A decade after MH370 disappeared, Malaysia pushes for renewed search for plane

Ten years have passed since Jacquita Gonzales hugged her husband, Malaysia Airlines flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, before he left their Petaling Jaya home on March 8, 2014. Gomes was among the 239 passengers and crew who were on board MH370, a Beijing-bound flight operated by the Malaysian flag carrier that disappeared from radar not long after taking off from Kuala Lumpur that night.
Malaysia pushes for renewed search:- Ten years have passed since Jacquita Gonzales hugged her husband, Malaysia Airlines flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, before he left their Petaling Jaya home on March 8, 2014. [RFA]
Malaysia pushes for renewed search:- Ten years have passed since Jacquita Gonzales hugged her husband, Malaysia Airlines flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, before he left their Petaling Jaya home on March 8, 2014. [RFA]

Malaysia pushes for renewed search:- Ten years have passed since Jacquita Gonzales hugged her husband, Malaysia Airlines flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, before he left their Petaling Jaya home on March 8, 2014.

Gomes was among the 239 passengers and crew who were on board MH370, a Beijing-bound flight operated by the Malaysian flag carrier that disappeared from radar not long after taking off from Kuala Lumpur that night.

“Still fresh in my memory, but time flies. My grandkid who was only 3 years old at the time has grown up to become a 13-year-old teenager. I still pine for closure, but I have to face the reality that he is no longer with us,” she told BenarNews.

A decade on, the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines flight remains unsolved. In the hours, days and weeks after the Boeing 777 vanished, a massive multinational sea-and-air search ensued in Indian Ocean waters off western Australia, where the plane is believed to have crashed after veering off course and running out of fuel. 

Jacquita said the disappearance of MH370 led to widespread speculation, searches and investigations – but no conclusive answers other than a few pieces of wreckage found washed ashore on islands in the Indian Ocean and along the African coast. 

During a ceremony on Sunday to mark the 10th anniversary of the flight’s disappearance, hundreds of next of kin, relatives and supporters gathered at a shopping center in Subang Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur. They said their hope was renewed after Transport Minister Anthony Loke Siew Fook assured them that searches for the aircraft might resume. 

Loke said he would meet the U.S.-based seabed exploration company Ocean Infinity Ltd., which had conducted a four-month fruitless search in 2018, as soon as possible before bringing the proposal to the cabinet for approval of the cost, incurred only if the vanished airliner is located.

“If they can find the place, the cost is something the government has to bear. I don’t see any hindrance,” Loke said.

Disappearance

MH370’s pilot made his final contact with air traffic control at 1:19 a.m. while flying over the South China Sea.

His final words were “Good night, Malaysian Three Seven Zero.” No distress signals were received.

After it veered off course, the plane appears to have passed over the northern tip of Sumatra and traveled in a southerly direction until it ran out of fuel. A three-year joint probe by Malaysia, Australia and China was suspended in January 2017.

The Malaysian government’s Flight 370 Safety Investigation team released a 495-page report which found that MH370 flew for almost 20 minutes unmonitored by air traffic centers as it crossed between Malaysian and Vietnamese airspace.

In addition, Kuala Lumpur air traffic control failed to initiate the required emergency phases and contact the Royal Malaysian Air Force in a timely manner after realizing that something was amiss.

The report acknowledged there were 27 significant debris recovered including debris confirmed to be from the aircraft along with 15 others labeled as “almost certain” and “highly likely.” The debris were found as far as north as the eastern coast of Tanzania and far south as the eastern coast of South Africa.

Earlier reports claimed the flight’s transponder had been turned off 40 minutes into what was to be a six-hour flight. Instead it flew for nearly eight hours and its last transmission showed it flying south over the Indian Ocean.

On Monday, Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim reiterated that a search would be renewed if there was a compelling case and evidence on the missing aircraft.

“It is an issue affecting the lives of people and whatever needs to be done must be done,” he said during a joint news conference in Melbourne with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The flight carried 153 Chinese nationals along with 38 from Malaysia, seven from Indonesia, six from Australia, five from India, and four from France along with other nationalities.

In a statement Sunday night after the anniversary ceremony, Oliver Plunkett, CEO of Ocean Infinity, said his company felt it was now “in a position to return to the search” for MH370. He said it submitted a proposal to the Malaysian government to resume operations.

“We hope to get back to the search soon,” Plunkett said. 

In January 2018, the government agreed to pay Ocean Infinity up to U.S. $70 million (280 million ringgit) to find wreckage of MH370.

Impact ‘seen years later’

Calvin Shim, 48, whose wife Christine Tan was a crew member on MH370, said his family’s grief remains.

“Nothing prepares you for the effect of experiencing a high-profile tragedy like this. The impact can only be seen years later,” he told BenarNews.

He said he had tried to hide his grief for the sake of his children, who were 6 and 8 years old at the time.

“[But] I was told by our specialist, she is experiencing the sudden loss of emotional support from her mother,” said Shim of his daughter, adding that both children continue to be treated for emotional distress.

Jacquita, 61, who battled breast cancer twice – first in 2006 and then again in 2016 – has decided it is time for closure. Her cancer is in remission.

Next month, she will be holding a memorial for Patrick at St Xavier’s Church in Petaling Jaya. They were married at the church in 1985, so this will bring their journey full circle.

“Since there are no ashes, no final resting place … the wedding ring is symbolic. At least the family would have a place to light a candle during his birthday or anniversaries,” she said, adding that she had given most of Patrick’s clothes away. 

“I have kept his luggage bag, his name tag and work shoes,” she said, adding he was not wearing his wedding band so she has that as well.

Bai Shuan Fu, a Chinese man whose wife, Han Ai Chin was on the plane, urged the Malaysian government to continue its efforts.

“We don’t want more speculation. We want evidence and truth,” he told BenarNews.

A second air disaster

Four months after MH370 vanished, Malaysia became the center of the aviation world again.

On July 17, 2014, a missile fired from territory in eastern Ukraine then controlled by Russian-backed rebels downed a second Malaysia Airlines plane, flight MH17, as it flew to Kuala Lumpur International Airport from Amsterdam, killing all 298 people on board.

Fuad Sharuji, a former crisis director at Malaysia Airlines, had to face both of those back-to-back air disasters when he was still performing that job in 2014.

“One was wrapped in mystery, conspiracy theories, lots of unknowns and no real answers,” he told BenarNews. “MH17, on the other hand, wreckage, bodies ... it was gruesome, yes, but we could do the recovery work, identify the victims, facilitate all those post-mortem procedures and help with the burials and cremations. 

“We could be hands-on,” he said.

Fuad, 68, keeps in touch with aviation industry officials and with families who lost loved ones on MH370 and MH17. 

Fuad supports the government’s commitment to keep searching for MH370.

“Getting the cabinet approvals is a positive step. The plane’s been gone for a decade, but this renewed effort gives us hope,” he said. “Doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy, but at least there’s a chance.” RFA/SP

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