TIME Ukraine

The Lives Lost in the MH17 Disaster

Local people pray during a special mass in Saint Vitus Church in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 20, 2014 in Hilversum, Netherlands.
Local people pray during a special mass in Saint Vitus Church in memory of the victims of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 20, 2014 in Hilversum, Netherlands. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

Here are some of the stories of the almost 300 who perished when their airplane was shot down in the skies over Ukraine

A total of 298 lives—including over 20 families and as many as 80 children—were lost when flight MH17 was apparently downed by a surface-to-air missile on Jul. 17. A German aerospace engineer, a leading Dutch AIDS researcher, an Australian nun, and a Malaysian actress were among the passengers on board when the flight crashed over eastern Ukraine, near the settlement of Grabovo. Malaysia Airlines released the passenger manifest on Saturday, revealing that nationals of 12 countries were traveling on the Kuala Lumpur-bound plane.

Here is a breakdown of the victims’ nationalities:

193 from the Netherlands, with one passenger carrying a dual Dutch-U.S. citizenship

43 from Malaysia, including all crew members

27 from Australia

12 from Indonesia

10 from the United Kingdom, with one passenger carrying a dual U.K.-South African citizenship

4 from Germany

4 from Belgium

3 from the Philippines

1 from Canada

1 from New Zealand

Here are just some of the individuals who lost their lives in Thursday’s incident:

Wals family, the Netherlands

Father Jeroen, mother Nicole, 17-year-old Brett, 15-year-old Jinte, 12-year-old Amèl, and 9-year-old Solenn were from the small town of Neerkant. Before Thursday’s flight, Jinte tweeted her excitement about flying to Malaysia: Over uurtje in t vliegtuig naar Maleisië! (In an hour, I will be in the air to Malaysia!) The father, Jeroen, had been a fan of cycling. Neighbors of the family told Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad that they could not believe they would “never again … see Jeroen bring out the bicycle for his daughter.” Solenn, the family’s youngest member, had been allowed to skip a year in St Willibrord primary school, which all four children attended, due to her extraordinary abilities.

Cor Schilder and Neeltje Tol, the Netherlands

A portrait of Neeltje Tol and Cor Schilder is placed with flowers and candles in front of their flower shop in Volendam, Netherlands,July 19, 2014.
A portrait of Neeltje Tol and Cor Schilder is placed with flowers and candles in front of their flower shop in Volendam, Netherlands,July 19, 2014. Phil Nijhuis—AP

The couple owned a flower shop in the town of Volendam, where locals have been laying flowers in their honor since the crash. They were on their way to a vacation in Bali, Indonesia, Channel 4 News reports. Shortly before take-off, Schilder posted a photo of the plane on his Facebook wall, commenting in Dutch that “in case it goes missing, this is what it looks like”—he was referring to the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March. In May, he wrote of the couple’s upcoming trip: “We will stay in a villa with a private pool with rose petals floating in it. We won’t leave before all those petals have withered away.”

Quinn Lucas Schansman, The Netherlands and USA

The 19-year-old had been studying business in Amsterdam and playing football for a local club, Olympia ’25. He was born in New York, but his family moved to Europe soon afterward, and Schansman spent the rest of his life there. A fan of the Dutch soccer team Ajax, he was on his way to meet his family for a three-week vacation in Indonesia, the birthplace of his grandfather, according to a relative. His social media accounts show that he had a girlfriend and was adventurous and fun-loving.

Cameron Dalziel, South Africa and the UK

Dalziel, reportedly in his mid-40s, was a helicopter pilot who lived in Malaysia with his wife and two children, aged 4 and 14. A South African citizen born in Zimbabwe, he was traveling on a British passport. His brother-in-law Shane Hattingh has said that Dalziel took a position with CHC Helicopters in Malaysia last year in order to spend more time with his wife and kids, as he had previously been flying around the world, unable to see them for extended periods of time. One of his former colleagues posted on Twitter that Dalziel was “one of [the] world’s best rescue helicopter pilots” and a “great man, father, [and] husband.”

