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Tears, screams, questions as relatives wait

By Yuli Yang and Steven Jiang, CNN
updated 1:33 PM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beijing-bound Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared from radar screens early March 8
  • Of the 227 passengers on board the missing plane, 153 are from mainland China
  • Malaysia Airlines has established a support center for relatives at Beijing's Lido Hotel
  • There people exchange information and watch news coverage on the missing plane

Beijing, China (CNN) -- As three Malaysia Airlines executives and their interpreter looked on with stoic faces, a Chinese man in his 50s yelled: "Time's flying and you need to search for the people!" before wailing uncontrollably.

The man's son was on Flight MH370 -- still missing after the Beijing-bound Boeing 777-200 jet disappeared from radar screens early Saturday morning, not long after it took off from Kuala Lumpur's international airport.

As their agonizing wait enters day four, family and friends of the 227 passengers on board -- of whom 153 were from mainland China -- have become increasingly frustrated and angry, especially those who have been holed up in the Lido Hotel, a short drive from Beijing's Capital International Airport.

The bawling man broke down in the middle of a Malaysia Airlines briefing for the passengers' relatives. He demanded to know why he could hear his son's mobile phone ring when dialing the number, even as search and rescue crews continued to return empty handed.

Several other Chinese passengers' mobile phones were still connecting but going unanswered, state media has quoted their families as saying. Some experts have attributed this to the configuration of call-forwarding service by certain phone carriers, but their opinion has little sway on the crowd at Lido.

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Most relatives of passengers spend their waking hours in the hotel's ballroom, where Malaysia Airlines has established a support center. Journalists are not officially allowed to enter, but some manage to quietly walk in.

Different Chinese dialects resonate in the room as people exchange information and plans, with others glued to television screens broadcasting continuous coverage on the missing plane from local channels.

Food, snacks and bottled water are laid out on tables, as Buddhist volunteers from Taiwan hand out fruit, remind people to eat properly and offer warm hugs. Staff behind desks help those applying for Chinese passports and Malaysian visas, with an ID photo booth set up in the corner.

The seemingly calm air was punctuated by the cry of pain and desperation Tuesday afternoon. A woman suddenly screamed, prompting her family to rush to her side.

"You need to stay healthy -- it's no good if he comes back and sees you like this, right?" A young man comforted the woman, as her husband sobbed next to her.

"You're right," said the woman, wiping her tears and nodding.

Who were the mystery men on the flight?

'Sincere attitude'

The atmosphere in the room turned contentious as Malaysia Airlines representatives walked in for the briefing. The carrier's offer of $5,000 immediate financial assistance to each family member was met with boos in the audience.

Many in the crowd vented their dissatisfaction with the airline, calling its updates infrequent and its assistance inadequate. They voiced frustration of being kept in the dark and suspicion over the motive of the airline's money offer.

"I hope you treat us with a sincere attitude, otherwise there will be serious consequences!" declared a relative in a black shirt.

"Yes!" others shouted in unison.

The man in black then laid down five demands for the airline, including a 24/7 coordinator for passenger families, more flexibility on the relatives' travel to Kuala Lumpur and a meeting with Malaysian government officials.

"We're trying to deliver with limited resources," said Ignatius Ong, a senior executive with Malaysia Airlines, pledging a thorough review of the family demands. "My personal apologies to everyone here, but I ask you to support us."

"Please," he added.

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