Today, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. While there is no definitive proof proving what happened to MH370, Razak cited satellite analysis as substantial evidence that the plane went into the ocean, killing all 239 people aboard.
The PM’s office took the time to tweet out Razak’s announcement:
“With deep sadness and regret I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight #MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.”
— Mohd Najib Tun Razak (@NajibRazak) March 24, 2014
The complete transcript of the speech is already available; in it, Razak says that Malaysia Airlines had already spoken to the families.
— Nicola Clark (@_nicolaclark) March 24, 2014
Unfortunately, while the Malaysian government tried to handle the development respectfully, they were misinformed if they were told that Malaysia Airlines spoke to the families. Malaysian Airlines employees did not pick up the phone or meet the families in person. Instead, they decided to tell the loved ones of the passengers that they were presumed dead in a puzzlingly callous manner: by text message.
The families of the passengers of the missing plane have been waiting for weeks to find out what happened to their loved ones when the plane mysteriously vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Instead of calling them to have the news delivered over the phone, Malaysian Airlines elected to send a mass text message.
Journalist Matthew Keys tweeted a screenshot of the text message:
— Matthew Keys (@MatthewKeysLive) March 24, 2014
While it was appropriate to ensure that the family members were aware of the news before it was announced on television, the decision to convey that information in such an impersonal, perfunctory way is yet another misstep from Malaysia Airlines in this still-unexplained tragedy.
Update: A group called the Chinese Family Coalition, representing some of the families of the passengers lost on Flight MH370, have issued a statement about the way they were treated during the event: “At 10pm on March 25, the Malaysian prime minister sent a statement to the families of MH370 passengers without any direct evidence that MH370 crashed in the south Indian ocean and no people survived. From March 8 when they announced that MH370 lost contact to today, 18 days have passed during which the Malaysian government and military constantly tried to delay, deceive the passengers’ families and cheat the whole world. This shameless behaviour not only fooled and hurt the families of the 154 passengers but also misguided and delayed rescue actions, wasting a large quantity of human resources and materials and lost valuable time for the rescue effort. If the 154 passengers did lose their lives, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and military are the real executioners who killed them. We the families of those on board submit our strongest protest against them. We will take every possible means to pursue the unforgivable crimes and responsibility of all three.”
Update 2: Malaysia Airlines is defending its decision to text messages, and emphasized that they did attempt to contact the families by phone or in person first, using the text message as a last result.