TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Towelette Found on Beach Not From MH 370, Say Officials

A crew member looks out an observation window aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370
Reuters A crew member looks out an observation window aboard a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion maritime search aircraft as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for debris from missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370 on April 11, 2014

Not a single piece of wreckage from MH 370 has been recovered

Australian officials say it is very unlikely that a towelette that washed up on the country’s west coast last summer had been on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Reports surfaced on Tuesday that the towelette carrying a Malaysia Airlines logo had first been discovered on a beach more than 100 miles north of Perth last July.

“It is unlikely, however, that such a common item with no unique identifier could be conclusively linked with MH 370,” said the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in a statement, according to Agence France-Presse.

MH 370 vanished from radar screens less than an hour after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8 last year and has been missing ever since.

Officials have narrowed the current search zone to a patch of ocean floor 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, in accordance with calculations derived from a number of electronic handshakes the plane made with a satellite.

However, search and recovery teams canvassing large swaths of the Indian Ocean have yet to find a shred of wreckage from the missing plane.

TIME Aviation

MH 370: Lawyers Say Faulty Beacon Battery May Prove Key to Compensation

The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370
Rob Griffith—Reuters The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force's P3 Orion maritime search aircraft can be seen on low-level clouds as it flies over the southern Indian Ocean looking for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 370 on March 31, 2014

Report suggests engineering failure responsible for expired beacon battery on plane

The revelation that a beacon battery, which could have served as an underwater locator for tracking missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, had long expired may heavily influence any potential compensation claim, according to lawyers representing passengers’ families.

A report Sunday on the fate of the Boeing 777-200, which vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing March 8 last year, revealed the beacon battery, designed to emit pulses in the event of a crash at sea, had expired in December 2012 and was not replaced, Reuters reports.

Kreindler & Kreindler LP, a U.S. law firm representing nearly 20 families against the beleaguered carrier, believes that the expired battery could prove “potentially very significant” in compensation negotiations with relatives of the 227 passengers and 12 crew.

The report, published by Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation to mark the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, suggests that the engineering department of Malaysia Airlines could be held responsible for failing to correctly update a computer system.

In an email to Reuters, Kreindler & Kreindler LP’s aviation attorney Justin Green said, “This airline … even more clearly now may be responsible for the unsuccessful search for this plane.”

[Reuters]

TIME Aviation

The Mystery of Flight 370 Haunts Families and Baffles Experts a Year After Its Disappearance

 

Without a single scrap of debris, the search for the missing jet will likely end soon, taking with it all remaining hope

You can’t blame Jennifer Chong for being a nervous flyer.

Every time she boards a plane, the resident of Melbourne faces the inevitable walk past the cabin’s front row where her husband of more than 20 years, Chong Ling Tan, had been seated on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Twelve months on from arguably the greatest aviation mystery of all time, Chong says those empty seats can still induce panic.

“I start to think that if anything happened, like a hijacking, then he would be the first one who knows because he’s the one nearest to the cockpit,” Chong tells TIME.

Sunday marks one year since MH370 veered off course en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and vanished from radar screens. Planes and ships from seven countries have completed more than 300 sorties over vast tracts of the southern Indian Ocean in search for the errant Boeing 777, but not a single scrap of debris has been recovered.

Now just four boats continue to comb a 23,000-sq.-mi. patch of ocean floor 1,000 miles off the coast of Perth, western Australia. Australian authorities are set to finish trawling the designated search area in May.

During a parliamentary address earlier this week, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott acknowledged that officials are beginning to question the value of continuing beyond this point. “I can’t promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever, but we will continue our very best efforts to resolve this mystery and provide some answers,” he said.

But for Chong and hundreds of other distraught relatives, simply giving up translates to abandoning the investigation into how a plane with 239 passengers and crew can simply vanish.

“They’re trying to slowly put the thoughts in the minds of the public and the families, so that they will slowly wind down the search after May because it’s about to money and who’s going to pay,” she says.

Justin Green, a lawyer representing 24 of the victims’ relatives, says the search must continue not just for the families’ sake, but also to improve aviation-safety standards in the future. Green points to the years investigators took to uncover the crucial findings that explained other disasters, such as Air France Flight 447 and TWA 800. “None of the subsequent improvements [to airline safety] would have happened if the countries involved had just given up,” he says.

In late January, Malaysian authorities caught families and aviation experts off guard with a sudden announcement that MH370’s disappearance had been caused by an accident and that no one had survived.

In the absence of facts, myriad theories have surfaced over the past year offering plausible scenarios to explain what transpired. These include that the plane was shot down or driven into the sea by a deranged pilot or passenger. According to experts, no theory can’t be wholly dismissed until concrete evidence proves otherwise.

“With the Malaysian government declaring this an accident, well does that limit or preclude further investigation into these other areas?” asks Mike Daniel, an international aviation-safety consultant based in Singapore. “There’s a difference between an accident investigation as opposed to a criminal investigation.”

Despite talk of halting the investigation or ratcheting down recovery operations, Australian officials remain upbeat that their current search will yield results. “We are cautiously optimistic we’ll find that aircraft,” Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, told the BBC this week. “We know we will find that aircraft if it’s in the priority search area.”

However, experts remain divided over where to look for the plane. Are the four Australian search vessels mapping large swaths of the Indian Ocean’s floor even scanning the correct hemisphere? Some even suggest the plane headed north towards the Caucuses.

“The fact that nothing has been found by the way of debris suggests to me that they’re looking in the wrong place,” said Jason Middleton, an aviation professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

The current search zone was drawn up in accordance with calculations based on a number of electronic handshakes MH370 made with a satellite during its last hours of flight. But Middleton argues that these assessments are problematic at best.

“These calculations rely on a whole bunch of issues that are not easily verifiable by outside sources,” explains Middleton. “The science is not demonstrably repeatable.”

But without a shred of evidence, crucial questions will remain unanswered. Why were the transponders deliberately turned off? Why did whoever had control repeatedly change course? Why was there no Mayday call? And why have Malaysian authorities been reticent to release the flight’s cargo manifest in its entirety?

In lieu of answers, the public clamors for new technology to track planes wherever they might be, yet there’s little evidence that any advances could have prevented this mystery, given that existing systems were deliberately scuttled in the cockpit. (Pilots need to be able to turn off all onboard electronics in case of fire.)

“I don’t know really what to believe. It’s just so bizarre to me,” says Chong. “One year later and I’m in the same position with no further answers.”

As the anniversary approaches, Chong says she plans to brave another flight from Melbourne, where she moved two years ago, to Kuala Lumpur to gather with other families and call for the continuation of the search. Without answers, she tries to remain hopeful that the plane will one day be recovered, but admits that it’s difficult at times to convince herself that her husband and his fellow passengers will be found.

“I’m still hopeful that they will be able to find the plane,” she says. “But we don’t know when. Maybe in one year, 10 years or 40 years. I’ll be holding out hope until then.”

TIME Aviation

Malaysia Airlines Struggles to Salvage Its Image a Year After Flight 370 Disappearance

MALAYSIA-AUSTRALIA-CHINA-AVIATION-SEARCH
MANAN VATSYAYANA—AFP/Getty Images Airport groundstaff walk past Malaysia Airlines planes parked on the tarmac at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang on June 17, 2014.

With a new CEO and an evolving marketing strategy, the beleaguered airline is trying to rebrand and reinvent

The past year has been a terrible one for Malaysia Airlines. On March 8, 2014, Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur bound for the Chinese capital, Beijing, lost contact with air-traffic controllers less than an hour after takeoff, and vanished from radar screens shortly thereafter.

What followed was an unprecedented multinational search across over a million square miles that cost tens of millions of dollars in what has turned out to be one of the biggest aviation mysteries of all time.