Jane Adi Soetjipto, Indonesia

Adi Soejipto, an Indonesian of Dutch descent, had been planning to celebrate her 74th birthday in Jakarta, where she lived with her adopted son, after visiting relatives in the Netherlands. She and her late husband, who passed away two years ago, did not have any children of their own. They stayed in Indonesia when her parents and six siblings moved to the Netherlands in 1963. She spent the last months of her life in the Netherlands with her sick mother, who died during the visit.

Allen family, the UK and the Netherlands

A bunch of flowers with a picture and a message for John Allen, a British lawyer who died with his Dutch wife and three sons on flight MH17, is placed at Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam, July 20, 2014. Patrick Post—AP

John Allen, his wife Sandra Martens and their three sons Christopher, Julian and Ian—whose ages ranged from 8 to 14—lived in Amsterdam and were headed to Indonesia for a vacation. Allen, a British lawyer, worked at the Dutch law firm Nauta-Dutilh, which in a statement on its website said that “all … who had the privilege of working with John during his 18 years at NautaDutilh came to know him as a kind, down-to-earth and humorous man.” Sandra Martens, who was Dutch, worked as an elementary school teacher.

Philomene Tiernan, Australia

77-year-old Tiernan was a Roman Catholic nun returning to Sydney from a retreat in France. She worked at the Kincoppal-Rose Bay School of the Sacred Heart near Sydney, where she had taught for over 30 years. In a statement, the school’s principal said that sister Tiernan—known as “Phil”—had visited St. Francis Xavier Church in Paris, the burial site of the Society of the Sacred Heart’s founder Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, adding that the visit was “a special moment” for Tiernan. “Phil was a very much loved staff member and friend. We are devastated by the loss of such a wonderfully kind, wise and compassionate woman who was greatly loved by us all,” principal Hilary Johnston-Croke said.

Tambi Jiee, his wife Ariza Ghazalee, and their four children, Malaysia

The family of six—Tambi Jiee, 49; Ariza Ghazalee, 46; Afif, 19; Afzal, 17; Azmeena, 15; and Afruz, 13—was returning to Malaysia after spending three years in Kazakhstan, where Tambi Jiee had been working for the energy company Shell. The three youngest children, Afruz, Azmeena, and Afzal, had attended school in Kazakhstan, while the eldest, Afif, had been attending Taylor University in Kuala Lumpur, and had joined his family for a vacation in Europe prior to their trip home, according to the Wall Street Journal. Ariza’s final Facebook post on July 17 was a photo of the family’s suitcases.

Joep Lange and Jaqueline van Tongeren, the Netherlands

Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren Jean Ayissi—AFP/Getty Images; EPA

The leading Dutch AIDS researcher, along with five other passengers on board, was en route to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia—the largest AIDS conference in the world. During the opening ceremony on Sunday, speakers commemorated the lives of their lost colleagues. Lange, 59 and his partner van Tongeren, 64, had both worked at the Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development—he as its executive scientific director and she as a communications director. Lange was also a professor of Medicine at the University of Amsterdam, where he had recently been working on a paper about medical research in Africa, according to the AIGHD’s website.

John Alder and Liam Sweeney, the UK

Alder and Sweeney were ardent Newcastle United fans on their way to New Zealand to watch their favorite team’s preseason tour. Sweeney, 28, had previously volunteered as a steward on fan buses to Newcastle’s away games, and was thus well-known among the teams’ supporters. His father, Barry, told the BBC that “football was his life,” adding that he’d “rather it was [him] sitting on that plane … because he was only 28.” Alder, 63, had reportedly seen all but one of Newcastle’s matches in 50 years. Newcastle’s managing director expressed his condolences to Alder’s and Sweeney’s families and said that “both men were dedicated supporters of our club and were known to thousands of fans and staff alike.”

