BEIJING - The anguished hours had turned into a day and a half. Fed up with awaiting word on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, relatives of passengers in Beijing lashed out at the carrier with a handwritten ultimatum and an impromptu news conference.
Faced with an emergency, the airline said it was doing all it could to answer questions about Flight MH370, which disappeared from radar Saturday with 239 people aboard while heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The uncertainty over the plane's whereabouts was frustrating relatives, but also hindering the carrier's ability to respond: It's difficult to deliver a clear message with so much still unclear.
From a room set aside at a hotel near the Beijing airport, a man with a black shirt emerged with a statement signed by about 100 of the relatives, saying that unless the carrier could give them some clarity, they would take their complaints to the Malaysian Embassy.
"We don't believe Malaysia Airlines anymore. Sorry everyone, we just don't believe them anymore," the man, who refused to give his name, told a crowd of reporters Sunday.
By this time, the airline already had dispatched dozens of caregivers to Beijing and assigned one to each family, provided accommodation, food, transport and financial assistance. It said it was providing regular updates despite a lack of information about the plane.
But the initial disorder of Malaysia Airlines' response, and its lack of official contact with relatives in the early going set the tone for the ensuing hours of waiting.
"One of the most important things to remember here," said Frank Taylor, a former director of an aviation safety center at Cranfield University in Britain, "is that it's much easier to stand down staff after an initial over-reaction than to play catch-up after an initial under-reaction."
"We're literally trying to find out what happened and until you actually find the aircraft you have no way of knowing what actually went on there," the airline's commercial director, Hugh Dunleavy, told The Associated Press on Sunday. "Our main focus has been to come here, meet the families, give them as much information as we can but without raising false hopes."