News / Asia

Families of Missing Airliner Passengers Face Trauma as Uncertainty Deepens

A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014.
A relative of a passenger onboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 cries at the Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing March 8, 2014.
Cecily Hilleary
Families of passengers from the missing Malaysian jet are in agony as the uncertainty to the plane’s fate drags on.

When a family member doesn’t know the fate of a loved one, it places them in what psychologists call “boundary ambiguity.” 

“Think about having a husband,” said Anne Speckhard, an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical School and an expert in stress responses to disasters. 

“If he’s there with you, he’s physically present and psychologically present,” she explained. “But if he goes off to war, you keep him psychologically present. But when you get a notice from the military that your husband is missing in action, what do you do?”

Speckhard has worked with and family members and survivors of the 2002 siege of a Moscow theatre by Chechen rebels and a 2004 school siege in Beslan, Russia, when Chechens took approximately 1,200 children and adults hostage.

Speckhard sees similarities between the families of the victims of those sieges and the families of the missing airline passengers. 

“At Beslan, it was very wrenching, because school children were inside the school and their mothers were outside the perimeter, where a fence had been put up, and they couldn’t get to their children,” Speckhard said.

The friends and family of the missing airline passengers are suffering in a similar manner, not knowing if their relatives are alive or dead, she said.

Malaysia defends itself

Malaysian authorities have defended themselves against mounting criticisms over how it is handling families.

Malaysia’s special envoy to China held a closed-door briefing for family members this week, saying his government has been “very transparent” in the way it manages information.

Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting also promised to update families regularly and not keep them waiting “too long.” 

The airline says it has set up a family support center offering 24-hour assistance to any one in need. The airline says it will not only telephone families with any developing news but will now send them SMS alerts.

The second of the two objects spotted by the Australian satellite.The second of the two objects spotted by the Australian satellite.
x
The second of the two objects spotted by the Australian satellite.
The second of the two objects spotted by the Australian satellite.
The company has promised to fly families to Australia if the objects picked up on satellite images in the Indian Ocean are located and determined to be part of the missing plane.

The airline also blamed conflicting media reports and the circulation of conspiracy theories on the Internet for heightening families’ distress.
 
Acting transport Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein has admitted that dealing with distraught families is no easy task, saying he has consulted with French aviation officials who arrived in Malaysia this week to participate in the international search for the missing plane.

But disaster stress expert Speckhard said the next-of-kin have also been getting mixed messages form assorted unverified reports that their friends and family members might still be alive.

“The message that they could be held somewhere, that this plane might be hiding somewhere, so they can’t start the grief process,” she said.  “And we know from research, this isn’t good for you.”

The stress of not knowing won’t subside, Speckhard said, until family are able to redefine the boundaries of their family—that is, make the difficult decision on whether the missing member is still part of the family or gone forever.

Only when they decide can they begin the process of grieving and begin to find closure, she said. 

“Authorities should expect family members to be crazed, and authorities should think that through and get a good psychologist and social workers,” she said. “They should be handling those people with kid gloves.”



 

You May Like

Turkey's Erdogan: Women Not Equal to Men

Speaking at conference in Istanbul, President Erdogan says Islam has defined a position for women: motherhood More

Ahead of SAARC Summit, Subdued Expectations

Some regional analysts say distrust between Pakistani, Indian officials has slowed SAARC's progress over the year More

Philippines Leery of Development on Reef Reclamation in S. China Sea

Chinese land reclamation projects in area have been ongoing for years, but new satellite imagery reportedly shows China’s massive construction project More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid