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MH370: Families told their loved ones were feared dead via text.

This morning we learned that the relatives of passengers and crew of flight MH370 found out about their loved ones’ probable deaths via text message.

According to news reports, Malaysia Airlines sent families this text message:

The full text read:

The families were informed by SMS of the plane’s fate

“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s prime minister, new analysis of satellite data suggests the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean.

On behalf of all of us at Malaysia Airlines and all Malaysians, our prayers go out to all the loved ones of the 226 passengers and of our 13 friends and colleagues at this enormously painful time.

We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain. We will continue to provide assistance and support to you, as we have done since MH370 first disappeared in the early hours of March 8, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

The ongoing multinational search operation will continue, as we seek answers to the questions which remain. Alongside the search for MH370, there is an intensive investigation, which we hope will also provide answers.

We would like to assure you that Malaysia Airlines will continue to give you our full support throughout the difficult weeks and months ahead.

Once again, we humbly offer our sincere thoughts, prayers and condolences to everyone affected by this tragedy.”

The news comes in the wake of various sightings (via satellite and planes) of possible debris in the Southern Indian Ocean, around 2,500 kilometres southwest of Perth.

Since the news of the text message broke this morning, there have been numerous questions asked about the medium chosen by Malaysia Airlines to convey this information to families; many of whom were desperately hoping for a miracle.

Could there have been a more humane way to go about it? Could the relatives not have been told in person? Could they not have been given a phone call?

Writing for The Conversation, The University of Liverpool’s Head of the Institute of Psychology Peter Kinderman said the medium would have been chosen as a way to control unconfirmed rumours.

Kinderman writes:

The argument for sending everyone a text message is that you don’t want the news to drip out in an uncoordinated way so you can see why they’d say, “Let’s have a single message.”

It sounds brutal, it sounds like a bad way to do things and it could seem ill-advised, but one of the things that is really bad for people is to have uncontrolled rumours. So I can see why you’d want to give this message very clearly and in a way you can literally take away. But it’s important that the families are taken aside, told what they need to know and have it followed up with written information.

But there are other limitations, apart from the image that this conveys. Anyone who receives that text message would immediately have their questions. If you’re sending someone a text message, every single person will have a different question: When did you decide? Have you seen (the) bodies? Is this based on statistical probability? Do you know why? All of the questions will come out and those are not easy to respond to via text message.

The first thing the families need now is information – they need information more than anything else. Authorities need to tell them as much as they know, as clearly as they can.

Peter Kinderman

The second thing they need is to have a sense of community and shared support for each other. When people go through shared tragedies, those tragedies are somewhat easier to bear if you’re part of a community. At this stage, I wouldn’t necessarily try to offer them therapy or counselling, I’d try to offer them facts and try to build a sense of community.

We mustn’t second-guess people’s psychological reactions. As a psychologist, I wouldn’t try to interpret those reactions. Whatever is happening should be considered normal.

Malaysia Airlines has since confirmed that phone calls and in-person briefings were also made to the families of victims.

Our thoughts are with them at this incredibly horrible time.

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