Narratives about death and loss require sensitivity and handling with care. However, the influence of the specific language employed within such narratives is not well understood. To help address this gap, this article details the findings of two complementary studies. Study 1 examined the ways in which the 2014 Malaysian Airline MH370 air tragedy is linguistically defined and constructed in a number of newspapers in Malaysia and the UK. Study 2 explored 50 Malaysian and 50 UK students’ attitudes towards the tragedy through the analysis of keyword responses. The findings of study 1 suggest an overall tendency within UK newspapers to construct simplistic binary classifications of ‘capable us’ and ‘incapable others’ whereas the Malaysian broadsheets frequently highlighted the Malaysian authorities’ expert management of the crisis. By contrast, both Malaysian and UK students’ attitudinal responses demonstrated a greater depth of emotional engagement with the tragedy through the use of affective language.