BEIJING — This is what it’s come to for some families of passengers on the vanished Malaysian airliner: Hijacking is now a best-case scenario they are desperately longing for.
As they’ve waited in growing anger and frustration for signs of the missing jet, most families have discussed endlessly and in exhausting detail all possibilities of what might have happened.
And with new evidence this weekend pointing to deliberate action and continued flight for hours after last contact, hopes have surged over the possibility of a secret runway somewhere on an ocean island or some remote rugged countryside.
It is hard to imagine, say many experts. In order for the plane to have flown and landed intact somewhere along the northern of two possible corridors laid out by Malaysian authorities, it would have had to sneak past the defenses and radars of multiple countries and find a runway stretching thousands of feet to touch down on.
But in the absence of any evidence, of even a shred of debris, this is the uncertainty in which the passengers’ families have lived for more than a week.
They say they careen daily between hope and despair. And reality has become a scale onto which each new piece of information is placed and carefully weighed for its effects on the probabilities of survival.
As the days have passed, said one Chinese man who knows a passenger on Flight 370, his friend’s relatives have only clung all the more to the hijacking idea.
“It gives them a thread of hope to hang onto,” he said, speaking anonymously for fear of offending the family.
The families have gathered since the plane’s disappearance in the banquet hall of a Beijing hotel rented by Malaysia Airlines.
Their days have taken on a routine of sorts. Some gossip quietly in groups as they wait for the next briefing. Many pass the time chain smoking, filling the room with plumes and coughs. Volunteers and counselors walk around with fruit and water. A TV is always on, tuned to the latest news on the plane.
But underneath the anxious quiet in the room is seething anger, which bursts to full life each day when officials from Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government file in.
The officials have had water bottles repeatedly thrown at them. Professional translators brought in by the airline have cried after the briefings under the crowd’s angry pressure.
At the latest meeting Sunday morning, at least one family member had to be restrained as she screamed at the officials. Another asked all those who had lost faith in the airline and Malaysian government to stand up, according to reports. Almost half the room rose.
One of the few exceptions to the anger occurred on Friday when airline officials briefed the families on how long survivors could last on the plane’s food and water.
The crowd listened anxiously as airline officials showed slides on an overhead projector explaining the plane’s emergency equipment. There are eight life rafts that can fit 290 people, each raft outfitted with first-aid kits, potable water, biscuits, sugar supplements and flashing signals. There was enough to sustain the passengers for seven days, said airline officials, with everyone in the room fully aware that the search was quickly crossing that threshold.
At Sunday’s meeting, Malaysian Airlines officials said they would no longer be briefing family members because the search had become a criminal investigation based on the newly released evidence.
That prompted much anger. Some relatives, migrant workers from China’s countryside, suggested that the airline officials should be locked away under the type of house arrest the China’s government uses for political dissidents to prevent them from leaving. Others called it a tactic to disperse the family members and keep them from communicating with each other.
On Sunday, there noticeably was more security at the hotel.
Malaysian authorities say they are now focusing their investigation on the plane’s passengers and crew. Few families would say whether they had been approached by Chinese or Malaysian investigators.
Rumors abounded on Sunday, however, that cellphones within the hotel were now being surveilled by Chinese authorities with some reporting strange noises on calls that didn’t exist before.
Two security checkpoints were added at the hotel. And guards checked people for hotel room cards before allowing them to enter the briefing area.
Unsure whether the Malaysian government would assume responsibility for the daily briefings after airline officials leave, many families are now debating their next steps, whether to stay at the hotel, leave for Kuala Lumpur or return home.
For many, it was just one more piece of uncertainty added to their continuing life in limbo.
Liu Liu and Xu Jing contributed to this report.