Next-of-kin of passengers and crew who were on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 held their fourth remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (Saturday).
It was an afternoon of mixed emotions: fresh hopes raised by a new search for the missing plane alongside unabated feelings of loss and grief.
MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother Anne Daisy was on board the missing plane, highlighted the main message of the day: “We want to remind everyone that MH370 is not history; it is the future.
“It’s very important in the interests of aviation safety that we find MH370 and prevent something like this from happening again.”
As the remembrance event took place, the American private seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity was continuing its search in the southern Indian Ocean.
A previous, and fruitless, underwater search was suspended on January 17 last year after an area spanning 120,000 square kilometres was scoured. The tripartite decision to suspend the search was made by Malaysia, China, and Australia.
In an operation that went on for 1,046 days, the Australian-led search team scoured an area spanning more than 120,000 square kilometres. Not a single trace of MH370 was found.
The only debris that is said to be from MH370 has been retrieved off the coast of Africa.
Ocean Infinity is scouring a new search zone, and has signed a “no cure, no fee” contract with the Malaysian government under which it will receive up to $70 million if it finds MH370 within ninety days of starting its mission.
Speaking on behalf of Chinese next-of-kin, Jiang Hui, whose mother was on board MH370, said yesterday that, if Ocean Infinity doesn’t find the missing plane, a new search fund should be set up and the interest earned on the money in the fund should be used to finance further search operations.
He said that, if MH370 is not found during the current search operation, the Chinese next-of-kin would be urging the Malaysian government to put the $70 million pledged as payment for finding the plane into a new search fund.
Jiang Hui, who lives in Beijing, said he was very grateful that Ocean Infinity was searching for MH370, but added that, in his view, the ninety day period was too short.
“It has been four years, but even if it is ten years, twenty years, or forty years … we will not stop searching,” Jiang Hui said.
He said he hoped the new interim report that is due to be released by the Malaysian government on March 8 would be lengthier and more detailed than the very brief summaries produced in 2017 and 2016.
Jiang Hui says he has managed to get through the past four years thanks to the help provided by other next-of-kin. The Chinese relatives meet regularly and have formed a WeChat group, via which they share information and support each other.
The disappearance of MH370, and the loss of his mother has changed his attitude to life, Jiang Hui says, and has brought home to him the value of family relationships. He says he has only recently started to explain to his seven-year-old daughter what happened to her grandmother.
‘Four years is the same as four hours’
Emotions were close to the surface throughout yesterday’s event and several of the next-of-kin broke down in tears. One of them was Jing Hong Xu from Tianjing, China, whose mother Liu Feng Ying was on board MH370.
Nathan was in tears as she talked about the continuing pain of the loss of her mother. “It could have happened yesterday. I still feel it. Four years for us it’s the same as four hours, four days, or four weeks. We still really, really miss all of the people that we love. We still don’t know what happened to them.
“The way I feel now, I don’t want anyone to have to go through this and that’s why it’s become so important for us, and for me in particular, that we prevent this from happening again … I want all of us to fly safely.”
Yesterday’s event combined personal tributes with talks, dance, and music. There was a moment of silence and next-of-kin lit candles in memory of their loved-ones.
Sheryl Keen, who lives in Perth, Australia, and founded the Aircrash Support Group Australia after her husband – an agricultural pilot – died in a plane crash in 2009, spoke about the roles of family associations in the aftermath of an aviation disaster.
Clinical psychologist Urmilah Das talked about the psychological effects on the relatives of a disaster like the disappearance of MH370, and about “faith, hope, and recovery”.
K.S. Narendran (pictured left), whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, also said it felt like the disappearance of the plane occurred just yesterday.
“So much has happened since and yet so little is known about its fate. So many of us have lost a part of ourselves that we cannot reclaim.”
How, Narendran asked, can the next-of-kin move on.
“For very many of us, the shock and horror, the pain, the grief, the anger and indignation, have been the source of solidarity and strength. The glue. It has been hard to give it up. It hasn’t helped to envision anything anew.”
Narendran spoke about Chandrika, who, he said, lived a life of simplicity “She was large-hearted and generous, principled and practical, direct and considerate. She was feisty and had a zest for life.
“She embodied a deep commitment to the health of the Earth and its people. She was always up for a good fight in the service of fairness, equity, and justice.”
He says he would like every remembrance day to be a threshold – “to invoke the memory of those who lived, and also how they continue to live through us in our daily lives as we attempt to fashion a future”.
Narendran spoke about the freedom that results from forgiveness, which he says comes from strength and is not a sign of weakness, about “snapping out from the grip of nostalgia”, and about “tuning down” anger.
“Staying in a perpetual state of anger burns my insides and blinds me. It has outlived its ability to energise me.
“I do not wish a life laced with bitterness. It’s not a compromise with the search for the truth about MH370, but merely an assertion that my pursuit is beyond the personal.”
