Monday 19 February 2018

Patricia Casey: Crumbs of hope only added to families' pain

Hunger strike threats after the loss of MH370 were attempts to control an uncontrollable situation

The filtering of information led to scenes of frustration in the media centre at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photo by Edgar Su/Reuters
The filtering of information led to scenes of frustration in the media centre at a hotel near Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Photo by Edgar Su/Reuters

One television commentator described it as a "black swan" event, another suggested it might be a "black hole" event when he declared that perhaps something supernatural or hitherto unheard of had happened.

The current status of flight MH370 is reminiscent of the terrifying stories surrounding the Bermuda Triangle, the area off the US coast in which aircraft and ships disappeared without trace in the 1940's/50's.

Now reports on MH370 have said that the aircraft turned left after the final "Good night" message and then travelled north, or went south.

Still others claim that it was on the ground when the final message was delivered. The theories about what happened are multiplying by the day due to the void left by poor information sharing.

At the time of going to press the possibility of debris being picked up by radar has prompted the Australian Government to send a team to investigate.

In tandem with these theories, the emotions of the waiting families are veering wildly from despair to hope to frustration and to anger.

The world has been gripped by the disappearance of this aircraft and astonished that it has literally vanished into thin air with no explanation at the time of writing. This is unprecedented.

What seemed initially like a tragic air accident, with all the passengers and crew presumed dead, turned into a possible terrorist plot with the aircraft on the ground, in some small island and those on board, hopefully, safe and well.

Then the theory of an accident far into the Indian Ocean gained traction as efforts to find the stricken craft involved 26 countries with the capability of searching for debris in the depths of the ocean, usually inaccessible to humans.

That was followed by possible signals of debris in the ocean to the west of Australia, hundreds of miles off course.

As the public interest in the fate of this aircraft shows no sign of abating, the families of the passengers are emerging as increasingly frustrated at the amount and accuracy of information being released to them.

Indeed it is possible that information given to the public may have been filtered, at least in the initial days, as the investigators tried to give the impression of having a sound theory as to causation.

As the days passed this was clearly not the case and culminated in some relatives being so distraught that they were forcibly dragged from the media centre.

The frustration of the relatives has been present and visible since the news of the aircraft's disappearance broke. Frustration leads to anger and this was evident when a group of families waiting patiently in Bejing declared they were going on hunger strike until the accuracy of communication improved.

Such an action would, of course, achieve very little and is unlikely to embolden the authorities to behave differently. What it did represent was an attempt by the families to take control of an uncontrollable situation. At least in their own actions they were in charge.

The worst outcome for the families is that the aircraft, the black box and the remains of those on it are never found. Some may cling to the vague hope that their loved ones are simply stranded on some remote island. Like the characters in the long-running TV series 'Lost', they will one day return.

But this vain hope cannot be sustained forever and eventually the terrible truth will dawn. Even finding the remains will raise questions for them.

How did they die – did they suspect or know their lives were going to end? Did they suffer physically and psychologically or was death instantaneous? Might they have had time to leave messages for loved ones in the hope that they would one day be washed ashore?

Apart from the highly unlikely possibility of finding the aircraft and those on board intact and alive, there is no good outcome, only some that are less devastating than others. The approach of the investigating authorities will have added to the suffering that the families are now experiencing, as they gave crumbs of hope where there was little and they played psychological games with those who were frantically in search of answers.

The anger of the relatives will further impair their healing. The families will support each other in the short term and are likely to form some kind of working alliance to search for the truth about what happened. March 8, 2014 was the day that the lives of the loved ones of those onboard MH370 changed irrevocably and cruelly.

Long after the incredible story of the disappearance of MH370 has been consigned to history, they will continue to be tormented by unanswered questions.

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