The endless pain of unexplained loss: MH370 one year later
WATCH ABOVE: 16×9’s “Without a Trace”
On the evening of March 7, 2014, Steve Wang turned on his smartphone and found a voice message from his mother, who was vacationing in Nepal. “I’ll be landing in Beijing at around 6:30 tomorrow morning,” she told him. “Please come and get me. And bring a coat. I don’t have one with me.”
Wang was tired, so he asked his father if he would pick her up. Then he went to bed.
He awoke the next morning to the sound of a key in the door. “They must be back,” he said to himself. He looked at his phone. It was shortly after 8 a.m. Then he checked flight arrivals on his laptop. MH370, it said, had been delayed. “That’s odd,” he thought.
“Something is wrong.”
Wang got up and found his father sitting at the computer. “I think something happened,” his father said. “I waited at the airport until 8:00, but there was no information so I came home.”
“My brain suddenly went empty,” Wang said in a recent interview with 16×9. “I never heard of such a thing. A plane going missing!” He spent the next few hours on his laptop, with a growing sense of dread. He found a special emergency support number on the Internet. “I called it dozens of times. But nobody answered.”
Much the same thing was happening with hundreds of family members in Beijing and Kuala Lumpur—the Malaysian capital where Flight 370 had originated. A pattern of evasive or non-answers and sympathetic shrugs from officials was creating a panic among the next-of-kin who had gathered at the two airports. People were crying. Chain-smoking. Begging anyone in a uniform for news. “Everybody was helpless,” Wang said. “It was chaos.”
WATCH BELOW: American pilot Michael Exner of Boulder, Colorado, gave 16×9 access to a simulation of what would happen to a Boeing 777 jetliner in the event of a loss of fuel when flying at 35,000 feet. This scenario is what some experts believe may have been the final moments of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 as it flew over the South Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014.
That chaos, as he called it, has never completely gone away, at least, for the families. The aviation mystery of the ages is about to enter its second year—a mystery even more compelling than the disappearance of famed flier Amelia Earhart in the Pacific Ocean in 1937. The official search for Earhart lasted 17 days. The search for MH370 never really stopped. And there’s no end in sight.
So what do we know? The last human communication from MH370 was a terse “Good night, Malaysia 370” at 1:19 a.m. local time on the morning of March 8. Then, a yawning silence. Someone switched off the plane’s communications systems two minutes later as the Boeing 777 entered Vietnamese airspace. A satellite then traced its inexplicable flight south over the Indian Ocean. Presumably, after several hours, the fuel tanks emptied and the 200-ton aircraft—with one of the best safety records in the skies—plunged into the water.
To the anxious family members, like Steve Wang, and Sarah Bajc, who lost her partner Philip Wood, this scenario is all conjecture. The next-of-kin are all living in a world of “ambiguous loss,” as psychologists call it. A world where nothing is certain and everything, however awful, is possible. Wang still clings to the infinitesimal possibility of a hijacking—his mother held hostage somewhere, waiting for rescue. Bajc thinks the plane may have followed a northern, rather than a southern route, with a landing on the Asian landmass. She talks darkly about a cover-up.
“There’s no other explanation,” she says, “for the behaviour of the investigation team and the government and how they’ve treated the families.”
WATCH BELOW: Even after a year, Sarah Bajac rejects some of the more likely scenarios of what may have happened to the plane.
Wang rejects the widely-held idea that the pilot or co-pilot may have mounted a bizarre suicide mission. “I don’t believe people could do such things,” he says. “Why did he just keep flying for more than 8 hours, and fly into a place where people cannot be found? I don’t believe it. It makes no sense.”
But suicide flights by disturbed pilots are not unknown. Investigators say it’s happened at least four times since 1997. The most serious one was Egypt Air Flight 990 in October, 1999. A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation suggested that moments after the captain left the flight deck on takeoff from JFK Airport, a relief first officer sent the plane into a rapid descent and crashed. The reasons are unknown. All 217 aboard were killed. Egyptian authorities strongly disputed the suicide story.
For some victims of ambiguous loss, no possibility is too outlandish.
“When something terrible happens that you don’t understand, your mind dwells on it until you come up with a solution,” Toronto psychologist Jordan Peterson said. “A lot of the systems in our brains that are responsible for negative emotion . . . hold on to things we don’t understand and then repeat them to other parts of the brain, which is what you feel as involuntary thinking—over and over again—until there’s a solution generated.”
So the families of the missing experience endless fear, endless grief and endless frustration. In their minds, to acknowledge that a loved one is dead might even seem a kind of betrayal.
WATCH BELOW: As a crash investigator for the US National Transportation Safety Board, Greg Feith spent years studying the causes and effects of airplane disasters. 16×9 spoke to him on the occasion of the anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.
Peterson’s advice: “Narrow your timeframe. Don’t be thinking what your life is going to be like six months down the road or three years down the road. Pay attention to today, tomorrow and next week . . . Make this day as good as you possibly can and then the next day as good as you possibly can and then over time you’ll be able to stretch that out again.”
Steve Wang, however, doesn’t buy that prescription. He says he is ready to wait “for my whole life” for a resolution. And he believes his children, grandchildren and even his great-grandchildren will be looking for the truth, if they have to, making flight MH370 a mystery resonating through the generations.
16×9’s “Without a Trace” airs this Saturday at 7pm.
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