As I'm sure you know, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished on Saturday night during a red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Five days later, no trace of the plane has been found. My last few travel posts have been about my own family's trip from Malaysia to Beijing last October, albeit on a different airline. I can't help identifying with the passengers on that plane. I'm sure that the same question has crossed other travelers minds. What if I had been on that flight?
|Memories of our own trip from Malaysia to Beijing|
I remember when my parents were visiting Europe and scheduled to fly home on September 12, 2001. I got the days mixed up and thought that they were flying home on September 11. When the attacks on the World Trade Center began, I vividly remember calling their phone in Texas and leaving a frantic message on the answering machine. "Are you home? Did you get home? Do not get on a plane!" They probably couldn't understand me; I was so hysterical. What if my family or friends were on a missing flight?
Wednesday night's update in a string of sometimes confusing and contradicting reports indicate that an unidentified blip was caught on military radar 200 km northwest of Penang at roughly the time that MH 370 disappeared. Could it be the missing aircraft? Did it turn back towards Kuala Lumpur? The search area has expanded from the east coast of Malaysia over the the west coast and the Andaman Sea that surrounds Penang. No, I have not seen any search planes or boats. Penang is in a heavy shipping lane and populated enough that someone would have noticed if the plane went down within sight of the island, so the rescuers are focusing on the vast expanse of water instead. Still, I cannot help looking out my windows to the Straits of Malacca spread out before me in hopes of spotting something — a life raft, fragments, or, God willing, the whole entire plane floating by.
|Looking out at the Straits of Malacca, waiting and searching|
There has been an outpouring of support from the people of Malaysia. Radio stations broadcast people's phoned-in messages of hope for the missing plane between songs. A local mall is holding a paper crane origami event on Thursday and Friday. They aim to offer up 5000 cranes, 5000 wishes, and 5000 prayers for the 239 passengers and crew members. University students stood near the flight path of planes taking off from Penang International Airport holding up signs that proclaimed, "Pray for MH370."
Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, pilot of the missing flight, attended Penang Free School. Over a thousand teachers and students there gathered to pray. The Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and Sikhs went off to separate areas in the school to supplicate their respective god(s) for the plane's safe return.
As is typical in this day and age, people expect total transparency and updates on the search and rescue efforts. News updates are given over the local radio every 30 minutes. The New Straits Times website adds multiple new articles an hour with all the latest information. Sometimes it's about area fishermen pledging to do everything they can to help with the search and rescue mission. A group found a badly damaged life raft floating 10 nautical miles from Port Dickson on the west coast of Malaysia on Wednesday. Unfortunately, it sank while being transferred on board the boat operated by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. Other times, it's about family members of the missing losing control of their emotions and giving in to grief and despair.
The locals I know are upset about how the government seems to be bungling the search and rescue operation. They had hoped that this emergency would give Malaysia a chance to shine and demonstrate its capabilities in the world. Instead, they've come up with nothing. The Dewan Rakyat (Malaysia's House of Representatives) has gone from observing a moment of silence in honor of the missing flight to members of the opposition party accusing officials of mishandling the incident and calling for the Prime Minister and Acting Transport Minister to present themselves to the next day's session to provide an explanation.
In the end, what everyone wants to find out is where is the plane. We hope that somehow the passengers and crew are safe. That six days out, this story will have a happy ending. That's what I'm praying for.
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