Then in mid-July, disaster hit Malaysia Airlines again when MH17 went down over Ukraine. This time, the cause of the aircraft’s disappearance from the sky seemed clearer — a surface-to-air missile allegedly fired by pro-Russian rebels engaged in a battle with Ukrainian forces.

Many would argue that the Malaysian carrier was simply unfortunate to have lost a second plane in just over four months, especially since more than 30 other airlines had continued to fly over eastern Ukraine despite the violent conflict raging there (and a warning from the International Civil Aviation Organization). However, the disaster only exacerbated the loss of goodwill that Malaysia Airlines was already facing, especially given the lack of evidence on the whereabouts of MH370.

One year later, those whereabouts are still just as shrouded in mystery. The embattled airline is doing everything it can — including a $1.7 billion overhaul that involves laying off 30% of its staff — to salvage revenues as well as reputation. The Malaysian government assumed total ownership last year and aims to make the firm profitable by 2017.

“Before some of these accidents, airline safety was not top of the minds of most passengers, because it’s taken for granted,” Bennett Yim Chi-kin, a marketing professor at the University of Hong Kong, tells TIME, adding that disasters like these tend to impact the entire industry. “The factor of safety is now back to being a high criterion when selecting an airline.”

Yim says salvaging Malaysia Airlines’ brand equity will take some time. Losses of $368 million in the first three quarters of last year, as well as marketing slipups like a marketing tweet asking “Want to go somewhere but don’t know where?” and a promotion quizzing travelers about their “bucket lists” have already made the turnaround an uphill battle.

Enter Christoph Mueller, a man described by industry experts as a “battle-hardened veteran.” Mueller assumed his position as CEO of Malaysia Airlines last Sunday, one week before the anniversary of the MH370 disappearance and one day before the airline’s owners — state-owned investment fund Khazanah Nasional — announced a plan to ax 6,000 of its 20,000 employees. Mueller is an old hand in the airline industry fresh off a successful restructuring of Ireland’s struggling national carrier Aer Lingus. But reviving Malaysia Airlines will be a far bigger challenge, and the 52-year-old’s new job is one that few people in the industry would relish.

“I would say it probably is among the toughest,” John Strickland of JLS Consulting told AP, but added that Mueller’s position as an outsider — the first foreigner at the airline’s helm — could prove advantageous.

Malaysia’s tourism numbers have gone up in spite of (and some even argue owing to the raised national profile generated by) the two disasters, with a 10% bump resulting in some 22.9 million foreign arrivals until October last year. However, the airline also faces increasing competition from several low-cost airlines, including Malaysian private carrier AirAsia.

AirAsia experienced its own disaster on Dec. 28, when Flight QZ8501, run by its Indonesian affiliate, crashed into the Java Sea, killing all 162 people on board. The aircraft, traveling from the Indonesian city of Surabaya to Singapore, was retrieved from the water piece by piece over the next two months. The final remnant of fuselage was recovered last Saturday, Agence France-Presse reported, and 103 bodies have been salvaged so far. F.H. Bambang Soelistyo, the leader of the Indonesian search effort, said in a press conference that family members of the victims would be consulted before setting a final date for the search effort.

AirAsia’s reputation has not taken as much of a hit as that of Malaysia Airlines, largely because of the efforts of its dynamic and savvy CEO Tony Fernandes. Fernandes rushed to the front lines of the disaster almost immediately, and continued providing updates and messages of sympathy to his sizeable social-media following, in what many say has set the benchmark for how industry leaders should respond to a crisis.

By comparison, Malaysia Airlines’ honchos appeared flip-flopping and rudderless, with families callously told their loved ones were lost via SMS, or learning the latest developments via journalists’ questions.

“The No. 1 thing is you have to be fast, you need a very quick response,” Yim says. “Being honest, being sincere about your response also is very important.”

