Debris offers little comfort as anxious families recall pain

Madam Dai Shuqin (above) believes her relatives are still alive, while Mr Zhang Yongli (left) says officials have not been helpful. He has attended every meeting for family members and taken enough notes to fill seven books.
Madam Dai Shuqin believes her relatives are still alive, while Mr Zhang Yongli (above) says officials have not been helpful. He has attended every meeting for family members and taken enough notes to fill seven books.ST PHOTOS: ESTHER TEO
Madam Dai Shuqin (above) believes her relatives are still alive, while Mr Zhang Yongli (left) says officials have not been helpful. He has attended every meeting for family members and taken enough notes to fill seven books.
Madam Dai Shuqin (above) believes her relatives are still alive, while Mr Zhang Yongli says officials have not been helpful. He has attended every meeting for family members and taken enough notes to fill seven books.ST PHOTOS: ESTHER TEO

A gaunt-looking Madam Dai Shuqin inhales deeply on a cigarette. The nicotine helps calm nerves frayed by recent reports that a piece of wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 might have washed up on an island in the Indian Ocean.

"I actually quit smoking, but now I go through two, or even three, packs of cigarettes a day, especially after the latest news," the 62-year-old told The Sunday Times. "Without a smoke, I feel extremely anxious."

Madam Dai's sister, Madam Dai Shuling, 59 - together with her sister's husband, daughter, son-in-law and grandson - were passengers on the plane that vanished on March 8 last year shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing.

It had 239 people on board, of which 153 were Chinese nationals.

Almost 11/2 years after the jetliner's disappearance, and with numerous conspiracy theories floating around, some family members are still struggling to pick up the pieces, hoping against hope their loved ones could still be alive.

For Madam Dai, the debris only causes more heartache because it reminds her of her pain. She believes, however, her relatives are still alive and are possibly caught up in a "political conspiracy".

"Every waking moment, I still think about them. We had three generations on the plane. It feels like the weight of a mountain on my chest; a constant turmoil on the inside," she said, her tears welling up.

She has lost 10kg since the plane disappeared and does not sleep or eat well. Occasionally, she dreams of her sister calling out to her for help. "It's a type of living where you're better off dead," she said, revealing she has already spent more than 100,000 yuan (S$22,000) trying to uncover the "truth".

Much of the relatives' anger has been directed at MAS and the Malaysian government. They say they have received little financial assistance from MAS, with its offer of initial compensation of US$50,000 (S$68,600) conditional on them signing off on their loved ones' death certificates. The authorities have also refused to show them CCTV footage of the flight's boarding.

Mr Zhang Yongli, 64, whose 32-year-old daughter Zhang Qi was on the flight, said Malaysia has "acted inhumanely and not shown any compassion".

"Everything they've done is to try to make the problem go away and force us into a corner," he told The Sunday Times.

Since the incident, Mr Zhang has attended every meeting family members have had with MAS or Malaysian officials. His handwritten notes fill seven books.

The faithful vigil by MH370's next-of-kin, however, will be put to the test as the debris is analysed to determine if it is part of the aircraft.

For now, many are still putting on a brave face. Said Ms Yang Rong, 28, whose husband Wang Yongqiang, 29, a construction worker in Singapore, was on the aircraft: "I'm hoping that what's found is not MH370, because I believe my husband is still alive. Until I see his body, I will not give up."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Debris offers little comfort as anxious families recall pain'. Print Edition | Subscribe