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Questions Remain as Malaysia Declares Fate of Missing Airliner

By the time the text message arrived, 17 days had passed since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. It was addressed to the loved ones of the 239 passengers and crew, and the tone was clinical: based on an analysis of satellite data, Malaysian authorities had concluded “beyond any reasonable doubt” that MH 370 had plunged into the southern Indian Ocean seven hours off its intended flight path. There were no survivors.

For the families of those aboard MH 370, the news, which was grounded in calculations by a British satellite firm, could not have been a complete surprise. Nevertheless, as the days passed and the mystery deepened over what had caused the airliner to cut most communications less than an hour into its March 8 flight, it was natural to cling to even the faintest filament of hope. Perhaps the flight had been hijacked and the passengers were holed up in some Central Asian mountain hideaway? After all, the Malaysian government had said it believed the plane had been deliberately diverted by someone on board.

At a hotel in Beijing, where relatives of 153 Chinese passengers had been camped out, mourners fainted after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, speaking during a March 24 press conference held just minutes after the text message went out, said MH 370 had indeed been lost at sea.

But even if there was clarity on the ultimate fate of those on board, other mysteries festered. As of March 26, no confirmed wreckage from the plane had been discovered. Chinese warships and the nation’s first icebreaker vessel, the Snow Dragon, chugged to waters where international satellites had picked up possible debris among the choppy whitecaps. Planes from Australia, China, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and the U.S. flew search sorties from western Australia, which is some 1,500 miles (2,415 km) northeast of the suspected crash site.

Finding floating debris will be far easier than recovering the plane’s black boxes, which could help verify one of several theories about MH 370: pilot suicide, hijacking, a freak electronic failure or fire. In the case of an Air France flight that pitched into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009, it took two years to find the flight recorders deep in the ocean, even though some of the plane’s wreckage was located six days after the crash. Australian Defense Minister David Johnston has described the swath of Indian Ocean suspected to be the resting place of MH 370 as “one of the most remote parts of the planet.”

Still lacking crucial details, Chinese families marched on March 25 from their hotel toward the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, demanding better treatment and more information. It was a rare public protest in China, allowed by a government that normally snuffs out any sign of popular dissent. But this demonstration was against another country and its national carrier. The same day, Chinese President Xi Jinping appointed a special envoy to Malaysia to deal with “issues surrounding the plane’s disappearance,” according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

Back near the Malaysian embassy, the messages were more personal. A parent of one of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370’s passengers held aloft a placard. Mommy and Daddy’s hearts are broken, the sign said. come home soon.



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