Narendran told Changing Times: “I have my bad days, I have my bad moments, but I think, over the last year, I have more than once told myself that I cannot let my living days become captive of either my grief or my memory.”
He said he could see that, for some of the next-of-kin, it was actually getting harder. “There are people who have young children who are coming to recognise that a family member is missing and there are other families who were dependent on somebody who was on the plane.”
Jacquita Gonzales (pictured below right), whose husband Patrick Gomes was an in-flight supervisor on MH370, also expressed her gratitude to the Malaysian government for agreeing to the search by Ocean Infinity.
“They have not given up and neither have we. We will never, never, ever, ever forget all those on board, no matter what. Be it ten years from now or fifteen years from now, they will still be in our hearts, in our prayers, and constantly in our minds.”
Balloons and doves have been released to mark previous MH370 anniversaries. Gonzales said that, this year, the MH370 next-of-kin will be getting involved in an Adopt-a-Seahorse project. “We will be adopting a few seahorses in the name of MH370 and they will be released on the 28th of March.”
The deputy secretary-general at Malaysia’s transport ministry, Mohd Khairul Adib Abd Rahman, and the Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia (CAAM) chairman, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, both spoke at the remembrance event and talked about the continuing endeavours to find MH370.
The CEO of Ocean Infinity, Oliver Plunkett, communicated via a video, which included footage from the Norwegian vessel the company has leased for the search operation, Seabed Constructor, and an explanation of how the search was being conducted.
The Ocean Infinity search
Ocean Infinity is using state-of-the-art technology to search a 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone identified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as being the most likely location of the missing plane.
The company is able to deploy up to eight Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs), capable of operating in depths up to 6,000 metres.
Each HUGIN AUV is 6.2 metres long, weighs 1,850 kilograms, and contains a titanium sphere that protects its electronics from deep-ocean pressure.
Seabed Constructor, which is accompanied by a support vessel, MV Maersk Mariner, arrived at the search area on January 21 and launched the first AUV on January 22.
Ocean Infinity’s contract states that if MH370 is found in the first 5,000 square kilometres searched it will be paid $20 million.
The fee will be $30 million if the plane is found within 10,000 square kilometres and $50 million if it is found within an area of 25,000 square kilometres. If the plane is found outside of the 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone, Ocean Infinity will receive $70 million.
All searches must be completed within 90 days. (This period only comprises the days during which Ocean Infinity is actively searching and does not include time spent going to port to refuel.)
In its update about the new search, Malaysia’s MH370 Response Team said the area covered totalled 8,200 square kilometres as of 25 February 2018 and “no significant contacts” had been identified.
The main focus of the search is the 25,000-square-kilometre priority zone identified by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) as being the most likely location of the missing plane.
If MH370 is not found in the 25,000-square-kilometre zone, the search is expected to continue into an adjacent area further north that has been identified by oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi from the University of Western Australia in Perth as the most likely crash location.
American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, and has collaborated closely with Pattiaratchi, said that, if the search in those first two zones was fruitless, the search would then be extended to an area further north favoured by other independent investigators.
The original southern Indian Ocean search area was defined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat that were based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370. Inmarsat identified a 7th arc, along which it said MH370 was most likely to be found.
Significant doubt has been cast on Inmarsat’s conclusions, however, and the company itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis was correct.
Gibson told Changing Times yesterday: “If the Inmarsat data is correct, I believe that, if they’re able to complete their planned search area from 35.6 degrees south all the way up to 29 degrees south, Ocean Infinity will find the plane.
“If they don’t find it, it probably means that something is wrong with the Inmarsat data or its interpretation.”
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French and Australian next-of-kin were not at this year’s remembrance.
Ghyslain Wattrelos, whose wife Laurence and two of their three children were on board MH370, recently published a book entitled Vol MH370, une vie détournée (Flight MH370, a life hijacked), co-authored with journalist Gaëlle Legenne.
Wattrelos says he is convinced MH370 was shot down. He has written to the French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron, asking what information France has about the disappearance of MH370.
He says he suspects that the French government has information that it is not revealing.
Wattrelos particularly wants to know more about satellite photos that were captured by a French military satellite on March 23, 2014. A range of objects are visible in the images that have been identified as probably man-made.
It was only last year that the government agency Geoscience Australia provided an analysis of the images. Wattrelos wants to know why this took so long.
Given the objects’ proximity to the former underwater search area, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) conducted a drift study to determine their geographic origin so as to provide an indication of where they were likely to have been on March 8, 2014.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said the drift study found that the projected location on March 8 of the objects identified in most of the satellite images was consistent with the search area identified by experts during the MH370 “First Principles Review” meeting¹ in Canberra, Australia, in November 2016.
The Geoscience Australia and CSIRO findings backed up the ATSB’s conclusion at the November meeting that MH370’s location was likely to be north of the area that it spent more than two-and-a-half years searching.