Why families of MH370 victims cannot move on

They are caught between seeking truth and coping with their loss.

By Anamika Chatterjee (The Mystery Deepens)

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Published: Sun 23 Jun 2019, 9:54 PM

Last updated: Sun 23 Jun 2019, 11:57 PM

On a quiet morning on March 8, 2014, a phone rings at KS Narendran's home in Chennai, India. He is almost sure that it is his mother calling to get him to make a cup of coffee. He briefly considers not answering, but ultimately relents. The caller, to his surprise, is his wife Chandrika's colleague. He informs him that the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 370 has disappeared. It takes a few seconds before Narendran realises that this was the flight Chandrika must've taken en route to Mongolia for a conference. What if she hadn't boarded? Or missed the flight? The optimism is shortlived. If the plane has indeed disappeared, it may just have crashed. Collecting himself, he informs his mother and daughter, and waits for more conclusive information.
Closure is an emotional necessity, but it has been denied to the families of MH370 passengers. Caught somewhere between seeking truth and coping with their loss, they continue to live with unanswered questions. Conspiracy theories ranging from alien abduction to the plane being shot by the US military don't help them process their grief any better. Recently, MH 370 was in the news again, thanks to a longform piece by well-known aviation writer William Langewiesche in The Atlantic. Of the many talking points in the article, one that has grabbed maximum eyeballs is the contention that pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah may just have depressurised the cabin, leading the crew and the passengers to their fatal end. Speaking to one of Zaharie's close friends, who is not named, Langewiesche points to the disturbed mind of a 'lonely and sad' man, who had even rehearsed the flight on his simulator at home.
Having been praised and critiqued in equal measure, the article has managed to turn the gaze - yet again - on what is widely considered to be one of the greatest aviation mysteries.
As readers, it's tempting to play the guessing game on what may or may not have happened inside MH370. But for Narendran, who lost a family member on that plane, the article reiterates what has already been said before. Not too long ago, he even penned a memoir Life After MH370: Journeying Through a Void, recalling how he coped with the loss of his wife and the struggle to get information from Malaysian authorities. He follows every little detail about MH370 astutely, and is not really surprised by Langewiesche's account.
Pilot's culpability, he says, has already been written about extensively. "This notion has also been most vigorously resisted by very many. With a writer's license, it may be easier to carry along a reader and pin it on the pilot, but, as an investigator, the writer offers slim evidence.. There is little to suggest that the writer spoke to the Transport Minister (current and former), the Civil Aviation Authority in Malaysia, Boeing, the Annex 13 Safety Investigation team's chief, the captain's family and so on. So, there seems to be no place for a defence or a contrary view. Other than that, Malaysia's bungling in the initial hours and days of the flight's disappearance has already been well-documented. Where it pertains to the pilot, what would generally be dismissed as salacious gossip is treated as evidence," he says.
Even if he is less than impressed, Narendran admits that it's important to revisit MH370 from time to time, primarily because the investigation will only advance with a sustained public curiosity and demand for truth. But does he really believe that Zaharie may have been responsible for the MH370's disappearance? Narendran, who is a management consultant, says that he has played up the scenario in his head several times in the past, more so, when he is flying. "It is macabre, eerie and distressing. It also always reminds me of how dependent we are on a couple of guys in the cockpit miles above the ground and how completely helpless we are to protect ourselves should someone in the cockpit turn rogue."
In an earlier interaction, Narendran had said, "In death, there is finality. But in an event like MH370, death is a presumption... So, the decision to give up on a family member's return and move on is - according to me - a personal decision, a tough, bruising and emotionally wrecking decision. Not all family members of MH370 passengers till date want to come to this decision, in their hearts."
Which is why with every conspiracy theory, there comes a sense of devastation all over again. "Invariably, just when I feel that my life is settling into a new equilibrium, some news/announcements come up and upsets this steadily crafted state of 'normalcy'. The limited information known regarding MH370 means few explanations 'logically' square with all that is known. So anything approaching what could pass off as a conclusion is instantly and vigorously contested by professional and self-anointed experts." Narendran says this only reinforces a realisation that the entire truth about MH370 may never be known. Perhaps this explains why he has reconciled with the fact of loss rather than with the reality of not knowing. "More importantly, not knowing what to believe and whom to - it is not an easy location to operate from." ­­

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