From the outside, the Metropark Lido Hotel looks just like a rather fancy Beijing tourist spot. But for a few weeks now, the Lido has taken on another role aside from its usual function as a base for well-to-do travelers: it is where the relatives of the people who disappeared on the Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 gather waiting for news of their loved ones.
The building has acquired a second life these past few weeks: security is tight at the entrance, with bag scanners and agents to detect dangerous objects, while family members mix with the crowd of travelers and shoppers. Many wear white t-shirts with writing in blue which reads “Pray for MH370”.
For a while, the location in the north-east of town had also become one of Beijing’s hot spots for media workers, but with no major news emerging the number of journalists lingering around the hotel has dwindled.
The world’s attention was heightened last week by the display of anger directed against Malaysian authorities. On March 25, the situation deteriorated after Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that all hope was lost and the passengers are to be considered dead. On the same day, the families received a text message from Malaysia Airlines saying that “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.”
Wailing and panic were reported that night, and on Tuesday the relatives decided to march to the Malaysian Embassy. They returned to the hotel when informed that the Ambassador Iskandar Sarudin would be briefing them and verbally abused him in the belief that the government in Kuala Lumpur has been unable to properly handle the search – or worse, that it has been deliberately hiding information.
According to Reuters, on Tuesday one of the family members read a statement saying that, “if our 154 loved ones on board have lost their precious lives on the plane because of this, then Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysia government and the Malaysia military are the real executioners who have killed our loved ones.”
When Asian Correspondent first visited the Lido, on the evening of March 26, not much was happening but the atmosphere was tense. In the area reserved for the families a few people clustered around a woman reading a document, while a middle aged man in shabby clothes smoked in a corner, his eyes fixed on the ground.
The large room where news briefings are held was empty, but for a couple of people chatting and a security officer in black suit. The rows of chairs had been strapped together with white tape: with good reason, for the atmosphere can become incandescent at short notice.
A week later, in the afternoon of April 2, a few reporters were hanging around in front of the room – off limits for the media – where a meeting was being held. One of the participants at the gathering told us that the relatives were planning “the next move,” but would not be more specific about what was actually going on behind closed doors.
As the days go by without answers, the pain of the relatives at the hotel holds steady. And it is hard not to understand their exasperation, almost a month has passed since that fateful March 8.
“I just know that the Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 has disappeared and one person on board was my friend’s ex classmate,” a young man who was not at the Lido told Asian Correspondent. “We all pray God to let him come back soon, but there’s still no information about him. That’s all I know.”
Anger feeds on the contradictory messages that have kept the families stuck in a nightmare and more questions than answers remain. Did a technical failure occur? Or was it a terrorist attack? Did someone try to hijack the plane? The Malaysian police told the Wall Street Journal earlier this week that the case has been classified as a criminal investigation, but it seems likely that the thirst for truth will have to wait before being quenched. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently stated that the search for the plane is “the most difficult in human history,” while Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador to the United States, told CNN that it may take months or even years to get to the bottom of the tragedy.
Mr Abbott had previously vowed to do everything possible to find out what has happened. “We owe it to the families, we owe it to an anxious world to do everything we can to finally locate some wreckage and to do whatever we can to solve the riddle of this extraordinarily ill-fated flight,” he said.
One can only hope that they will be successful, for that would solve one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history, and, perhaps, bring some peace to the restless Lido Hotel.