Relatives of passengers on downed Malaysian plane berate officials

KUALA LUMPUR Fri Jul 18, 2014 2:09am IST

1 of 3. People, who said they believed their relatives were on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, speak to a police officer for more information about the crashed plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang July 18, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Olivia Harris

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KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Dazed and disbelieving, relatives of passengers aboard the Malaysian airliner downed in Ukraine gathered at the Kuala Lumpur airport early on Friday, demanding information about what happened and getting little response.

The Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 295 people on board was to have landed in Kuala Lumpur at 6:10 a.m. (2210 GMT Thursday) on a flight from Amsterdam. It went down near the Ukraine-Russia border and all aboard were killed.

"I saw the news on TV," said Akma Mohammad Noor, a woman whose sister, Rahimah, was travelling on the flight. "She was supposed to travel with her son but he did not want to go."

Like many Malaysian Muslims, Rahimah was coming to her home country for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam's biggest annual celebration, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, on July 28.

"We were supposed to celebrate Raya (the festival) together," Noor said, weeping. Her sister, who has lived in Geneva for three decades, was coming home for the first time in five years, she said.

Ukraine accused "terrorists" - militants fighting to unite eastern Ukraine with Russia - of shooting down the plane. The rebels denied responsibility.

The loss of flight MH-17 is the second disaster for Malaysia Airlines this year, following the mysterious loss of flight MH-370. It disappeared in March with 239 passengers and crew on board on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Other relatives in Kuala Lumpur on Friday were incensed with the airline for not giving information about who was on the flight.

One man was berating officials.

"Is MAS stupid?" he shouted, referring to the Malaysia Airlines System, the official name of the airline. "We just want to know the name list from MAS."

He said his sister, brother-in-law and a two-year-old baby were believed to be on board.

"Facebook is more efficient than MAS' media network," said another man waiting with a female relative for news.

"It's so funny. It's really a laughing stock. We need to know the list. The list. That is all."

Malaysia Airlines said earlier air traffic controllers lost contact with the flight at 1415 GMT as it flew over eastern Ukraine towards the Russian border. Flight tracking data indicated it was at its cruising altitude of 33,000 feet when it disappeared.

(Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editring by Robert Birsel)

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