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Relatives of jet's passengers struggle to cope

Sunday - 3/23/2014, 6:32am  ET

Relatives of Chinese passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines, flight MH370, wait for news at a hotel room in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 22, 2014. A satellite spotted two large objects in the desolate southern Indian Ocean earlier this week, raising hopes of finding the Boeing 777 that disappeared March 8 with 239 people on board, although nothing was spotted in a sea search over the last two days. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) -- Like other relatives of passengers of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Wang Zheng's frustration and anger over a lack of any certain information about the fate of his loved ones continues to grow two weeks after the plane went missing.

"Biggest of all is the emotional turmoil I've been going through. I can't eat, I can't sleep. I've been dreaming of my parents every day," said the 30-year-old IT engineer from Beijing, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were both aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia.

The plane's disappearance on its way from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8 has hit China particularly hard, with 153 of the 239 people on board citizens of the People's Republic. Their relatives have spent more than two weeks on an emotional roller coaster, and while Chinese satellite images made public Saturday provided a new lead in the search, planes and a ship had yet to find anything in a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean as of Sunday.

China's government has responded to the crisis with almost unprecedented forcefulness, deploying nearly a dozen ships and several aircraft to the search effort and assigning government officials to meet with relatives and liaison with Malaysian officials.

Relatives such as Wang have put their personal and professional lives on hold waiting for any word of the fate of their loved ones.

At a sprawling hotel complex in Beijing, the relatives rise each morning and eat breakfast -- at least those who can muster the appetite -- before attending a briefing on the missing plane. Then follows another long day of watching the news and waiting, before an evening briefing that inevitably offers little more information.

Amid the many theories and scant and often dubious, contradictory and disavowed findings, the relatives' patience has at times worn thin.

Following a brief meeting Saturday with Malaysia Airlines and Malaysian government officials, impatience turned to anger as relatives erupted in shouts of "We want to know what the reality is," and "Give us back our loved ones."

"The family members are extremely indignant," read a statement issued by relatives following the meeting. "We believe we have been strung along, kept in the dark and lied to by the Malaysian government."

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein called on "all parties to be understanding during this extraordinary and difficult time," and said officials would "do everything in our power" to keep the relatives informed.

"I'm psychologically prepared for the worst and I know the chances of them coming back alive are extremely small," said Nan Jinyan, sister-in-law of missing passenger Yan Ling, a 29-year-old engineer who had worked for the last four years at a company that designs equipment for heart patients.

Like many of the relatives, Nan said that her helpless feelings were worsened by being almost entirely dependent on the media for news, and that she was deeply unhappy with what she called the vague and often contradictory information coming from Malaysia Airlines.

"If they can't offer something firm, they ought to just shut up," said Nan, who is representing the family as well as Yan's 23-year-old girlfriend.

Nan said Yan traveled frequently and had not talked about the Malaysia trip with his family, who come from the eastern province of Jiangsu.

"The last time he talked to us was about half a month before this happened. He travels quite frequently on business trips anyway, so we don't chat about his business trips on the phone," Nan said.

Volunteer psychologist Paul Yin, who has worked with some of the relatives, said not knowing the fate of their loved ones was preventing them from confronting their grief.

"When there is uncertainty for several days, people go from hope to despair, and back again, making it impossible to bring final healing," Yin said.

Thursday and Friday were particularly difficult days for the relatives, about 100 of whom are staying at the sprawling Lido Hotel complex in eastern Beijing. Another two dozen flew to Kuala Lumpur, where there have also been emotional scenes at news briefings.

Word came Thursday from Australia that satellite imagery had captured debris that might be part of the lost aircraft. That night, Malaysian officials from several government departments flew to Beijing to communicate directly with the relatives.

But searches by plane and ship turned up no sign of any wreckage. The officials' presentation, meanwhile, was largely a reiteration of what the relatives already knew, without much new information.

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