MH370: Family support groups split over what to do next

With the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 likely to end by June, the next of kin of some passengers have banded together to issue an emotional appeal to the authorities to keep searching.

But with a lack of breakthroughs in investigations, cracks are starting to show in some family support groups over the next best course of action. Many have turned to the courts.

Voice370, an international next-of-kin network, issued a statement last Thursday pleading with the governments involved to keep searching until something is found.

"We believe that they should not throw in the towel, close this case and simply chalk it up as an unsolvable mystery," it said days before the second anniversary of the plane's March 8, 2014, disappearance.

"The festering wounds of loss and not knowing have made the task of initiating even the first steps towards moving on practically impossible for family members," it added.


The flight with 239 passengers and crew on board - 153 of them Chinese nationals - vanished as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Experts believe the plane detoured to the southern Indian Ocean - believed to be the likely crash site - although the search for wreckage has so far found nothing there.

A piece of debris, however, was found last week on the Mozambique coast, thousands of kilometres from the search zone, and is being analysed for any link to MH370. Last July, a wing part found on an Indian Ocean island also outside the search area was later confirmed to be from the plane.


Most Chinese family members interviewed by The Sunday Times say they want the search to continue but are no longer in agreement as to how to get their message across.

Some, for instance, make daily trips to the MAS office in Beijing to press for answers. Others say they prefer relying more on the law and public pressure in their quest for the truth.

Mr Steven Wang, a member of the families' representative committee set up in 2014, said relatives are now making their decisions "independently" rather than in consultation as a group. The committee is no longer functioning actively.

"We all have different considerations," he said. "Of course, banding together shows unity and puts pressure on MAS but relatives can choose how they want to do so. Small groups of like-minded people are now working together instead."

In Malaysia, families say they continue to keep in touch via a WhatsApp group and try to meet as often as possible, but this has become harder now that many are single parents with young children.

As a two-year deadline to file lawsuits over air accidents under the Montreal Convention approaches, however, many next of kin have chosen the legal route in their quest for answers.

Apart from targeting MAS, some also plan to sue Malaysia's civil aviation authorities and military for losing track of MH370, and at least one will target aircraft maker Boeing.

Mr Wang, 27, whose 57-year-old mother was on the flight, said: "Investigations have reached a stalemate and I'm hoping that a lawsuit can reinvigorate the process and bring more facts to light."

Mr G. Subramaniam, 61, the father of Malaysian passenger S. Puspanathan, 33, said the family is suing the airline and eight other defendants for about RM32 million (S$10.8 million).

But others - 42 families, according to MAS - have accepted the airline's compensation package.

There is a catch, however, to accepting the payout, said Ms Grace Subathirai Nathan, 28, daughter of Malaysian passenger Anne Catherine Daisy, 56.

"You would have to waive your right to sue anyone - you cannot sue MAS, you cannot sue Boeing," she said. "It was quite a huge clause, so this is more like a settlement."

Families of crew members also seem caught in a tighter bind. Not party to the Montreal Convention as they were not passengers, the crew's next of kin have no means of suing for compensation.

Ms Jacquita Gonzales, 53, wife of in-flight supervisor Patrick Gomes, 55, said it was difficult to sue as the plane had not been found and the cause of the accident was yet to be determined.

"Our lawyers told us that without the plane, we don't have anything to go on," she said.

'I will crawl to MAS office for answers'

BEIJING • Every single weekday, Madam Dai Shuqin takes two buses and spends almost two hours making her way to the central office of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) in Beijing.

She has kept to this routine religiously ever since MAS closed its family support centre - where her visits used to be made - near the Chinese capital's airport last April.

"I have not missed a single day in making my presence known to MAS," Madam Dai, 63, told The Sunday Times.


No help from airline or police: Retiree

BEIJING • Not only has Mr Zhang Yongli been handcuffed by the police, but also he was once locked up for 18 hours in his quest to get to the bottom of one of aviation's biggest mysteries, he claimed.

His daughter Zhang Qi was one of the 239 people on board Malaysia Airlines (MAS) Flight MH370 when it vanished two years ago en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

She was 31 years old, and was working for a steel company in a department that looked at making investments overseas.


'We just want airline to treat us fairly'

A woman leaves a message of support for the passengers of the missing MH370 in Kuala Lumpur, on March 16, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR • Two years after Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared, the lack of information has left its mark on the family members of those on board.

"I still haven't been able to come to an acceptance that she's simply gone," said Ms Grace Subathirai Nathan, 28, the daughter of passenger Anne Catherine Daisy.

With the plane still missing, Ms Nathan said it has been difficult trying to "bridge the gap" between missing her mother and knowing that she may be gone for good.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 06, 2016, with the headline 'Family support groups split over what to do next'. Print Edition | Subscribe