Malaysia

Five years on: relatives gathered for MH370 remembrance say the search must continue

Next of kin of passengers and crew who were on board the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 gathered in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (Sunday) for a remembrance event to mark the upcoming five-year anniversary of the disappearance of the plane with 239 people on board. They called for the search to go on.

“It’s not history, it’s the future,” was the message conveyed by the organisers, the family support group Voice370.

“It is an occasion to recall and pay tribute to those passengers who are still missing, to thank those who have persevered in supporting the search efforts, and to remind the public that finding the missing plane is a critical step to enhance further civil aviation safety.”

MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014. It was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Grace Subathirai Nathan, whose mother Anne Daisy was on board the missing plane, said the next of kin were imploring the Malaysian government to set funds aside to encourage “no cure, no fee” searches for the plane.

They could, the next of kin suggest, set aside the US$70 million pledged last year as a possible payment to the American private seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity for finding MH370.

Ocean Infinity, Nathan said, want to search again for MH370 on a “no cure, no fee” basis.

Last year, Ocean Infinity searched, and collected data, from an area spanning some 125,000 square kilometres of the southern Indian Ocean, but failed to find MH370.

“If companies like Ocean Infinity want to propose to search for the plane at no cost to the government, we believe this is an offer that the government should take up,” Nathan said.

The CEO of Ocean Infinity, Oliver Plunkett, communicating via a video from the Uruguayan capital Montevideo, spoke about the sense of expectation, excitement and optimism felt at Ocean Infinity when it was out in the southern Indian Ocean searching for MH370.

“I also remember very clearly the massive sense of disappointment at the end in June when we finished, not having found it.

“We haven’t given up hope. We haven’t stopped thinking about it. It is absolutely our intention, if we can, to return to the search.”

Over time, Ocean Infinity had really proven its technology, Plunkett said. “Our operation is far, far stronger than it was 12 months ago.”

The disappearance of MH370 was a mystery that the entire world wanted to know the answer to, Plunkett said.

Malaysia’s transport minister, Anthony Loke Siew Fook, told reporters yesterday that if Ocean Infinity came back with a fresh proposal the Malaysian government was ready to enter discussions with them.

Loke said the Malaysian government had not yet received a new proposal from Ocean Infinity.

He said that funds could not be set aside if a proposal had not yet been made.

“Once we have the proposal then we can talk about that. Right now we cannot be setting aside a fund. There’s no specific proposal.”

He added: “As the Ocean Infinity CEO has mentioned just now in the video, there might be some new technology over the last 12 months so we are prepared to look at that and we are willing to discuss with them.

“If they can convince us that the new technology can be more efficient in terms of the search then we are more than willing to restart the search.

“We cannot be just going out there without any credible leads.”

Anthony Loke (right) with representative of the Chinese next of kin Jiang Hui.

Loke said that whatever information the Malaysian government had was shared in the report published last July. Asked about allegations that important information had been withheld from the report, he said that this was not the case, that there had been no such withholding of any information. “The report was published in full,” he said.

He said as far as that report was concerned, it was final. He said the government would leave it to its technical team to explore what might be a credible lead. “We are waiting for a specific proposal, and particularly from Ocean Infinity.”

Loke told those attending the remembrance event that he had come there “with a very heavy heart”.

He said he wished to reiterate that the operations to locate MH370 had not been abandoned. “We remain ever hopeful that we will be able to find the answers we seek.”

Two pieces of debris were on display yesterday. One was a wing flap found on Pemba Island, Tanzania, by fishermen in June 2016 and the other was the trailing edge section of an outboard flap found by two tourists on Ilôt Bernache in Mauritius, also in 2016.

American amateur investigator Blaine Alan Gibson, who has found numerous pieces of plane debris, said that the flap found in Tanzania was the most important piece of MH370 debris found to date.

Blaine Gibson in front of the wing flap found in Tanzania.

“The reason it is so significant is that it is absolutely confirmed to be from 9M-MRO, which is the aircraft of Malaysia 370. It’s confirmed by matching serial numbers and by the manufacture date.”

The second reason the piece is so significant, Gibson says, is that experts have determined that it was in the retracted position. “It was not deployed as it would be for a landing.”

This, Gibson says, goes against the theory that is still being promoted by numerous media outlets that there was a controlled intact ditching, a “pilot murder–suicide”.

It is astounding, Gibson says, that the controlled ditching theory is still being espoused, and that it is still being argued that the plane was intact under water.

