress has been made in finding the plane.
"So many Chinese people are on board. The Chinese government should stand up for us to urge a response from Malaysia," she added angrily.
Two family members tried to deliver a petition to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing yesterday but there was nobody to receive the letter, family members said.
Lawyer Zhang Qihuai, a visiting professor at the Civil Aviation University of China, said senior Chinese officials never met the families of air-crash victims in person.
"However, top leaders have issued instructions that two warships be sent for search and rescue, which showed the great emphasis Beijing has attached to the issue," Zhang said.