Families of MH370 missing passengers struggle to keep hope alive amid epidemic
Published: Mar 08, 2020 03:54 PM

A relative of a victim of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 calls for authorities to contine the search for the missing aircraft, six years after it disappeared in the southern Indian Ocean. Photo: Courtesy of Jiang Hui

For the first time since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared six years ago, Chinese relatives of the missing passengers were unable to attend in person the annual memorial gatherings in Kuala Lumpur due to travel and crowd restrictions amid the novel coronavirus epidemic. 

Instead, holding signs saying "Resume Paid Search," relatives of the 153 Chinese people who were on board the missing flight marked the sixth anniversary of its disappearance with prerecorded videos and a livestreamed event online, and continued their appeal to keep the search alive.

Jiang Hui, whose mother was on the ill-fated plane, is one of the main initiators of the online anniversary.

"March 8 is a day full of ambivalence. On the one hand, it serves as a chance to express our feelings while drawing attention, but on the other, we fear it will tear open everyone's wounds again," Jiang told the Global Times. 

"Sometimes we get together to comfort each other, but our deepest fear is gradually being forgotten,"  Jiang said.

Chinese family members shared their video package with their Malaysia counterparts as part of the livestreamed 6th Annual MH370 Remembrance Event held on Saturday afternoon in Kuala Lumpur, this year closed to the public due to COVID-19. 

To take part in the online memorial, some of the Chinese senior relatives made intense efforts to learn how to use social media, as well as filming and editing techniques, the Global Times found.

A few widowed seniors who lost their family on board MH370 were only able to provide a voice message or show support in other ways.

Li Eryou, who lost his only son in the accident, turned himself from a rural farmer who had never accessed online networks into a proficient user of social media. He has posted hundreds of memorial poems for his son on Sina Weibo.

Though struggling to survive on a monthly government subsistence allowance of 300 yuan ($43.3), Li has refused to sign a settlement with Malaysia Airlines that would give him compensation of nearly 2 million yuan. 

This 64-year-old senior has worked late into the night over the past three months to make money for his planned journey to Malaysia to attend the three-hour memorial event. But the coronavirus obstructed his way.

In his video sent to the Global Times, Li called on the Malaysian authorities to recruit international organizations to resume the search effort on a "no-find, no-fee" basis in a video he sent to the Global Times. 

"I put my hope on the newly elected Malaysian government which I believe to be capable of showing their responsibilities, to deliver love, compassion, honor, and courage to all family members who will never give up on their beloved ones," Li told the Global Times.

Malaysia, China, Australia and the US have all put efforts into the search operation in the difficult environment of the southern Indian Ocean, but all were ultimately in vain.  

After five years of investigation, the Joint Investigation Team was disbanded in November 2018 without answering the real cause for the disappearance of MH370. It said it will not restart any new search in the Indian Ocean until there is new credible evidence of the location of the airliner.

2019 was a year full of frustration for Chinese families, underscored by disbanded investigation teams, the suspension of official meetings with Chinese family members, and the demise of psychological support for those bereaved.

Many of the relatives remain extremely disappointed with the Malaysian government's handling of the disaster, Jiang said. He added that some relatives have already passed away, full of deep pain and regret for not being able to receive closure on this mystery. 

Flight MH370, which was carrying 239 passengers, vanished without a trace en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. It is one of the murkiest aviation tragedies and it triggered the largest search in aviation history.

Meanwhile, the Joint Investigation Team was disbanded in November 2018 without finding the real cause for the disappearance of MH370.

In another development, another Malaysia Airlines aircraft, flight MH17, carrying 283 passengers, was shot down with a Russian-made missile over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014. 

A trial of four suspects, three Russians and one Ukrainian, involved in the downing of MH17 is scheduled in the District Court of The Hague in the Netherlands on Monday, reports said.