I’m a pretty hardened human being. I’ve gone to conflict zones and disaster areas for my job as a journalist and I’ve seen quite devastating scenes with my own eyes. As much as I sympathise and feel for the people involved, I have always felt that I could separate my emotions from the situation. But things in my life have changed. It’s quite surprising to see how getting married and having a child can change your entire outlook of life.
So, I got the call at 8:30am last Saturday from one of our executive editors, Noor Azam Shairi, while I was having breakfast with a friend and my book publisher.
“Zan, I think we have to go in today. A plane went missing,” he said.
Flight MH370 had departed from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12:40am and had gone missing nearly 2 hours into the journey. Journalistic instinct kicked in and I rushed to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch the first press conference… in my pyjamas. What ended up happening was me eventually staying at KLIA for three days (and the first day, I was doing all my live reports on camera in my pyjama t-shirt).
The scene was utter chaos. Reporters and cameramen were swarming all over the airport and at the attached Sama-Sama Hotel where the press conference was held.
After the first press conference, I decided to head out to the airport departure terminal where the airlines had setup a holding area for families of the passengers on MH370.
When I got there, reporters and cameramen had gathered all around the area and it was cordoned off by security personnel and police.
Family members started trickling in and you could notice them through their obvious and understandable look of distraught and stress.
It really didn’t help their emotional condition much when all the reporters and cameramen swarmed around them when they arrived.
I have to admit of being guilty of this too, but I made sure to immediately step away if they indicated they weren’t willing to speak to the press (some family members did agree).
But what affected me most was on the next day when a few members of the press (me included) were allowed in to the hall during Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor’s visit with the families.
The scene was one of the most heart-breaking I had ever seen. Here were hundreds of people waiting in agony for news of their missing loved ones.
They didn’t know if their mother, father, son, daughter, brother, sister, granddaughter, grandson or cousin were still alive or dead.
Tears and muffled cries was the agenda of the day and there was not a dry eye in sight, even amongst the airline staff, volunteers and the media.
Even Astro AWANI’s cameraman on duty, Farhan Omar, couldn’t hold back his emotions. And our cameramen are amongst the most macho men in the world (self-claimed by them).
“How are you going to hold back your tears when you see them sobbing for their loved ones?” he said at the end of that day.
My own heart ached that day when I saw the families in that hall. And I somehow could almost experience the pain they were going through.
I cannot imagine how dreadful it would be like if my three year old Athena had to grow up without me or my wife, Jasmine, around.
Even worse, I don’t know how I would cope if I had to go through life without having Athena or Jasmine around.
And at this point in time, for the families of the passengers who were on flight MH370, that possibility could turn out to be just too possible. So my heart is with them now. Stay strong.