BEIJING, March 11 — Relatives of Chinese passengers on board missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 declined to accept money from the airline today as distrust and frustration at the carrier mounted.
The airline said it had offered “financial assistance” of 31,000 yuan (around RM16,000) to the family of each missing traveller.
But a relative of one of the passengers, from east China’s Shandong province, told AFP: “We’re not really interested in the money.”
“It is all about the people — the people on the plane. We just want them back,” she said at the Beijing hotel where relatives and friends of many of the 153 Chinese passengers — more than two-thirds of those on board MH370 — were waiting anxiously for news.
Ignatius Ong, leader of the Malaysia Airlines (MAS) response team in China, confirmed that the offer had not been taken up.
But he denied the relatives had rejected it, saying they had asked the airline to “review” the terms of the acceptance form.
“There are certain items where there will be a difference of opinion,” he added. “These are very difficult times and we also appreciate that at this time a lot of people are frustrated.”
Relatives have endured days of anxious waiting under an intense media spotlight and some appeared to begin to accept that their loved ones may not have survived.
“We are mentally prepared for the worst,” said one woman surnamed Cao, who told AFP that her husband’s brother had been on board as part of a group accompanying Chinese artists to an exhibition in Malaysia.
“We feel really helpless and haven’t been to sleep for days as we are very worried,” she added.
Malaysia Airlines has offered to fly two relatives of each missing person to Kuala Lumpur to be closer to the search.
Ong confirmed that 12 had left today, but the airline had said yesterday that it was “deploying an additional aircraft” to Beijing to transport relatives.
But with many saying there was no point going to Malaysia there was no indication that an extra flight had taken off.
Beijing airport’s online departure information system showed a Malaysia Airlines flight, MH5401, listed for 1710, when the company does not normally have a departure. It was described as “cancelled”.
Malaysia Airlines did not immediately respond to inquiries on the flight from AFP.
A man in his 20s surnamed Su said the family were worried for the welfare of his missing cousin’s grief-stricken parents if they made the trip alone.
“We have offered to pay for ourselves, so the wider family can help our aunt and uncle,” he said.
“I hope it is a hijacking, then there will be some hope that my young cousin has survived,” he added.
Inside a hotel ballroom, family members sitting in rows of seats watch a plasma television screening continuous news.
In the days since the Boeing 777-200 vanished from radar screens there have been repeated reports of oil slicks being found and possible debris sightings, only for each of them to be later ruled out.
“The wait has been absolute torture,” said a man in his 20s surnamed Liu, from the northern city of Tianjin, who said his older brother was on the flight.
Others were angry. Reports say that passengers confronted government officials at a meeting yesterday.
A man called Tang said: “They have been very slow with information. Very slow. How difficult is it in this age to find a plane?”
Emotions ran high as families broke for lunch, with one irate relative venting fury at Malaysia Airlines staff for asking him to see a meal ticket.
“Do you think that Malaysian food is delicious or what?” the man said, waving his arms around in a rage.
“This is the attitude of Malaysia Airlines towards the relatives. Your responsibility is to comfort people. Not to stop them and ask them for their ticket.”
In the information vacuum, any rumour, however wild or implausible, is leaped upon.
The accounts of some passengers on Chinese messaging tool QQ show they had been online, reports say, although the operator says that failure to shut the software down properly can give that impression. — AFP