 

TIME language

Russia’s Spin Job of the MH17 Crash Brings Back Soviet Memories

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia
Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia, July 16, 2014. Alexei Nikolskyi—Ria Novosti/Reuters

Moscow's response to the attack on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is a return to the ham-handed ways of the Soviet days — and that portends bad things

A Russian disaster is almost never followed by Russian candor. This is true of most countries, but most countries are at least adept at explaining themselves — even if disingenuously — as the George W. Bush Administration showed with its flood-the-airwaves spin campaign after the weapons of mass destruction that were the casus belli of the Iraq War turned out not to exist. Not so Russia, and — as TIME’s Simon Shuster reports — its response to the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the murder of the 298 people on board is one more illustration of that fact. Even after what are purported to be recordings between a pro-Russian rebel and a Russian military officer discussing the destruction of the airliner surfaced, Moscow remained in defiant denial — even flipping the script to blame Ukraine. “This tragedy would not have happened if there had been peace on that land, or in any case if military operations in southeastern Ukraine had not been renewed,” said Russian President Vladimir Putin. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took a lower road, going for the ad hominem: “With regard to the claims raised by Kiev, that it was almost us who did it,” he said to a Russian state-run news channel, “in fact I haven’t heard any truthful statements from Kiev over the past few months.” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described this response with elegant understatement, labeling it “deeply, deeply unsatisfactory.” Soviet Russia was even more ham-handed in its defense of itself. A few days after the April 26, 1986, explosion of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, Soviet Ambassador Eugene Pozdnyakov appeared with Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline. When Koppel asked him why Russia initially covered up the accident, coming clean only when radiation readings in Europe revealed the truth, Pozdnyakov blamed the calendar. “It happened on Saturday,” he said, “and the governments of proper countries are usually on holidays on weekends.” Koppel responded with frank incredulity, scolding the diplomat with a simple, “Oh, come on!” In the current crisis, Moscow could at least call on experience, since — depressingly, remarkably — it’s not even the first time Russia has been implicated in shooting down a civilian passenger plane. That first time occurred on Sept. 1, 1983, when a military interceptor jet blew Korean Airlines Flight 007 out of the sky, killing 269 people, after the plane accidentally strayed into Soviet airspace. Moscow hedged and fudged and blamed the Korean pilot for being where he wasn’t supposed to be, and finally decided to fake transparency, releasing what were said to be air to ground transcripts between the interceptor plane and the base, intending to show, if nothing else, that the pilot seemed confused about what was happening. At one point during the attack, he was said to have exclaimed “yolki palki,” which TIME described then as “an exceedingly mild oath,” and indeed it is. Its literal translation is “sticks of the fir tree.” And it’s English equivalent? “Fiddlesticks.” The fighter pilot has not been born who speaks that way when engaging the enemy. Wordplay amounts to little for the 298 people killed in the new attack — or for the 298 grieving families. But it amounts to a lot as the rest of the world tries to reckon with Russia’s new aggression and its return to its old, opaque ways. The attack on the plane was over quickly; the aftermath promises to play out slowly and uncertainly.

TIME foreign affairs

Flight MH17: What the Wreckage Is Already Revealing

Once investigators find the chemical signature of the device, they will be able to tell with great certainty what kind of explosive caused the damage — and very likely where that charge was manufactured and by whom.

With the crash of another Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, this one in eastern Ukraine, aviation accident investigators are again asking the same big questions as in any disaster: What happened and why did it happen? In the case of the disappearance of MH370 this spring, the answer at this point on both counts is that no one knows. This will not be the case with MH17. We already know a lot about what happened — if not why.

To start with the obvious, we already know where the airplane is. Searchers, many of them local residents, began finding wreckage the bodies of the victims almost immediately after the crash.

The location of the wreckage holds easy clues to what happened. It might also hold some elusive ones.

The operating theory is that a ground to air missile took out MH17 while it was in cruise flight at its assigned altitude, now being reported as 33,000 feet. The evidence we already have corroborates that theory. When an airplane crashes into the ground under power or as the pilots are trying to regain control, the scattering of the wreckage is always very contained, usually within an acre or so.

