Nation gripped by missing jet mystery

THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS: A woman adds her message of support for MH370 passengers and crew to thousands of others at the Mid Valley Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur.
THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS: A woman adds her message of support for MH370 passengers and crew to thousands of others at the Mid Valley Shopping Centre in Kuala Lumpur.

Two weeks on from the mysterious disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, a solemn air has descended over Malaysia as the search pervades every aspect of life.

Malaysians remain gripped by the mystery of the Boeing 777, missing since it vanished in the early hours of March 8, shortly after it departed Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

Newspapers, websites, and television broadcasts are dominated by coverage of the search, but no one appears any closer to having the answers the families and friends of the 239 people on board the flight so desperately need to hear.

The hope for the passengers' survival in the first hours and days after the plane was reported missing has largely turned to hope for closure for families and friends of those on board.

The first "credible" lead in the search for the plane came from Australia on Thursday, when Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced to his parliament a satellite had spotted two objects floating in the Indian Ocean.

People in Kuala Lumpur flocked around televisions in public viewing spots to watch coverage of the press conference from Australia.

There was a sense of despair – if the Australians do find the plane, it is tragic news for those who have been waiting a fortnight to hear the fate of their loved ones.

And if the debris spotted is not from the plane, the search is simply back to square one – and the waiting continues.

There has been an outpouring of support and unity in Kuala Lumpur, as people have held vigils, written messages on banners and posted on social media, praying for the people on board the flight – 38 of whom were fellow Malaysians.

But the unified support for the families and friends is in stark contrast to Malaysians' response to their government's handling of the crisis.

Many are embarrassed and angry as frustrating contradictions over the sequence of events on board MH370 exacerbate a widespread perception the government is hiding information on the plane's fate.

Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, the government spokesman on the investigation, is seen as scarcely more credible than the shaman who carried out rituals at Kuala Lumpur international airport in an attempt to find the plane with an "enchanted" walking stick, "Zam-Zam" water, and two coconuts.

The Government-controlled local media has released only scant information on the investigation, and Hishammuddin has refused to answer questions fully or deviate from his script at nightly media briefings.

Reports on the search have come from international news agencies, and in a sentiment reflecting the thoughts of a growing numbers of Malaysians, university lecturer Ong Yew Chuan said the country was coming across to the world as inefficient in its search efforts and handling of the situation.

"There have been too many versions of the news spreading around, even since the first day, and these have come from Malaysian officials."

Malaysia missed a crucial opportunity to intercept the plane when it was detected on military radar as taking an abnormal route, which enhanced the view something untoward was taking place in high level rooms behind closed doors, he said.

"I guess our government should clarify this. Maybe they have their own reasons."

Whatever the reasons are, the Malaysian government's silence contributes to the widespread perception it is hiding something, and as this grows, so does the level of outrage and suspicion about the handling of the crisis.

And for a country unaccustomed to international attention, Malaysians are embarrassed that this tragedy is what has put them on the world stage.

One local woman said she was mortified to tell someone she met overseas she was from Malaysia, only to be told she was from "that weird country that used coconuts to find the missing plane".

With an investigation characterised by misinformation and confusion, with few solid pieces of evidence available, everyone in Kuala Lumpur has a theory on what happened on the flight that caused the communications systems to be shut down, before the plane deviated from its plotted course.

But none of the theories bring answers for families and friends of those on board.

Malaysians continue to wait for news, but as each day passes, hope diminishes, and the level of resignation to the inevitable increases.

Fairfax Media