March 24, 2014 Updated: March 24, 2014 at 9:48 am
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 jetliner.
Malaysia's prime minister gave that word late Monday in a televised announcement from Kuala Lumpur, saying there was no longer any doubt that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 went down in the southern Indian Ocean.
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.
One woman collapsed and fell on her knees, crying "My son! My son!"
Medical teams arrived at Beijing's Lido hotel with several stretchers and at least one elderly man was carried out of the conference room on one of them, his faced covered by a jacket. Minutes later a middle-aged woman was taken out on another stretcher, her face ashen and her blank expressionless eyes seemingly staring off into a distance.
Most of them refused to speak to gathered reporters and some of them lashed out in anger, urging journalists not to film the scene. Security guards restrained a man with close-cropped hair as he kicked a TV cameraman and shouted, "Don't film. I'll beat you to death!"
Wang Zhen, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia, heard the announcement on television from another hotel where he has been staying.
He said some of the relatives had received a text message in English from the airliner advising of the findings to be announced in a late-night news conference by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Najib said an unprecedented analysis of satellite data concluded that the flight, which disappeared March 8 with 239 people aboard while on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, must have ended in the sea far from any possible landing site.
"My mind is a mess right now. Can we talk later?" he said in a telephone interview.
Nan Jinyan, whose brother-in-law Yan Ling was aboard the flight, said she was prepared for the worst when she heard the Malaysian prime minister would hold a news conference.
"This is a blow to us, and it is beyond description," Nan said.
Associated Press writers Didi Tang and Ian Mader in Beijing, and Todd Pitman in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.