Many say comparing the two airlines is unfair, considering the vastly different natures of their respective disasters. Certainly, though, reputations must be earned, and for Malaysia Airlines and its new CEO, the most effective method of disaster management moving forward will be avoiding them in the first place.

TIME Aviation

Fading Hope and Little Help for Families of Flight 370 Passengers

A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in Beijing
Jason Lee—Reuters A family member cries as she and other relatives pray during a candlelight vigil for passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 at Lido Hotel, in Beijing, on April 8, 2014, after a month of searching for the missing aircraft

One year on, the relatives of Chinese passengers face plenty of harassment and grief, but few answers

Just under a year ago, in the parking lot of Beijing’s Metropark Lido Hotel, I met a woman wild with grief. It had been 19 days since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared and she was looking, hysterically, for her missing son. A relative took her arm and offered water. “Rest,” they told her. “Nothing is certain yet.”

At the time, the words felt hopeful. Many of the families that gathered in Beijing that month held firm to the belief that their loved ones were out there, alive. But 12 agonizing months later, the plane is still missing and the families, suffering.

Of the 239 passengers and crew on MH370, two-thirds were Chinese. Their surviving family members say the trauma of what happened March 8, 2014, has been compounded many times over, first by the airline and the Malaysian authorities and, more recently, by the Chinese state.

In China, initial anger was directed at Malaysia Airlines’ handling of the crisis. At a protest on March 25, Chinese families marched on the Malaysian embassy, chucking water bottles at the gate. Though large protests are usually verboten in Beijing, local police officers let the demonstration go ahead. “Malaysia Airlines you owe us answers,” read one sign.

Chinese authorities were quick to echo this sentiment. Editorials in China’s state-backed press blasted the airline, and its home country, for what it characterized as a slow and ineffective response. When Malaysian authorities announced that the hunt for survivors was over, Deputy Foreign Minister Xie Hangsheng spoke out. “We demand the Malaysian side make clear the specific basis on which they come to this judgment,” he said.

In the early days at the hotel, plainclothes Chinese officials circulated among the families, keeping a close watch, but letting them vent. A statement issued by relatives on March 28 even praised Beijing’s response. “Fortunately, we are Chinese, and we deeply feel the solid support given to each family members by the Chinese government,” it read. “Our nation has made every endeavor to search for the passengers, and its determination to find out the truth has become a booster for each family member.”

But away from public view, the authorities turned on some of the families. As the months wore on and they continued to press for answers, they started to be treated like other aggrieved and vocal Chinese citizens — that is, with suspicion and hostility.

When Reuters journalist Megha Rajagopalan checked in with the families at six months, they reported being watched and harassed by Beijing police. Two people were beaten for publicly pressing for information, family members reported. (Beijing police have not addressed the charge.) When families gather at the suburban Beijing office set up to handle their quest for answers, they are warned not to gather in large groups, or else face detention.

At nine months, a videographer for the South China Morning Post met family members who were marching to the Chinese Foreign Ministry to ask for answers. “We haven’t received any information,” Liu Kun, brother of a missing passenger, said. “I found the Malaysia Airlines office but they ignored me, we reached the Malaysian government but they also brushed us off, even our own government doesn’t allow us to find our family members.”

The heartbreaking truth, of course, is that they may not be found and the families’ living nightmare will continue. A year on, certainty looks a long way off.

TIME Aviation

This Is Why GPS Can’t Find the Missing AirAsia Flight QZ 8501

Navy soldiers work on a map of Indonesia monitoring all Navy ships from Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia involved in the joint search and rescue operation for AirAsia flight QZ8501 at a navy base on Batam island
Antara Photo Agency/Reuters Indonesian navy soldiers work on a map of Indonesia monitoring all ships from Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia involved in the joint search-and-rescue operation for AirAsia Flight QZ8501 at a navy base on the Indonesian island of Batam on Dec. 29, 2014

Finding a plane isn't as simple as finding your phone

Objects that appeared to be a body and luggage, seen floating in the Karimata Strait on Tuesday, are the latest clues as to the final resting place of AirAsia Flight QZ 8501, which disappeared 42 minutes after leaving Indonesia for Singapore early Sunday.

