SYDNEY/KUALA LUMPUR— The first funerals for passengers on board a missing Malaysia Airlines jet will be held this weekend, relatives said on Friday, as a Malaysian official urged relatives of those presumed dead to “face reality” and leave support centers.
Despite the most intensive air, sea and underwater search in commercial aviation history, no trace of Flight MH370 has been found since it vanished on a scheduled service from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8.
Almost eight weeks later, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has said it will close assistance centers it has set up in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur for the families of the 239 passengers and crew on board the Boeing 777-200ER jet.
Many of the bereaved are Chinese.
On Friday, Malaysia's deputy foreign minister said it was time for relatives to be “realistic”.
“We have been waiting to come up with a statement and all of us, be it the family members or the whole world, is actually looking for the answer,” Hamzah Zainudin told a news conference.
The airline, he said, had been looking after and supporting family members in Beijing for 55 days.
“And that's the reason its about time for us to actually accept the reality that the family members should go back and wait for the answer in their hometowns.”
Families, Malaysian officials said, would be told of developments in the search and those who qualified would receive prompt compensation.
Some families in Beijing have left for home, but others were resisting.
“Do you think I will leave? How many things do we need to do if we go back home? What will life be like after returning home?” said Wang Bao'an, the father of a passenger.
“Our life has been ruined by this. We are not able to face our relatives if we go back.”
Another relative, Zhang Yongli, said: “Malaysia Airlines has promised that they would not ask families to leave the Lido Hotel until they figured out what had happened and had found the plane. But now they go back on their words.”
Families of other passengers were moving on.
First memorial service in Brisbane
Family and friends of Rod and Mary Burrows, two of six Australians on board the flight, will hold a memorial service in Brisbane on Sunday, according to a statement on behalf of the family released by police.
The family, it said, sought “privacy and request their solitude be respected during this difficult time”.
The announcement was issued a day after Malaysia released its most comprehensive account yet of what happened to Flight MH370, detailing the route the plane probably took as it veered off course and the confusion that followed.
The report showed four hours elapsed between the first sign that the plane had failed to report in and the decision to mount a search.
Maps showing the aircraft's probable flight path suggest the plane turned back from the South China Sea and flew across the Malaysian Peninsula. Investigators believe it then turned south and headed for the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean.
The preliminary report, however, left many questions unanswered, including whether the aircraft was deliberately diverted after communications were disabled.
Malaysia's defense minister said an independent panel would look into the delay in ordering a search and rescue operation.
“We created the independent body with experts from around the world,” Hishammuddin Hussein, who doubles as acting transport minister, told the Kuala Lumpur news conference.
“There were things that Malaysia has done well and there were things we could have done better. If that's something the panel says, we won't be reluctant to take the relevant action.”
Using groundbreaking analysis of satellite data, experts have narrowed down the search area where the plane is presumed to have crashed to a large arc of the Indian Ocean some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) northwest of the west Australian city of Perth.
But after weeks of scouring millions of square kilometers without finding any sign of debris, Australian authorities have called off the air and surface search.
Australia and Malaysia now plan to contract commercial companies to undertake a sonar search of 60,000 sq km (24,000 sq mile) of seabed that could take eight months or more at a cost of about A$60 million ($55.6 million US).