By Chihiro Kusazaki
“Good night, Malaysian three seven zero,” was the last conversation in the transcript between the air traffic controller and the cockpit of the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 aircraft.
The Boeing 777-200ER departed from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, at 12:41 a.m. on March 8. It was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30 a.m. the same day, after a roughly 2,700-mile (4,350-kilometer) journey. But around 1:30 a.m., air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. It is said that minutes after the final radio transmission was received, the plane’s communications were cut off and it turned back across Peninsular Malaysia and headed towards the Indian Ocean, according to military radar and limited satellite data. The flight disappeared.
Malaysia is coordinating the search, which involves crews mainly from six countries. Australia is leading the effort, based out of Perth, with China, New Zealand, the United States, South Korea, and Japan contributing aircraft ships, and underwater equipments.
The pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was a 53-year-old veteran with 18,365 flying hours who joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981. Last week, Malaysian police searched Captain Zaharie’s home and confiscated a flight-simulator. However, his colleagues discussed this and none of them believed that there is something suspicious about him. “He is a nice guy. He is well-disciplined and professional,” his colleague Peter Chong, told The Telegraph on March 18. Chong also told the Mirror on March 16, “I would not believe he was involved in any way at all. If I went on a plane and was allowed the choice of a pilot, I would choose Captain Zaharie.”
There were 239 people on board: 227 passengers and 12 crew member. The youngest passenger was two-years-old, and the oldest was 79-years-old. According to the airline, the passengers’ 14 nationalities spanned the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, and North America. There were 3 passengers from China, 38 from Malaysia, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 4 French, and 3 Americans. Four passengers had valid booking to travel but did not show up for the flight, according to the airline.
Two passengers boarded the plane using stolen passports. Authorities identified them as Pouri Nourmohammadi, 18, and Delavar Seyed Mohammad Reza, 29, both Iranians. Malaysian police believe Nourmohammadi was trying to immigrate to Germany using the stolen Austrian passport. The men entered Malaysia on February 28 using valid Iranian passports, according to Interpol. The use of the stolen passports raised concern that the people who used them might be involved in the plane’s disappearance. But officials have said they think it is unlikely the Iranian men had links to terrorist groups.
Shortly after the flight went missing on March 8, thousands of people had already posted messages of hope on the walls of the Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia’s capital. But the waiting families are helpless, in anguish, and grief-stricken. Parents are waiting for their kids to come home, and they are angry because they feel as if the Malaysian government has been hiding something.
More than 300 relatives and friends of missing Flight MH370 passengers marched to the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing on March 25 to express their anger and frustration with Malaysian authorities. Many protesters wore white t-shirts that read, “Please pray for the passengers of MH370. We pray for their safe return.”
Yuang Ying , a Malaysian student who is studying International Relations in California, said, “I knew it when I was watching the news, which [had] shaken me up. I immediately called my parents. I was relieved that none of my family or my friends was on the flight.. Because it is small community, we could easily know who is missing because of the accident. There is nothing I could say.”
We still don’t know what happened. The pilots did not indicate any problem to the tower, and issued no distress signal. Malaysian military officials cite radar data as suggesting the plane might have changed course. But the pilots didn’t tell air traffic control that they were doing so.
It has been over a month since the airplane disappeared; Malaysia has requested help from additional 19 countries for the search for the missing flight, 25 countries now involved. “The search was already a highly complex, multi-national effort,” acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein said at a briefing on March 16. “It has now become even more difficult.”
Without any clues about whether the airplane crashed or was hijacked, it is a mystery that even high technology in 21st century has so far been unable to solve.