Malaysian Airlines MH370: Families struggling 6 months after jet disappeared

On the six-month anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines MH370, relatives of the passengers — some of them Canadians — still don't know what happened and remain angry at the Malaysian government.

Closure could be many years away, another passenger's relative admits

Zhang Mei Ling still believes her daughter and son-in-law, who lived in Montreal for a number of years, are alive six months after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

The lives of the families with loved ones on Malaysian Airlines flight MH730 have been in limbo since the fateful morning of March 8, when the plane and the 239 aboard disappeared.

Not knowing the fate of the people who were on the Boeing 777 plane has has made it impossible for their families to move forward.

Zhang Mei Ling became one of the faces of the grieving families after Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said the search had moved from rescue to recovery of the bodies of those who were on the plane that had left Kuala Lumpur and was headed for Bejiing.

The plane disappeared after losing contact with air traffic control less than an hour after takeoff, triggering an intense search effort that started in the Gulf of Thailand and the South China Sea, and soon extended to other bodies of water.

Zhang firmly believed her daughter, Xiaomo Bai, and son-in-law, Muktesh Mukherjee, both Canadian citizens, were alive. The couple lived in Montreal a number of years ago, before moving to Chicago and then Beijing.

Zhang screamed to the hundreds of cameras, "My child isn't dead, but being hidden by people somewhere we don't know." 

She, like other family members of the 154 Chinese nationals on board, would repeat an old saying: "If they are alive I need to see them; if they are dead, I need to see the body."

Zhang still sits in her living room and writes messages to her daughter, with photos of the couple quietly staring back at her as she types. She still holds out hope that her 37-year-old daughter will return her messages.  

"I write that I miss her and I'm asking where she is," Zhang said.

"I firmly believe they are alive," she added. "I think they are being held hostage now."

Zhang provided live in care for the missing couple's two young boys, but it was eventually decided to have the children leave Beijing and continue their schooling while living with their paternal grandparents in England.

"I almost went crazy at that time," she said. "I couldn't really accept the fact that both kids suddenly left me. I [still] can't really accept it, but I have to continue my own life."

Zhang's sister has been her rock amid all the tumult.

"Without her I wouldn't be alive now," she said.

Still, she maintains hope, praying and lighting incense at the local temple.

"I don't ask too much. I just hope that they could come back early. During this six months, it's been this belief that supports me."

Skeptical of search location

Beijing resident Steve Wang, 25, is trying to continue with his life six months after his mother took the doomed flight. He has never released her name.

"I'm trying to get back to work, but I know I can't totally get back to it," he said. "Every time I try, I just can't concentrate on other things, other things not related to MH370."

Wang was at first reluctant to speak to the media, but eventually took on the role of speaking on behalf of the victims of the modern air mystery. For weeks on end, he was interviewed live on a number of national television networks, and was quoted in newspapers on every continent.

Now, he says, interviews are "once a week or once every two weeks," as other stories have come to dominate international headlines.

"I knew it would happen sooner or later because to most people, it's just news," said Wang. "It's not like that for us. I really hope there are more people, more media that will keep doing something with it."

Wang, like many relatives of the passengers, is unconvinced that the plane is anywhere near where the current search is located in the Indian Ocean.  

"I think it's ridiculous from the beginning," he said. "They said they are confident that they are searching in the right place."
Wang thinks there are clues in the investigation that should be pursued, and that some of the millions of dollars being spent searching the bottom of the Indian Ocean would be better spent on an independent investigation not run by the Malaysian government.  

"I don't believe the Malaysian government has the capability to do [an investigation]," he said. "From the beginning, they don't know how to handle it."

Wang said he and the other family members who lost people on MH370 feel powerless. He hopes for some kind of closure, but doesn't know when it will happen.

"I think it will be found, but it will take a long time," he said. "I don't know if  it'll be 10 years, 20 years, or 30 years or whether during my life they'll find it. But it will be found."