Indonesia’s Kompas TV said the objects were spotted by an Indonesian air-force pilot.

The sighting joins other unconfirmed leads as to the fate of the Airbus A320-200 and its 162 passengers and crew. According to news agency Agence France-Presse, “items resembling an emergency slide and plane door” were also seen Tuesday floating in the Java Sea by the crew of an Indonesian search aircraft, some 105 miles (169km) from Pangkalan Bun, a town in Central Kalimantan province, in southern Borneo.

Other clues include a few wisps of smoke spotted spiraling from Belitung Island, off the east coast of Sumatra, and an account by two fishermen of Kubu village, in Indonesia’s Central Kalimantan province, who may have witnessed an explosion at sea and are reportedly taking officials to the spot.

There has already been one false lead — the “suspicious objects” seen Monday that were quickly discounted as general flotsam. The others may turn out the same way. But in this age of airborne wi-fi and GPS in every smart phone, a pertinent question must be asked: Why are we relying on smoke signals, fishermen and crewmen peering through the dull plexiglass of aircraft windows, at choppy seas hundreds of feet below, to find a plane?

The answer is investment priorities.

Modern aircraft, QZ 8501 included, have a GPS system, known as ADS-B, that broadcasts the plane’s location. However, this only works for normal flights — once an aircraft is hurtling to the ground, conditions become too extreme for it to function (neither would your phone’s GPS).

“People have been comparing this situation to Apple’s Find My Phone app,” John Walton, a British aviation journalist, tells TIME. “But the app can’t tell you very much on the way down if your phone is thrown off a 10-story building.”

Walton was also quick to tweet his reservations over whether an initial set of objects sighted Tuesday came from QZ 8501.

The disappearance of Malaysia Airways Flight 370 in March, presumed lost in the southern Indian Ocean with 239 people on board, prompted similar frustrations about why better technology isn’t being used to track missing planes.

Despite that, both the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) have been “dragging their feet and putting some very feeble proposals forward” regarding developing the necessary technology, says Walton.

In December, a recommended timetable for deploying stopgap technology was vetoed by IATA board members, reports Reuters.

However, industry insiders say there is a valid argument against prioritizing expensive new GPS technology. It is unknown whether it would actually save any lives, and given difficult investment choices in a fiercely competitive marketplace, airlines would be better off putting money into advances that actually make planes safer.

Despite high-profile air disasters — which include Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, shot down over Ukraine in July, and the crash of an Air Algeria plane in Mali the same month with the loss of 116 lives — 2014 is on course to be the safest year on record in terms of fatal aviation accidents. There have been just eight as opposed to 11 in 2012, the previous safest year.

According to a Flightglobal study, “airline operations are now almost three times safer than they were 20 years ago.”

This is largely due to improvements to technology and training, spurred by massive investment. And so while it may seem ridiculous that passenger jets can disappear without a trace, it is also remarkable just how reliable they have become. They are still very much the world’s safest mode of transport.

There’s just one snag. When something does go wrong, it goes wrong catastrophically — and our inability to do a simple thing like find an aircraft only gives us more time to dwell on that fact.

With reporting by Yenni Kwok

Read next: AirAsia Relatives in Shock as Indonesian TV Airs Images of Floating Body

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TIME Malaysia

Malaysia Airlines Asked for Travelers’ ‘Bucket Lists’ in Ill-Advised Contest

A member of ground crew works on a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang
Olivia Harris—Reuters A member of ground crew works on a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 airplane on the runway at Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 25, 2014

Would-be passengers in Australia and New Zealand were invited to share their bucket lists in hopes of winning a free ticket

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) launched a competition in Australia and New Zealand four days ago, according to media reports, in which it said it was giving away free economy-class tickets and free iPads.

