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Relatives Of Missing Passengers And Crew Try To Cope With Changing Theories

On Saturday, March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH – 370 disappeared from radar screens on a scheduled flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.


From that day on, life became a living hell for the families of the 239 passengers and crew members onboard what has since become a ‘ghost flight’.


In the days that followed, theories about what happened have ranged from a mechanical malfunction, or a sudden decompression of cabin pressure to a terrorist hijacking, or even pilot suicide. In the process, those 239 families have been on a roller-coaster ride of emotions from gut-wrenching grief to desperate longings of hope after they heard the hijacking theory . . . the sliver of hope that their loved ones might still be alive.


It’s a torturous limbo that is already starting to show cracks.  As these interviews from the South China Morning Post show, Chinese relatives of passengers aboard the missing flight are threatening to go on a hunger strike until the Malaysian government tells them the truth about the fate of their loved ones:

Repressed emotions resulting in more stress for families


The anger and frustration among the families of the passengers and crew in Beijing have been growing, partly because the only people allowed to help the families are caregivers and buddhist volunteers brought in by the airline.


One psychologist, Paul Yin, who’s been allowed to work with family members tells the South China Morning Post“Every day their hope ends in despair. And many are suffering volatile emotions. It is important for them to have someone who understands what they have been through.”


Another volunteer psychologist, Sun Yuzhong, told the paper relatives who had approached him for help were faced with making rational decisions while coping with stress on several fronts, “They are forced to stay strong and rational because they still need to support the rest of the family. For them, there are two sources of stress, the incident itself and the fact they have to keep repressing their emotions.”


Auckland psychologist Nate Gaunt, a specialist in trauma, stress and anxiety, said, in an interview with The New Zealand Herald, compassion fatigue was also setting in, which would make it even more difficult for those directly linked to the flight to cope. 


Mr. Gaunt said when someone died their loved ones went through a grieving process, but that was not possible for the MH370 families as they did not know one way or the other what had happened.


“One of the pathways of grief is going towards the idea of acceptance. Considering the coming and going of information, and hope, and hope taken away, it is very difficult for people to get on with that process without feeling they were doing the right thing or the wrong thing,” he said last night.


He said those trying to get on with life could be racked with guilt and feel they were betraying their missing family member. “Compassion fatigue is also starting to set in. We all have a finite amount of empathy. The story is saturating the media and it’s becoming less and less shocking for us.”


The families of the missing would also be feeling trapped.


“It’s like being held in limbo and even in a way they are also hostages. They are not allowed to be free,” Mr Gaunt said. “People want to do the right thing … but there is no script for this, there is no right way of handling a situation like this.”


He said it is important to remember the human element – that the situation was more than just a missing plane.


“We really should remember the lost people and the impact that has.”

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