BEIJING - Relatives shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably. Men and women nearly collapsed, held up by loved ones. Their grief came pouring out after 17 days of waiting for definitive word on the fate of the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines jet.
Malaysia's prime minister gave that word late Monday in an announcement from Kuala Lumpur, saying there was no longer any doubt that Flight 370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean.
China is now demanding that Malaysia hand over the detailed satellite evidence the Malaysian government says it used to conclude that Flight 370 crashed. Many of the passengers on that missing flight are from China.
Relatives of passengers in Beijing had been called to a hotel near the airport to hear the news, and some 50 of them gathered there. Afterward, they filed out of a conference room in heart-wrenching grief.
Some received a heads-up by text message, said Sarah Bajc, who has been awaiting news of the fate of her boyfriend, Philip Wood of Keller, TX, ever since the plane disappeared March 8 on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard.
"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," the text message said. "As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia's Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean."
Bajc noted in an email that the prime minister's announcement made no mention of confirmed wreckage, "so no real closure," but she also said the time for grief had begun.
"I need closure to be certain but cannot keep on with public efforts against all odds. I STILL feel his presence, so perhaps it was his soul all along," she wrote. "It looks like the first phase of our mission has ended. Now Philip's family and I will need some time for private grief.
Tom Wood, Philip's brother, feels mentally and emotionally exhausted as it begins to become real that Philip is not coming home.
"Yes, we were holding out hope for him to somehow survive…but we're willing to accept that he's not," said Tom.
Tom says the family is struggling but has accepted the loss more fully after more than two weeks of waiting.
"I have all kinds of emotions running through me," said Tom.
Languishing in an emotional limbo is to be expected, according to aviation crisis consultant Ken Jenkins, who just returned from Malaysia where he was helping families there cope with the uncertainty.
Jenkins says the latest developments may allow for some healing, but more information is needed for long term grieving to begin.
"There won't be any real progress in terms of knowing what happened until the cockpit voice recorder and flight deck recorder and the aircraft are found," said Jenkins.
Jenkins also thinks the news should have been delivered to the families in a more personal way than through text messaging.
The crash left little hope of survivors among the 239 crew and passengers, and the biggest questions remain: what happened to the jet and who, if anyone, is responsible?
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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