In this case, large parts have already started turning up miles away from each other, and that can only mean one thing: that the airplane broke apart at altitude and its parts descended on the currents of the wind until they impacted the earth. The higher the airplane was when it came apart, the more widely scattered the wreckage will be. We can conclude that MH17 came apart at a very high altitude. And it came apart very violently. I have seen a photograph of the floor structure of the airplane, torn apart at the metal structural ties, capable of withstanding many tens of thousands of pounds of force, resting in a field in rural Ukraine. The section in question weighs likely around 10,000 pounds. It’s not the kid of component that breaks off and flutters away. It was blown apart from the rest of the structure.

It is possible for aircraft structures to fail during an explosive depressurization, and that indeed did happen in the early days of jet aviation, most notably with the British built de Havilland Comet jet, which suffered a series of fatal pressure vessel failures due to metal fatigue. The Boeing 777, however, is a modern and exceptionally strong plane, one that is based on modern computer aided design calculations that take just such events into consideration, making it nearly impossible for one failure to lead the next until the airplane comes apart. That is not what happened here.

The only explanations that make any sense given the widely scattered wreckage and the degree to which the airplane came apart are that it was hit by a missile — the working theory among authorities now — or that a bomb went off inside the airplane.

The difference between those two events will be immediately apparent to investigators once they see the wreckage. An explosion leaves an unmistakable fingerprint, telling forensics specialists where the explosive went off and whether that blast originated from inside or outside the aircraft.

Then, once they find the chemical signature of the device, they will be able to tell with great certainty what kind of explosive caused the damage and very likely where that charge was manufactured and by whom.

The traces of such an explosion will be unmistakable. Investigators will be able to test quickly for certain classes of explosives, but even before that they will likely be able to see the characteristic high-speed pitting of surfaces exposed to the explosive forces. When TWA Flight 800 crashed over Long Island Sound in 1996, investigators were able to determine that the explosion was the result of a fuel explosion and not an explosive device planted in the plane or a missile fired from below.

Investigators looking into what happened to Flight MH17 will be able to make the exact same types of determinations as well. Because the wreckage is in plain sight — and not sunken in a body of water — they will be able to make those determinations very quickly and turn the investigation over to others who are more interested in who did it and tracking them down.

Robert Goyer is the editor-in-chief of Flying magazine.

MONEY Markets

Markets React to Malaysian Jet Crash and Gaza Invasion

A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane
A part of the wreckage of a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 plane is seen after it crashed near the settlement of Grabovo in the Donetsk region, July 17, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

Investors sold off stocks in response to news that a Malaysian Airlines jet had crashed in eastern Ukraine today, reportedly killing 295 people. Ukrainian government officials said the plane may have been shot down; pro-Russian separatist fighters in the region denied responsibility. Then late in the trading day came reports that Israeli forces had begun a ground invasion of Gaza.

The S&P 500 index of large cap stocks fell more than 1% for the day. The Dow Jones Insutrial Average also declined, closing at 16,977, back below the 17,000 milestone it first crossed earlier this month.

ycharts_chart(2)

Investors in general moved away from risky to safer assets. The 10-year Treasury bond yield fell below 2.5%, down from 2.55% yesterday. A fall in bond yields means a rise in price, and reflects investors being willing to accept a low return in exchange for the safety of U.S. government-backed securities.

TIME Aviation

MH370 Was on Autopilot When it Crashed, Say Australian Officials

The new search area is based on fresh analysis of existing satellite data from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The plane vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8 with 239 passengers and crew aboard

(SYDNEY) — Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident the jet was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the latest shift in the search for the doomed airliner.

After analyzing data between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said.

“Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel,” Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation’s capital.

Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied: “The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it’s because it’s been switched on.”

But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off-course from the jet’s destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.

“We couldn’t accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot,” Transport Minister Warren Truss said. “It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot.”

The latest nugget of information from the investigation into Flight 370 came as officials announced yet another change in the search area for the wreckage of the plane that vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board.

The new search area is located several hundred kilometers (miles) southwest of the most recent suspected crash site, about 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) off Australia’s west coast, Dolan said. Powerful sonar equipment will scour the seabed for wreckage in the new search zone, which officials calculated by reanalyzing the existing satellite data.

