BEIJING — After his wife returned from a holiday in Malaysia on Saturday morning, Zhang Hongjie planned to take her out for a fancy lunch, to celebrate her 40th birthday.
Instead, Zhang and his daughter, 18, spent an agonizing day at a hotel in the Chinese capital, where Malaysia Airlines promised information about the missing flight from Kuala Lumpur that should have touched down at 6:30 a.m.
"She's passionate, loves her job as an insurance saleswoman and loves traveling," said Zhang, 44, of his wife, Zheng Ruixin.
Relatives gathered Saturday at Beijing's Lido Hotel, where frustration and anger grew with the lack of news and information from the airline. A long-delayed afternoon press conference yielded no more than had a morning one by the airline's head office in Malaysia. On board were 239 passengers and crew, from 14 nation
"Malaysia Airlines just announced the same news four hours later than other media. They have done nothing else, and we can't find anybody to explain," complained a man in his 20s, who, like most family members interviewed Saturday, declined to give his name. "I can't endure that," he said. "They are not being responsible towards us relatives. I feel very nervous now."s, including 153 from China, 38 Malaysians and three Americans.
Among the Chinese passengers on board were a group of artists, including celebrated calligrapher Meng Gaosheng, returning home after a cultural exchange in Malaysia to spread the Chinese Communist Party's "China Dream" through calligraphy and painting, reported the Beijing News. Two colleagues from Huawei, China's largest smartphone manufacturer, were returning from a work trip, said the China News Service.
On Friday night, Zhang, a worker at the Beijing railway bureau, received the last text from his wife saying she was going through security at Kuala Lumpur airport. They last spoke on Thursday, when Zhang wished her a happy birthday, and she reminded him of the cost of international dialing, suggesting they use text messaging instead.
Saturday morning, Zhang's daughter read news online about the plane's disappearance, and they rushed to the Lido Hotel. "I'm worried about my daughter, there's no way she will accept this result," he said.
Last year, Zheng took her daughter, their only child, to Singapore, but this year Zheng joined a group tour alone, to ensure the girl stay focused on studying for China's college entrance exam in June, Zhang added.
Alerted to the tragedy by colleagues at China Life Insurance, the state-owned giant where Zheng also worked, Hu Qianyu made his way to hotel Saturday. Hu, an employee at the claims settlement department, hoped to confirm family details and other background information with relatives of the dozens of passengers on flight MH370 that Hu said held China Life travel or life insurance.
"This is a complicated case as it's an international flight," said Hu, who noted compensation for death on a domestic Chinese flight would range between $98,000 and $130,000 per person. The government's China Insurance Regulatory Commission will tell firms the amount to pay in this case, he said.
Hu appeared shocked that a colleague, Zheng Ruixin, whom he had never met, was on the flight as he took details from her husband Saturday.
"Many relatives said don't talk about money with me, it's too early," he said after entering a closed-off room where families were gathered. "It could be that they are still alive."
Red-eyed from weeping, Zhang Hongjie remained defiant Saturday evening as he fielded countless calls of concern from the couple's friends.
"I still have hope," he said.