The marketing ploy was to be expected from an airline still reeling from the twin tragedies of MH17 and MH370, but the competition name was bizarre: My Ultimate Bucket List.

Contestants had to explain “What and where would you like to tick off on your bucket list?”

The Merriam-Webster definition of bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” The association is horrific, given that 537 people lost their lives flying on the airline this year.

The contest appears to have since been withdrawn, with the original competition link now leading to a 404 error page. A PDF of the competition terms and conditions could be found here at time of publication, but besides that there no longer appear to be details of the competition on the MAS site.

The launch of the competition was picked up in the Australian travel-industry press and even name-checked in British tabloid the Daily Mail. But perhaps MAS has since realized that asking prospective passengers to think up a bucket list before accepting a free ticket on one of its planes might be construed as macabre.

The airline can at least be grateful that online gaffes can be deleted. In 2003, the Hong Kong Tourism Board ran an ad promising would-be visitors that “Hong Kong will take your breath away.” At the time, SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome — had killed about 100 people, mostly in Hong Kong and China. But the ad ran in British and European print magazines — and there was no time to change the slogan before the presses started to roll.

TIME Malaysia

Malaysians Want the Bodies of Their MH17 Dead Back Before the Ramadan Fast Ends

Per Liljas Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol dressed for iftar dinner with other relatives of MH17 victims at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on July 20, 2014. Zulrusdi's cousin was returning after a three-year work stint in Kazakhstan with his wife and four children on July 17, when the Malaysia Airlines plane they were traveling with was shot down midair over eastern Ukraine.

For relatives gathered at a hotel south of Kuala Lumpur, it's a heart-breaking waiting game

Update: This story was updated at 22:45 ET on July 22 to include an official quote on the correct handling of dead bodies in Islam.

Dusk settles and Malaysia comes together to break the daily fasting of Ramadan. Hundreds of people in elegant attire mill about the lavish iftar buffet at Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya, 25 km south of Kuala Lumpur. Two floors down, however, the mood is less festive. There, MH17 relatives gather around tables in one of the conference rooms and yearn for a completely different religious observance.

“We need to get the bodies home to expedite the burials,” says Zulrusdi bin Haji Mohamad Hol, whose cousin was on the plane together with his whole family. “Otherwise, how will our family members get peace?”

Four days after Malaysia Airlines flight 17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over eastern Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels who control the area have piled almost 200 corpses into refrigerated boxcars and used cranes to move chunks of the downed aircraft. International investigators still have limited access to the crash site, and Western governments have condemned the separatists for tampering with the scene.

A rebel leader said Sunday that they will hand over the bodies to the International Civil Aviation Organization, yet that depends on an as yet nonexistent cooperation between rebels, the Ukraine government and international investigators. A government-appointed counselor at the Marriott says he has to shield relatives from media coverage from Ukraine. Zulrusdi has caught images of remains putrefying on the fields, and rebels carrying away bodies in plastic bags. International media has carried reports of victims’ luggage and personal belongings being rummaged through and possibly looted.

“I’m very angry,” Zulrusdi says. “They’re inhumane, they don’t understand. First they murder our relatives then they keep the corpses with them.”

Pressure is mounting on Russia to take a firmer role in securing the investigation and recovery of bodies. The U.S. has been particularly harsh in their allusions to Russian culpability. On Sunday, the embassy in Kiev stated that “MH17 was likely downed by a SA-11 surface-to-air missile from separatist-controlled territory in eastern Ukraine,” that Russia had sent “a convoy of military equipment” to the separatists over the weekend of July 12-13, and that Moscow had trained the rebels in the use of air defense systems.

However, officials in Malaysia have chosen a more cautious tone.

“Culpability is only the third priority of the Malaysian government,” says Bridget Welsh, senior research associate at the Center for East Asia Democratic Studies of the National Taiwan University. “It would be counterproductive for their goal of bringing back the bodies to take a harder position on Russia now.”