The shift was expected, with Dolan saying last week the new zone would be south of an area where a remote-controlled underwater drone spent weeks fruitlessly combing 850 square kilometers (330 square miles) of seabed. That search area was determined by a series of underwater sounds initially thought to have come from the plane’s black boxes. But those signals are now widely believed to have come from some other source.

The new 60,000 square kilometer (23,000 square mile) search area falls within a vast expanse of ocean that air crews have already scoured for floating debris, to no avail. Officials have since called off the air search, since any debris would likely have sunk long ago.

The hunt is now focused underwater. Beginning in August, private contractors will use powerful side-scan sonar equipment capable of probing ocean depths of 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) to comb the ocean floor in the new search zone. The job is expected to take 12 months to complete.

Meanwhile, two survey ships are mapping uncharted expanses of seabed in the search zone before the sonar scanning starts. Dolan said it was possible the mapping equipment could detect wreckage that may be lying on the seafloor, but that it was highly unlikely.

The search area has changed multiple times in the months since Flight 370 vanished, as officials struggled to make sense of the limited data the flight left in its wake after it dropped off radar. The new search zone was largely identified by an analysis of hourly transmissions, or “handshakes,” between the plane and a satellite.

Truss said he was optimistic that the latest search zone is, indeed, the most likely crash site. But he warned that finding the plane remains a huge task.

“The search will still be painstaking,” he said. “Of course, we could be fortunate and find it in the first hour or the first day — but it could take another 12 months.”

 

TIME Aviation

This Is the Country That’s Spent the Most Searching for MH370

Which countries are footing the bill?

Though Malaysian officials said on Monday that the country has spent $8.6 million to locate MH370, and will split costs with Australia in the next phase of the search, estimates of expenditures by other countries indicate that Malaysia has thus far spent relatively little.

MH370 Flight Search Expenditure By Country

Local media sources estimated that Vietnam had spent $8 million in the initial search phases, according to Reuters, though Vietnamese officials have not confirmed this statistic. If true, then Malaysia has spent only about 7% more than Vietnam, which scaled back its search efforts four days after the plane disappeared.

Australia is estimated to have spent the most in the MH370 search: over $43 million, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday. The U.S has spent $11.4 million, officials at the Pentagon told NBC in April. Chinese officials have not disclosed the amount the country has spent, though Chinese warships are estimated to cost at least $100,000 per day to operate. Another 22 countries have contributed to the search efforts.

According to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, a country is required to assist distressed aircrafts in its territory, and the country where the aircraft is registered is granted the opportunity to help, too.

TIME Aviation

Former Malaysian Leader Accuses CIA of Cover-Up in Missing Jet

The former Malaysian Prime Minister accused the C.I.A., Boeing and the media of covering up crucial facts about the missing plane

A former Malaysian leader on Sunday accused American intelligence agents of covering up what really happened to the Malaysia Airlines plane missing since March.

Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad claimed that Flight 370, which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board, claimed that the CIA could have taken control of the Boeing 777, and lamented that the Malaysian government is bearing the brunt of the blame for a mystery that sparked a massive, expensive and as-of-yet unsuccessful international search for the plane.

“What goes up must come down,” Mohamad wrote in a blog post. “Airplanes can go up and stay up for long periods of time. But even they must come down eventually. They can land safely or they may crash. But airplanes don’t just disappear. Certainly not these days with all the powerful communication systems, radio and satellite tracking and filmless cameras which operate almost indefinitely and possess huge storage capacities.”

Mohamad said “the ‘uninterruptible’ autopilot would be activated—either by pilot, by on board sensors, or even remotely by radio or satellite links by government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency, if terrorists attempt to gain control of the flight deck.”

No evidence has emerged to support his theory, one of many conspiracy theories that have proliferated since the plane disappeared. Authorities believe it crashed in the Indian Ocean and that no one survived.

“Clearly Boeing and certain agencies have the capacity to take over ‘uninterruptible control’ of commercial airliners of which MH370 B777 is one,” Mohamed wrote.

