March 18, 2014 00:00 By Martin Khor
Poignant stories of those on board flight MH370 emerge as the search goes on
World attention has focused on the missing Malaysia Airlines plane for more than a week now. For Malaysians, it’s been a tense and intense experience.
Of the many aspects surrounding the disappearance of MH370, the most deeply felt and painful is the fate of loved family members and friends.
Having to endure the sorrow, mixed with uncertainty over what happened, are Malaysians, Chinese and citizens of many other countries who have relatives on board.
As long as MH370 is not found, there is hope, however distant as the days go by, that the plane could have somehow landed somewhere, and that the missing people are safe. “Miracles” do happen, after all.
Many years ago, when news came of the crash of a small private plane, newspapers published obituaries of the life and career of passenger Tan Sri Ghazali Shafee, Malaysia’s former home minister.
The next day he walked out of the jungle having survived the crash.
Amidst the many stories that the plane possibly flew over the Indian Ocean, there was also an article quoting an analyst who is convinced the plane may have landed somewhere.
Family members of the missing passengers have been recounting memories of their loved ones. There is the story of the young couple, who married in 2012, on their way to their delayed honeymoon in China.
Another poignant story is the heartbreaking tweets that a young daughter has been sending to her missing father, the plane’s chief steward.
“Come home daddy, it’s the only thing I want,” tweeted Maria Nari the day the plane went missing.
On subsequent days the tweets continued. “Daddy, you’re all over the news. Come home fast so you can read them!”
“Daddy it’s been 48 hours, don’t forget to eat your dinner, you must be starving.” “Normally at this hour he would tell me this, don’t sleep so late, OK? Goodnight, daddy.”
The focus has been on the fate of missing passengers. But there were also 12 crew members on board. We usually take airline crew almost for granted.
Maria’s tweets remind us that the crew take more risks, flying almost daily and handed full responsibility for passengers’ safety.
Yes, it is easy to forget that there are risks in flying. We are told that modern aircraft are now very safe and that we are far more likely to die in a car than in a plane. Few of us listen when the crew demonstrate safety procedures.
We seldom if ever entertain thoughts that the plane we are on will get into trouble, let alone crash.
MH370 removes that complacency. Incidents, fatal ones, can and do happen. And they can happen to someone you know or are close to – even to you yourself. Any of us who travel by air might have been on that ill-fated flight.
“And I’ll show you, with so many reasons why/ There but for fortune, go you and I,” sings Joan Baez.
It was pure chance that five passengers who were booked that night did not turn up, missed the flight. They made way for four others who were on standby.
The disappearance of flight MH370 has caused a lot of frustration, especially to the families of the missing, with so little information trickling out even after so many days.
There are contradictions in many strands of the information given by different people, denials of rumours spread by the media, false leads when debris floating in the seas turned out to be unrelated to the plane.
Malaysia has been criticised by international media and aviation experts for giving out information that is conflicting, too little and too delayed. In response the authorities say there is too much unfounded speculation, little reliable information to give out, and sensitive data has to be corroborated and confirmed first.
For Malaysia, this is a supreme test of its performance under stress and under the global spotlight. One lesson is that its crisis management, collaboration with other countries and communicating with the media and the public all have to be improved.
For the global public, the most intriguing aspect of MH370 is the rapidly changing story of what happened to the plane.
There have been many dramatic twists and turns in the theories and narrative of what happened, pieced together from data and signals tracked from the plane by military radar.
The story keeps changing, as more information emerges. First, MH370 lost contact and must have crashed in the sea half way between Vietnam and Malaysia. Then came news that the plane may have turned around and tried to head back to KL.
Next was the sensational information that a plane (that could be MH370) had crossed the peninsula from the East to the Straits of Malacca, northwest of Penang.
Then came the astonishing reports the aircraft may have flown on for four or five hours, or over 3,000 kilometres, after losing contact when it was over the sea northeast of Kota Baru.
The plane may have flown over the Indian Ocean, possibly near the Andaman Islands.
This is the strangest incident in recent aviation history, a fact stranger than fiction, except that the fact itself is still not revealed.
Most people love a mystery, especially one in real life rather than a book, and one which does not seem to have an ending.
First, where is the plane? Second, how did it get there? Third, who or what incident caused it to get there and why?
Even after the plane is found, on land or under the sea, the questions will continue to reverberate for a long time, until all the answers are found.