Tearful and angry, the friends and relatives of passengers on board missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 lashed out at the company as journalists besieged them in a Beijing hotel.
Many were taken there by the airline after going to the Chinese capital’s airport to meet the flight, scheduled to land at around 6.30am on Saturday.
A press conference was expected at the same location, and when others arrived later, they had to run the gauntlet of scores of Chinese and international reporters shoving microphones and cameras in their faces.
“They should have told us something before now,” said one visibly distressed man in his 30s, from the Chinese city of Tianjin.
They are useless. I don’t know why they haven’t released any information.
A man in his 20s struggled to help a grieving older woman, possibly his mother, into a quiet room as journalists shouted questions at her.
“They are useless,” he said of the airline. “I don’t know why they haven’t released any information. We waited for four hours and all they told us was the very few details they released at the media conference.”
At the press conference, a Malaysia Airlines staffer read out a statement that had already been given in Kuala Lumpur – and which the passengers had read online – in chaotic scenes as scores of cameramen fought and barged each other out the way to get clear shot.
Fighting back tears, a 20-year-old woman who had gone to the airport to meet a college friend said the passenger’s family still had not been told by the airline she was on board.
According to Malaysia Airlines, 153 of the 239 people on board the missing flight – a codeshare with China Southern Airlines – are Chinese citizens.
Scores of family members spoke to airline officials in small groups in a room on the hotel’s second floor.
Security at times struggled to hold back the huge throng of reporters crowding outside the door and making it difficult for relatives to enter or exit.
A man in his 60s hit a cameraman in the face who tried to film him.
Hundreds of journalists from across China are currently in Beijing for the annual session of the National People’s Congress, the Communist-controlled parliament, and many of those present wore badges from the event.
One woman in her twenties entered the room frantically crying, ignoring questions from the horde.
A man in his 60s wiped tears from his eyes with a handkerchief as he entered the room. He hit a cameraman in the face who tried to film him as he walked by, as a security guard shouted “Don’t you all have families?”
In the evening a group of about 10 family members made their way into the room to meet airline officials, sobbing into their hands.
At the airport, for hours after the flight should have landed, the digital arrivals board described it, in red, as “delayed”. Then it changed, to “cancelled”.