“Someone is hiding something,” he added. “It is not fair that… Malaysia should take the blame. For some reason the media will not print anything that involves Boeing or the CIA.”

TIME Aviation

Satellite Company Launches Tracking Service For Wayward Flights

BRITAIN-MALAYSIA-CHINA-AVIATION-SATELLITE
The offices of satellite operator Inmarsat in central London on March 25, 2014. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

U.K.-based satellite company Inmarsat is vowing to keep closer tabs on the world's flights, in the wake of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

A satellite company which has been instrumental in the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 announced Monday that it would offer a free tracking service for 11,000 passenger jets, encompassing almost every commercial flight in the world.

Share prices for Inmarsat, a satellite company based in the U.K., jumped on the news that it would track any passenger plane equipped with the company’s satellite connection, a feature that comes standard in the vast majority of the world’s long-haul jetliners.

CEO Rupert Pearce confirmed the news at a conference hosted by the International Civil Aviation Organization. “In the wake of the loss of [Flight 370], we believe this is simply the right thing to do,” he said.

It remains unclear just how soon this information will be available to the general public and in what form.

Inmarsat said it would stream information from a plane’s black box recorder to a flight tracking organization as soon as a “trigger event,” such as a plane suddenly veering off course, raises alarms.

TIME

Grappling With ‘Reality’: Malaysia Flight 370 Families Mourn Without Death

Lacking proof of a crash, loved ones may experience chronic mourning

Any death is perhaps hardest on the survivors. But for those who knew someone on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared while flying between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing on March 8, the grieving process may be more prolonged and painful.

The Malaysian Prime Minister announced Monday that, based on British satellite data, officials concluded that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean. At a press conference with relatives the following day, the airline’s chief executive officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said no passengers likely survived, “a reality we must face and we must accept.”

But in the absence of any hard evidence or tangible proof of a crash, such reality is an even harder pill to swallow. “It is very reasonable and even expected that many family members would struggle with accepting the reality of their loved ones being dead,” says Holly Prigerson, director of the center for end-of-life research at Weill Cornell Medical College. “There is no proof that their loved ones died; no remains recovered, and no evidence to confirm the death. I would expect that in circumstances like this that the denial is magnified.”

MORE: New Ways to Think About Grief

“I really just want my son to come home and to be safe. My heart is broken. My son is definitely going to be all right,” Liu Guiqui told China Central Television on March 23. Liu traveled to Kuala Lumpur from China because, she said, “I wanted to be the first to see my son and greet him when he returns.” Liu has not yet told her granddaughter about her father’s disappearance.

Denial can be a strong part of the initial bereavement process, even when there is certainty surrounding a tragedy and loved ones are able to bury the dead, says Prigerson. In fact, even after lengthy illnesses from natural causes such as cancer or Alzheimer’s disease, early responses to death can include shock and denial.

The uncertainty of what happened to the missing plane only complicates the grieving process. “Regardless of age or cause of death, it’s harder to grieve when there is no forewarning, when it’s sudden and when any element of violence is involved,” says Debra Umberson, a professor of sociology at University of Texas Austin. “All those factors are at play here, and are compounded by uncertainty.”

MORE: Good Grief! Psychiatry’s Struggle to Define Mental Illness Goes Awry

Such uncertainty leaves some relatives imagining that their loved ones are alive, but suffering. “These folks can’t grieve, because they don’t have any concrete evidence that their loved one has died yet,” says Umberson. And that can have consequences for how relatives cope with the tragedy. “When people get stuck and still question the very fact of the death, it would appear to impede this emotional processing of the loss,” says Prigerson.

Such prolonged grief, or chronic mourning, can have detrimental effects, and start to poison survivors both mentally and physically. Because they’re unable to accept the death, their grieving becomes less about missing the loved one and more about being unable to move on with their own lives. “To the extent that family members become singularly focused on learning what happened to their loved one and are unable to function in a more or less adaptive way – go to work, remain engaged as parents to their other children – this would signal a need for help with the grieving process,” says Prigerson.