James Chin, professor of political science at Monash University, says that Prime Minister Najib Razak has put himself in a bind by promising to recover the bodies from MH17 before next week, when the fasting period of Ramadan ends.

“It will be almost impossible to do this, and it will show how powerless Malaysia is in a situation like this, involving big players like the U.S. and Russia,” he says.

A Malaysian team is currently in Ukraine to take care of the Muslim bodies, equipped with kafan, the ritual cloth that remains should be wrapped in.

“The way the bodies were handled by the separatist has not only made us angry but has saddened us,” Othman Mustapah, director general of the Department of Islamic Development, tells TIME. “Islam places great emphasis on respecting the dead body. Not only must burial rites be managed properly, with care and in a civilized manner, the bodies must be washed, wrapped in kafan and buried as soon as possible.”

Dr Mohammad Asri Zainul Abidin, former mufti of Perlis province, adds: “If you cannot find the body, there is a special prayer that can be read. As for the relatives of MH370, it’s been up to them to decide when to do that.”

The next-of-kin at the Marriott Hotel continue to fast, join for iftar in the evening and pray that the remains of their relatives will soon be retrieved. Zulrusdi knows that in this process, his government only has limited power.

“It’s like the Malaysian saying, when the elephants fight, the little animals get trampled underfoot.”

TIME Aviation

Malaysia, the World’s Unluckiest Airline, Will Now Struggle to Survive

Malaysia’s national carrier was already in a weak financial position. Now its future is highly uncertain

Only four months after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished somewhere in the Indian Ocean with 239 passengers on board, Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine, causing the loss of another 298 souls — an unprecedented blow to a major international airline. Even a robust operator would have trouble overcoming twin disasters like that. But the fact is that Malaysia’s flag carrier is in no financial shape to absorb these catastrophes. In fact, analysts wonder if it will ever be able to recover.

“The outlook is very dire,” says Mohshin Aziz, an aviation analyst at Kuala Lumpur–based Maybank. The airline, he fears, “won’t be able to survive beyond the year in its current form.”

The next months could prove humbling for an airline that had grand ambitions. The Malaysian government had high hopes that its national carrier would compete with the region’s best, and invested much money and emotion into building it. But Malaysia Airlines got badly squeezed in the fiercely contested Asian airline industry. Its cost base is too high to compete with lean and mean budget carrier AirAsia, also based in Kuala Lumpur. At the same time, it lacks the prestigious brand image to raise its ticket prices and take on East Asia’s more premier airlines, such as Singapore Airlines and Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific. As a result, the company has been bleeding for years. The airline’s Kuala Lumpur–listed parent, Malaysian Airline System, has racked up losses of more than $1.4 billion since 2011. Management has tried cutting costs and improving service to turn around the airline’s fortunes, but such efforts were making only minimal progress.

Now whatever hope remained may get dashed by the two crushing tragedies. Analysts are concerned that the fallout will scare passengers away from flying on the airline, or force management to discount tickets to convince them to book — reducing revenue either way. That could push the airline’s fragile finances to the breaking point, causing “the ticking time bomb to explode,” says Daniel Tsang, founder of consultancy Aspire Aviation in Hong Kong. That reality will likely force Malaysia Airlines to take more drastic measures to stay afloat. Even before the latest crash over Ukraine, CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya told shareholders in June that the MH370 incident “sadly now added an entirely unexpected dimension, damaging our brand and our business reputation, and accelerating the urgency for radical change.”

There are options, but all are equally unsavory. Mohshin believes that Malaysia Airlines will have to greatly shrink its business, perhaps eradicating most of the international routes it flies, to focus on the more profitable parts of the operations. “It will never get back to the large size it was before,” he says. “The sooner they accept that fact, the better off they will be.” Tsang says that bankruptcy proceeding would be a “pretty good option” for Malaysia Airlines. That process would make it easier to strip out more of the legacy costs and make the airline more competitive.