“This piece proves that that did not happen. The other debris found by me and other private citizens include many shattered pieces of the interior cabin, so people who claim that the interior cabin, or the plane, or the fuselage are intact under water, that is also false.”

The smaller piece of debris on display yesterday is one of three pieces that have been confirmed to be from MH370 because of matching serial numbers.

Gibson says all of the debris that has been found is consistent with a high-speed impact that shattered the plane.

K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, said that, unlike in previous years, he was ambivalent about making the trip from Chennai in India to KL for this year’s remembrance event.

“It has been a long haul dealing with loss and rebuilding a life, a task that remains incomplete. What became clear is that lately the cloud of sorrow and despair, the listlessness with life in general, and the restlessness with the MH370 search and investigation has become less intense.

“What remains is the solidarity with the MH370 families, their loss and struggles to cope, to envision a future, and reconstruct their lives.

“This only grows as each nuance in a shared language of loss, grief, and reconstruction becomes more widely shared and understood.”

Narendran said that some of the next of kin, whose will to live was broken by irreconcilable loss, believed they have nothing left to live for.

Among the young, some next of kin had moved on to pursue studies, take up jobs, move home, find partners, and have babies, but many continued to struggle.

“For all of us, knowing what happened to MH370 remains the key to unlock a part of our lives, our energies.

“Our prayers have remained unchanged: find the plane, find the passengers, give us answers to what, why and how, and, if it comes to it, who. Give us the truth.”

There isn’t, in the case of MH370, a Malaysian, Australian, British or American truth, or an Indian or Chinese one.

“There were 239 passengers from 14 countries. An international mix of nationalities. A Boeing 777, an American company’s product. The incident is believed to have occurred in the Indian Ocean, in international waters …”

“It is an event that concerns every airline, every passenger, and perhaps almost every family across the world exposed to civil aviation.”

Narendran continued: “The best tribute we can offer to those we have lost is through demonstrating the will to find credible answers, fix the issues, and assure the world that more lives will not be lost in future to similar incidents.”

Narendran, pictured with Jacquita Gonzales and her granddaughter, Alessandra Faith.

Speaking on behalf of Chinese next of kin, Jiang Hui, whose mother was on board MH370, also called for a new “no cure, no fee” search.

Jiang Hui yesterday launched a new website that has been set up by Chinese next of kin. It will, Jiang Hui says, serve to promote the search for MH370 and the investigation into its disappearance, and bring together information, and it will be a platform on which next of kin can communicate with the outside world.

Jiang Hui will today have a meeting with the chief inspector of the Malaysian Ministry of Transport’s Air Accident Investigation Bureau, Yahaya B. Abdul Rahman.

Jacquita Gonzales, whose husband Patrick Gomes was an in-flight supervisor on MH370, said that it was hard for her to see the pieces of debris, but at least they were items that had washed up and could be studied.

How, Gonzales asks, does anybody move on without an answer. “We need to know what happened to the plane. We need to know why our loved ones are not at home with us anymore.

“This year Patrick would have been sixty years old. He should be around to see his grandson, who has recited a poem for him, and also to see his granddaughter grow up.”

The next of kin yesterday planted a Chengal hardwood sapling to symbolise hope and life, with a view to it being transplanted later in a park in KL.

They also lit 240 candles, 239 for the passengers and crew on board and one for MH370 itself.

Yesterday’s event also included a technical video presentation by experts from the Independent Group about ongoing efforts to localise the MH370 debris field.

There were also presentations by a representative from the National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation in the United States and a member of the Malaysian Bar, who talked about the complexities of aviation law.

There was also a dance performance by the Middle East Dance Academy, and the search-on song was sung by Patrick Leong.

Before the event began, a group of local bikers came into the square at Publika to pay tribute to the next of kin and the loved ones they have lost.

Grace Subathirai Nathan paid a tribute to her mother. “She is the reason that I am still doing this five years on. Her strength and her courage and everything that she did for me and all the values that she has instilled in me have made me the person that I am today,” Nathan said.

Nathan said that she did not want the lives of the 239 people who were on board MH370 to have been lost in vain. “I don’t want a similar incident to ever occur, for anyone to ever be in our shoes ever again because for us this is a wound that cannot heal … we don’t want this pain visited on anyone else.

“Of course we miss our loved ones, but, as time goes on, it has become so much less about us and so much more about all of you because every day more and more people take to the skies.”

It is not an acceptable conclusion in this day and age that a Boeing 777 has vanished into thin air, Nathan says.