MORE: Malaysia: Files Were Deleted From Flight Simulator

Making matters worse is the emotional roller coaster that relatives have endured since the plane went missing. Conflicting reports, incorrect information, and red herring sightings of the plane’s debris only intensify the instinct to deny what officials tell them.

Working through the grief often involves finding meaning in the loss, which may be more challenging for these families. Those who lost children or in the Sandy Hook shootings found solace in advocating for gun control, and a mission with which to keep the memory of their loved one alive. For the families of passengers on the missing jet, that meaning may never come if the wreckage isn’t found, or if the reason for the plane’s disappearance isn’t determined.

Frustrated, and obviously struggling with understanding exactly what happened to their loved ones, relatives marched from their hotel to the Malaysian embassy on Tuesday, 17 days after the flight went missing, demanding answers and shouting criticisms of both the Chinese and Malaysian governments for failing to inform them of where their family members were. “It’s hard to find meaning in a loss like this,” says Umberson.

TIME Malaysia Airlines

Malaysian Official Denies Report That Missing Jet Flew for Hours

Malaysian Air Forces search the water for signs of debris from the Malaysian airliner during a search and rescue mission flight on March 13, 2014 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Rahman Roslan—Getty Images

Malaysia's defense minister denies U.S. investigators' claims that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 flew for hours after it left radar screens

Updated: 7:17 a.m. EST on Thursday

Malaysia’s defense minister denied reports Thursday that the Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 may have stayed airborne for as much as four hours after it was lost from radar screens, the Associated Press reports.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier Thursday that U.S. investigators and national-security officials believe that data automatically downloaded and sent to a maintenance-and-monitoring program from the aircraft’s two Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines indicated that the plane may have remained in the air for much longer than previously believed.

That would mean the plane may have traveled more than 2,000 additional nautical miles, reaching points as far as the Pakistani border or even the Arabian Sea, said the Journal.

Acting Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said that Rolls-Royce and Boeing, the maker of the Boeing 777, had denied the report, according to the AP.

Erin Atan, Rolls-Royce head of Asia-Pacific and Middle East communications, was unable to confirm or deny the Wall Street Journal reporter earlier when contacted by TIME, citing the terms of sharing information relating to an official accident investigation.

“We are monitoring the situation, and we have offered Malaysia Airlines and related parties all cooperation from the outset,” she said, naturally raising questions as to why this information, if accurate, was not shared with passengers’ families earlier.

On Wednesday, U.S. officials told AFP that American spy satellites detected no sign of a mid-air explosion when the jet vanished. Heat signatures from exploding aircraft have been used as a clue in previous incidents but none was spotted in this case, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Wall Street Journal report appeared to widen rather than shrink the search for Flight 370, which has entered its sixth day. Debris spotted in the South China Sea by Chinese satellites on Sunday — but only released overnight — has since been dismissed by Vietnamese officials who claim the area had already been “searched thoroughly.”

India has also now agreed to help out with efforts. “Malaysia and India are in contact on this since yesterday and contact points are being discussed. These contact points will ascertain what assistance is required and what India can offer,” a spokesman at New Delhi’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

India boasts a large military command in its territory in the Andaman and Nicobar islands and operates navy patrols in the busy shipping routes of the Malacca Strait.

Flight 370 took off from the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. on Saturday, heading for Beijing, with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board. Contact with Malaysian air-traffic control was lost after some 40 minutes over the Gulf of Thailand, at a height of around 10,700 m.

Vietnamese air-traffic control says the plane never entered its airspace, and conflicting reports have emerged that it may have turned back and been spotted by military radar on the northeastern side of the Malay Peninsula by Pulau Perak. No distress call was received.

A dozen countries are taking part in the search, with 42 ships and 39 aircraft involved. But efforts have been plagued with confusion and contradictory reports, and complaints increasingly hurled at the Malaysian authorities.

At his end of Congress press conference on Thursday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang revealed that the superpower had eight boats and 10 satellites trying to locate the plane. “As long as there is a glimmer of hope, we will not stop searching for the plane,” he told reporters gathered at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Of the 239 people on board, 153 were Chinese.

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