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‘Pulling plug on search ops for missing plane cannot bring closure’

The search for MH370 was suspended in June this year and it is likely to remain the world’s greatest aviation mystery.


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Updated: July 19, 2018

On the fourth anniversary of the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, Malaysia reaffirmed its commitment to seek justice for family members of those who perished in the tragedy, even as families of the missing MH370 plane are disappointed at the search operations being suspended.

On July 17, 2014, the MH17 plane was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur when it was shot down over a conflict zone in eastern Ukraine by a Russian Buk missile. All 298 people on board were killed.

“Not a single day passes without us remaining ever resolute to seek justice as we owe it to the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew on board,” Malaysia’s Transport Minister Anthony Loke was quoted as saying by The Star. Loke said the government will not rest until “we bring closure to this tragedy”.

A statement in this regard was also issued by the G7 ministers ahead of the summit between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin earlier this week. It said Russia must “account for its role” in the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine and cooperate with efforts to establish truth and justice.

But as with the other Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 lost barely four months before MH17, closures are never easy for those who have lost their loved ones in such a tragic manner.

Flight MH370 had 239 people on board and was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 when air traffic control staff lost contact with it. The search for the missing plane was suspended in June this year, and it is likely to remain the world’s greatest aviation mystery.

KS Narendran lost his wife Chandrika on MH370. He has documented the trauma of losing a loved one in a memoir -“Life After MH370: Journeying Through a Void”.

Narendran spoke to Asia News Network about why the affected families cannot rest till there is a credible explanation for the loss of MH370 and how disappointing was Malaysia government’s decision to not extend the search for MH370.

How has life been after MH370?

To the casual observer, ‘business as usual’ I guess, since the daily chores of existence are upon me unerringly and I think I have responded reasonably well.

I have experienced a multitude of emotions in search of a new ‘normal’ – the rage I have experienced vis-a-vis authorities, the sense of indignity that I and others have felt in the way that families have been dealt with, the struggle with not having answers, and caught between pressing on for answers to MH370 and letting it remain a mystery. Despair, loneliness…It has taken quite a while for the loss of my wife to sink in at an emotional level and any number of times I have simply had to pause, allow for some recollection of a past to come by, linger and then pass.

It has also been an extended period of thinking through what I now seek from life, what seems worthwhile, meaningful. The search has been for what can energise me, sustain me. The idea of ‘us’ has had to be redrawn and this has been a tough task. Keeping things just as they used to be was the way for a while but this amounted to a denial of changed circumstances. So, even the structuring of the day has had to undergo changes over time.

Are search operations a nagging reminder of a tragic memory you are trying to erase? Or is it important to get answers?

I think it is extremely important and urgent to find answers. Affected families cannot rest easy till there is a credible explanation to the loss of MH370 with 239 human beings on board. If something like MH370 has happened once, we have no assurance that it cannot happen again. Knowing what happened may help us prevent a recurrence. It is also extremely important to fix accountability for all actions that led to MH370 becoming untraceable, and for the failed search.

Given that there are many conspiracy theories about MH370, what do you think really happened to the plane? Do you think it was an act of sabotage or terrorism?

This is a tough one. There isn’t much to go by in the public domain for me to take a view that helps reconcile all that we have been told or come across through the press and media.

Having said that, I am inclined to lean on the possibility that the aircraft deviated from its set path to Beijing due to ‘human intervention’. It was possibly commandeered, going by some accounts of the route it took. Terrorism – it is hard to tell though the incident is being investigated. Sabotage? Suicide? I honestly can’t tell. Part of the agony is in not knowing what happened, why, and if people or groups or states were actively involved in the disappearance of a modern, safe and technologically superior commercial aircraft – who are they?

Malaysia officially ended the search operations in June. Does that mean a sort of closure for those who lost their loved ones?

Contrary to expectations, the new government in Malaysia wasted no time in shutting out any possibility of extending the search for MH370 and indicated that a final report on the search and investigation will be presented soon. This was of course deeply disappointing.

The MH370 families had hoped for a fresh eye to go over all aspects/ events leading up to and following the disappearance of MH370, removing the persistent taint of a cover up, a clearer picture of accountability for any gaps found at all stages, and most importantly, a commitment to find the plane and come up with credible answers to explain the plane’s disappearance.

I understand that the government has walked back somewhat and said it might be open to future proposals for search should a case be made out with new information.

Finding itself in the midst of a financial crisis, Malaysia may want to focus on shoring up its economy, and not allow issues such as MH370 to become a distraction.  

The Final Report in essence is likely to tell us this: Sorry, we didn’t find the plane, We don’t quite know what happened. We don’t know who or what was responsible for the plane’s disappearance. Families, sorry again, we couldn’t find your loved ones. We have now been asked to pack up. So, ta-ta. Follow our recommendations. Fly safe. Good luck. Thank you for your patience and cooperation.

I can’t imagine how pulling the plug on a search and investigation that has been unsuccessful so far brings closure to families. For many, many families, concrete evidence pointing to the loss of a loved one is emotionally and culturally an essential component. So the official end of search for MH370 merely extends the notion of prolonged absence of a family member, and the suspension of any reckoning with the reality of loss, and a postponement of final goodbyes. ‘Not knowing’ keeps family members in an information void. This entails a perpetual effort to seek information, and generate satisfactory answers, a process that is tiring but can’t be given up. The futility of it can be infuriating.



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Lamat R Hasan
About the Author: Lamat is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network.

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