MH370 victim's husband explains why the search for the plane must go on

Published Mar 17, 2017, 6:26 pm IST
Updated Mar 17, 2017, 11:21 pm IST
The search and investigation is a complex challenge, a hazardous one that MH370 families don't have the resources and capacity to manage.
MH 370
 MH 370

On March 8, three years ago, Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 vanished from radar as it was crossing the Indian Ocean. The plane was carrying 239 passengers and crew and was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when air traffic control declared it missing from their screens. Three years later, there's still no trace of the plane and authorities who had once promised to keep searching, seem to be giving up. Narendran K.S., whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on board the plane, explains why the search must continue.

At the outset, let me make it clear: the responsibility for the search (of MH370) remains with the Malaysian government. Sadly, that government has chosen to suspend the search under questionable pretexts. It is very important for the aviation sector and the flying public to uncover how a large jetliner, claiming to be the safest, most sophisticated and successful commercial aircraft with hundreds of passengers on board, can just disappear without a trace. Finding the missing plane is crucial to understanding what might have happened. Knowing the answer can help evolve strategies to avoid a recurrence. I don't believe we can feel safe while flying when the possibility of another similar incident lurks.

Our immediate priority then is to press the governments around the world to urge Malaysia, China and Australia to resume search and persevere until we find satisfactory answers to what actually happened. The attitude of governments, aviation-related businesses and the world at large of 'business as usual' must end. There exists poorly-understood safety and security hazards that need sustained inquiry.

The search and investigation is a complex challenge, a hazardous one that MH370 families don't have the resources and capacity to manage. However, we are unequivocally against the premature end to the search. Should Malaysia fail to respond, we will work to elicit fund commitments from world governments, corporations, high net-worth individuals and the travelling public. This is not likely to be easy. It brings up its own challenges of mobilisation, utilisation, accountability to the public, and suitable systems and processes.

The search in the ocean also requires experts, expensive equipment, and importantly, bathymetric data. If the fruitless efforts of the past three years, and the successful search for Air France flight 447 is anything to go by, it is a painstaking venture not to be taken lightly. We have had initial discussions with the best and highly-experienced experts in the world to scope the entire task.

Sometime in the future, we may see an alternatively funded and managed search prominently represented by the next - of -kin of MH370 passengers. We do not envisage such a search replacing the government or in any way releasing the governments involved in the search thus far from their obligations. We are clear that such an unprecedented search not directed by governments will nonetheless draw on their willing cooperation, data resources, analysis and assets.

Who knows, this may yet turn out a model for collaboration, even if its origins are traced to a sense of disappointment anger, betrayal, and sadness.

Also, Malaysia has at most times in the past three years not engaged as much with the families as desired or as mandated by international conventions. We have on many occasions pointed out that Malaysia has avoided any direct dialogue or consultation with the affected families, and have given every reason to believe that the families have been seen as irritants rather than those deserving active listening.

Our meetings with authorities have been few and far between and in any case, way fewer than the circumstances warranted. It hasn't mattered whether one is in India, Malaysia, Beijing, or elsewhere. The meetings have been formalities focused on rolling out prepared briefs or repeating what is already out in the press, rather than an occasion for deep engagement. Our most recent meeting with the transport minister of Malaysia, early March 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, offered some possibility that we may have turned a corner. We remained unconvinced with his reasons from suspension of the search and told him so. We expressed our dissatisfaction with the efforts to locate debris along the African Coast along the Western Indian Ocean. We expressed our wish that our relations with the authorities don't have to be adversarial, and greater transparency and more frequent contact could offer a productive bridge. He lent a patient ear. For the first time in three years, he, from the government participated in a remembrance event on March 4.

Australia has tended to be more forthcoming in its contacts with families, and demonstrably exerted itself to search without let up based on the advice from experts and directions from Malaysia. The families had hope for more from China considering that it had 152 of its nationals on board MH370, and continue to be optimistic that it will lend its weight and resources to a more sustained search and effort to find answers. 

Because unless we have a credible investigation and a commitment to transparency, any number of theories will emerge. In the absence of independent verification / scrutiny of facts, data, analysis, video footage, etc, we continue to feed those who seek to sensationalise and speculate. There are far too many theories doing the rounds, some even re-circulating after having been debunked, to merit a serious response. In the first week of March this year, there have been two such stories: one suggesting that North Korea was responsible of the hijacking of MH370, presumably to ride the wave of news about the killing of North Korean dictator's brother in Kuala Lumpur recently. The other suggest that there was a suspicious extra passenger on board MH370, not hitherto accounted for. I would leave this for the authorities to respond to this one.

So at present, our energies are focused on getting the search back on track. There was a recommendation in December last by experts assembled by authorities as part of the First Principles Review held in Australia to search an additional 25,000 sq kms in an area north of the search area in the Southern Indian Ocean focused on till recently. This factors in the ocean drift patterns and the debris found in places such as Reunion, Madagascar, Tanzania, South Africa and Mauritius... yes, thousands of kilometres west of where the search has been on for the past three years.

Like most family members of passengers, I have survived. It is not to say, that the living process has been repaired and normal has been restored. While I presume that lives of passengers have ended, memories are strong, vivid and make the process of looking ahead painfully difficult. It is made worse by the knowledge that we actually don't know very much more than what we gathered on March 8, 2014... that a plane had just disappeared.


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