BEIJING, March 24, 2014 (AFP) – Cries of pain and loss echoed from a Beijing hotel on Monday as the relatives of missing flight MH370 learned their loved ones were dead, ending an agonising 17-day ordeal.
Paramedics carrying stretchers dashed into the ballroom at the Lido hotel to treat distraught family members who have been gathered there since the Malaysia Airlines jet vanished.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed their gravest fears, announcing that the aircraft went down in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board – two thirds of them Chinese.
Even the possibility of a hijack, however remote, had meant there was still a chance their loved ones were alive. But after the announcement, there was no hope at all.
Some burst out of the room crying uncontrollably, while others had to be supported by family members.
One woman was rushed out on a stretcher, her body shaking and her eyes glazed and full of tears.
“We know we have no hope left now,” one bereaved relative told AFP by telephone.
Most were too distressed to talk. A few simply covered their heads, hiding their emotions as they ran a gauntlet of journalists.
Grief was closely followed by anger for some, with one sobbing woman leaving the room shouting “murderers, murderers”.
Some relatives lost control as they departed, with one man throwing punches and kicks at the media crowd, as a male family member was being taken out on a stretcher.
Others lashed out at cameramen who were filming too close.
Security guards and police stood guard in and outside the room.
Inside the room, heavy clouds of tobacco smoke hung overhead, with almost every man drawing heavily on cigarettes.
Many faces were pale with shock, and most people stared into space, almost oblivious to other relatives around them.
Candle after candle was posted on China’s hugely popular weibo microblog sites, in electronic tributes to the dead.
“I just can’t believe it nor accept it, after having searched so many days, and waited so many days, only to finally receive news of the crash!” wrote one user.
“It’s impossible to imagine how these desperate families could handle it.”
Some Chinese have embraced far-fetched conspiracy theories in the period since the plane disappeared, and there were those who refused to believe the plane had gone down.
One woman at the Lido hotel approached reporters, wailing, saying she believed her daughter was being “hidden” and had not died.