The families of the 153 Chinese nationals on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 are staging a protest outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing after the country’s prime minister, Najib Razak, declared Tuesday that all 239 people on the flight died when the Boeing 777-200 crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.
The relatives have prepared banners with messages such as “Return my family” and “We want the truth” to protest what they call the irresponsible behavior of the Malaysian government. The general sentiment is that Malaysian authorities should not pronounce the loss of everyone on board the flight before any conclusive evidence of its wreckage has been discovered.
A public statement released by the protesters condemned Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and its military of not actively pursuing the truth and instead trying to delay, conceal, cover up and deceive the families of the passengers and the world.
This “despicable” behavior has not only toyed with the emotions of the families but has misled and delayed search efforts, wasting precious resources and valuable time, the statement said, adding that if the passengers died as a result of this then Malaysia is their real “executioner.”
Beijing police have already sealed off the road outside the Malaysian embassy and diverted traffic from the area.
The protest is a response to Tuesday morning’s press conference in which Razak said that the latest analysis using satellite data concluded that MH370 must have crashed after it ran out of fuel off the west coast of Australia, around the region where multinational search teams continue to search for potential debris picked up by satellite images.
“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites,” Razak said. “It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
The families were reportedly informed of the same conclusion via text message several hours earlier.
Razak did not provide any explanation or potential motive as to why the plane was diverted from its course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and ended up far south of its flight plan. Prevailing theories include pilot suicide and a catastrophic mechanical failure that depressurized the cabin and incapacitated everyone on board as the plane flew unpiloted until it ran out of fuel.
China’s official Xinhua news agency reported that the sound of wailing could be heard in Beijing’s Metro Park Lido Hotel, where relatives of the Chinese passengers stayed awaiting new developments, shortly after Razak’s announcement.
Some collapsed and were taken out on stretchers, but majority of the 200 or so family members were gripped by “deep sorrow and anger,” Xinhua said.
The Malaysian government has been heavily criticized, particularly by China, over the way it has handled the investigation almost immediately after flight MH370 was confirmed missing. Over the past 18 days there have been numerous contradictory statements made by Malaysian officials and a general lack of coordination in releasing updates, leading to accusations of incompetence and even a deliberate cover-up.
As the wreckage has not yet been discovered, some relatives told reporters that they are still holding out hope that their loved ones survived.
“The announcement is not a final result,” a young woman who a close friend of a 25-year-old passenger told Xinhua. “I’m waiting for the truth to be disclosed,” she said, adding that she has dreamed of her friend twice since the flight’s disappearance.
Meanwhile, China has already asked Malaysia to provide all information and evidence leading to the conclusion that flight MH370 crashed in the Indian Ocean, according to a statement from Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei.
Malaysia Airlines also said it would continue to give “full support” to the families of passengers and crew throughout the difficult weeks and months ahead.
“We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain,” it said in a statement after Razak’s announcement. “Alongside the search for MH370, there is an intensive investigation, which we hope will also provide answers.”