World / Asia-Pacific

MH370 support team: families said 'thanks'

By HOU LIQIANG ( Updated: 2014-04-29 18:40

MH370 support team: families said 'thanks'

A relative of a passenger aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 gestures as he shouts at Malaysian representatives during a briefing at Lido Hotel in Beijing April 11, 2014. [Photo/Agencies]

At about 8 am, a group of Malaysians wearing blue waistcoats board a bus to the Metropark Lido Hotel in Beijing.

After half an hour, the group of about 50 members arrive at an office in the hotel. They attend a meeting, in which the day's assignments are spelt out and delegated. The members are separated into smaller teams, each responsible for tasks like paperwork, food and safety issues.

It is a routine they have been following since Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8.

The group is part of the airline's special assistance team, which arrived in the Chinese capital the first day the plane went missing. Its members have had the chance to return home, but many chose to stay on to continue providing support to the families of the 154 Chinese passengers of MH370.

The Boeing 777, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, was carrying 239 crew and passengers. A multinational search focusing on the remote southern Indian Ocean has so far not found anything, prolonging the agony of the families waiting at the hotel for any news of their loved ones.

Members of the special assistance team include Christians, Taoists, Muslims and Buddhists. One of the first things they do in the day is to pray for the MH370 victims in their own manner.

Because of work regulations that prevent the members from speaking with journalists, those who spoke to China Daily declined to be named.

One of them arrived in Beijing on the first day of the tragedy to help the families.

It was chaotic the first night because a large number of family members arrived in Beijing from different parts of the country for any information on the flight. There were about 90 members in the assistance team then, but few could speak Chinese.

"The family members found out I could speak Chinese and turned to me for help, one after another," said the man on Friday, when China Daily was allowed to participate in a group conversation with the families.

Unexpected situation

Another special assistance team member, who also spoke to China Daily on condition of anonymity, said the language barrier was obviously challenging and added to the difficulties of the situation, but she still decided to assist the families.

As the wait for news of MH370 stretched on, criticism from the Chinese families and public targeted the Malaysian authorities' handling of the incident. Tempers flared at the meetings and briefings at the hotel that were meant to update the families of the search.

"Before I came, I saw family members throw bottles at Malaysians in news briefings held in Beijing on the TV," the team member said.

"I thought it must've been because of the language barrier. I still decided to come," said the woman.

The employee of Malaysia Airlines said she is ethnically Chinese and "loves both China and Malaysia".

"I should do something for the two countries," she said.

But she never imagined that, on the day she arrived at the office in Beijing, a family member would bang on the office door and call the team members names. The relative had a dispute with the airline over "reimbursement issues".

"I thought I would have a sense of achievement from what I am doing, which would spare me from being pressured, like this," she said.

"But I would find myself under pressure and began to complain. I needed to rest and to go out for a walk.

"As long as we are here in Beijing, we can have no rest," she said.

While her company does not require its employees to work overtime, the number of workers here are not enough, she said.

A little more than 30 members in the assistance group speak Chinese and just more than 10 speak and write the language, she said.

Back in Malaysia, the airline has been urgently looking for employees who can both speak and write Chinese to help out.

There are also Muslims in the team, but with no Muslim or halal restaurants in the area, the members have to settle for simple packed meals like what they get on planes, she said.

There is no much time to eat for members in the group.

"Usually I have only half an hour to eat lunch and supper, just in the office," the woman said.

Doctors have also provided the assistance team members a list of the relatives who had once lost control of their emotions during the briefings on the search for MH370. The members are expected to visit and console the relatives every morning, she said.

Accepted gradually

The woman told China Daily that she was happy to see that they are gradually being accepted by the family members.

"I felt quite moved when some family members said thanks to me," she said.

Some family members even brought them food in the hotel, she said.

On April 20, a family from Shandong province invited two of the special assistance team members to eat some dumplings stuffed with fennel and pork. The family insisted on including the two members for lunch after finding out that they are not Muslim and can eat pork.

"I think they have never tasted our Chinese dumplings stuffed with fennel," Wen Wancheng, who invited the two members to the lunch, told China Daily.

"As employees (of Malaysia Airlines), their work is tough and tiring. The mood and way of thinking of family members differ. Some family members may blame them or call them names," the 63-year-old said.

Wen Wancheng's 34-year-old son Wen Yongsheng was on board the missing jet. Wen Yongsheng has two children, a seven-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy.

"It's not easy for them to leave their motherland and come to work in a remote country," said Wen, referring to the team members.

The relatives are tired and distraught from waiting for their loved ones but they should also put themselves in each other's shoes, he said.

On Friday, one assistance team member was invited by a man from Liaoning province who wanted to be known only as Yue, to join a family members' discussion.

The conversation was carried out in a relaxing way. There was even laughter now and then.

The Malaysian man learned Chinese for six years when he was in primary school but had few chances to speak the language in Malaysia.

"I find my Chinese improving a lot after I came to Beijing," he said in the conversation.

When a woman surnamed Xing, whose niece was on board MH370, found out that the team member was trying to conceive a child with his wife but without success, she even suggested that he bring his wife to China and try using traditional Chinese medicine.

Xing, 62, from Harbin, Heilongjiang province, also explained China's family planning policy and the structure of China's extended family.

The special assistance team member said he told his colleague that he knew many of the relatives of the victims of MH370 were single-child families and it was understandable that they are especially heart-broken by the disappearance of the plane.

"Sometimes we may lose control of our emotions and blame you, but those feelings are actually not targeted against you," Yue from Liaoning told the team members.

"It's your job to work here. It's not your fault and you are not to blame for the missing aircraft. We understand that."

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