What happens next ultimately depends on the Malaysian government. A state-controlled investment fund owns a majority of the shares in the carrier’s parent company, and that makes the future of Malaysia Airlines a political issue. The airline’s powerful union has been able to fight off previous efforts at radically overhauling the carrier and analysts say that rescuing Malaysia Airlines this time will require a high degree of political commitment. Still, if Malaysia Airlines manages to streamline its operations, it may live to fly another day.

“The restructuring will be painful for a lot of people,” Tsang says. “But a phoenix can rise from ashes.”

TIME Malaysia

Anger, Agony and Disbelief as Malaysians Awake to News of MH17

Malaysia Malaysia Airlines
Joshua Paul—AP An electronic board displays "Pray for MH17" at the departure hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport on July 18, 2014

First a jet vanishes over the Indian Ocean. Now this

Updated: July 18, 2014, at 02:25 ET

Malaysians are reacting with shock and anguish to the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 in Ukraine. The Boeing 777 was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and crashed in an area controlled by pro-Russia rebels — just months after the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

“The Ukrainian authorities believe that the plane was shot down,” said Prime Minister Najib Razak in a statement. “At this early stage, however, Malaysia is unable to verify the cause of this tragedy. But we must — and we will — find out precisely what happened to this flight. No stone can be left unturned.”

There were 283 passengers and 15 crew aboard Flight 17. Of those, 154 people were from the Netherlands. There were also 27 from Australia, 43 from Malaysia (including the crew and two infants), 12 from Indonesia (including another infant) and others from Europe, the Philippines and Canada, according to a statement posted Thursday by Malaysia Airlines.

The Associated Press (AP) reports that distressed relatives have gathered at Kuala Lumpur International Airport to await news of family members. In between sobs, Akmar Mohamad Noor told AP that her older sister was on the flight, returning to Malaysia to celebrate Eid with the family for the first time in 30 years.

“She called me just before she boarded the plane and said, ‘See you soon,'” Akmar said.

There are reports that furious relatives waited for hours at the airport, unable to speak to officials from Malaysia Airlines and prevented from entering operational areas by security guards.

“We have been waiting for four hours. We found out the news from international media. The Facebook is more efficient than MAS,” one man said to waiting media.

Malaysian news outlet the Star gave blanket coverage to the crash Thursday morning, but, seeking a human dimension to the tragedy, most readers were drawn to a simple, poignant story on the worried messages left by colleagues on the Facebook page of cabin attendant Angeline Premila, believed to have been on the downed flight.

The Malaysian Insider reported on the extraordinary fate of cabin crew member Sanjid Singh, who reportedly swapped shifts so that he could be aboard Flight 17. Months earlier, his wife, also a Malaysia Airlines cabin crew member, had swapped out of the now vanished Flight 370 at the last minute, saving her life.

News site Astro Awani also carried news of the families of other crew members. Relatives of flight 17’s chief steward, Mohd. Ghaffar Abu Bakar, 54, said they heard the news on TV. The father of cabin attendant Nur Shazana Mohamed Salleh was unaware his daughter, 31, was aboard Flight 17 until informed by her friends late on Thursday evening. “She had asked us to send a photo of her nephew … She sounded cheerful,” he told journalists regarding his last communication with her on July 16.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Twitterverse is abuzz with the news about the crash. “Following the uproar over the disappearance of MH 370, now [we are] shocked by MH17 that crashed in Ukraine. Oh God,” said @tracy_elcia, writing in Bahasa Malaysia.

Many users were in disbelief with the two successive tragedies that befall the country. “My dear God. The MH370 case is not finished, the MH17 case arrives. #PrayForMH17 #PrayForMH370,” said @apizshahh.

In the deeply religiously Muslim-majority country, some Twitter users turned to God for consolation. “Nightmare?? Only Allah knows what was happening.. #prayforMH17,” said @mohdzarulhiqmi.

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