Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – A year after MH370 went missing on its way to Beijing, friends and family of the 239 people who were on board will gather in the Malaysian capital on Sunday to remember their loved ones and urge the authorities to continue their search for the aircraft and an answer to how it was able to disappear.
The centrepiece will be a Day of Remembrance, organised by the families at the outdoor courtyard of one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular malls.
Malaysia Airlines, which owned the plane, is holding a private ceremony.
“Despite the passage of so much time it is unlikely that we will know anything more on the anniversary about the final moments of flight – nor our family members whereabouts – than we did a year ago,” wrote Voice370, the group that represents the families and is organising the Day of Remembrance.
“The situation is horrifically unprecedented. The search efforts have been futile; not a single piece of wreckage from the airplane has been found.”
MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur in the early hours of March 8, 2014, but as the aircraft headed out into the South China Sea, communications were apparently turned off.
There was no official announcement that the aircraft was missing until it failed to land in Beijing as scheduled and, in a series of shambolic press conferences that only heightened the misery of the families, it eventually emerged that the plane had turned back over northern Malaysia and navigated a series of waypoints before disappearing.
It was only through the discovery and unprecedented analysis of automatic satellite communications that investigators were able to deduce the plane was somewhere along an arc from Kazakhstan in the north to the Indian Ocean in the south.
After further analysis, Malaysia’s prime minister announced the plane had “ended” its journey in the southern Indian Ocean.
Although nothing has yet been found despite an unprecedented search, an official report into MH370 has to be released in conjunction with the anniversary.
The search of the priority area is expected to be completed in May and it is not clear what will happen after that.
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“We have to hope that the search and salvage finds the wreckage and the recorders because we have no other data to go on,” said Sylvia Wrigley, an author who has written a book on commercial aviation disasters.
“In the past year, no real information has been discovered that can explain what happened that day. The wreckage and the recorders seem to be our only chance to solve this.”
In a public square, in front of a cinema advertising the latest Bollywood films, a small group of people gathered on Friday evening to remember MH370.
Some lit candles. Others sang. Muslim and Christian religious leaders recited prayers to a crowd dwarfed by the local and international media.
Fatimah, who did not want to reveal her full name, knew the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, a 53-year-old father of two with a passion for planes.
With so little to go on, suspicions that the pilot was to blame continue to attract attention. Zaharie’s family and friends say the man they knew would not have endangered his passengers.
“He was a nice guy,” said Fatimah, holding a candle with her five-year-old daughter.
“Everyone knows that. He was a good person. Even though the government says they are gone, we hope that one day they can find MH370 so that we have the answer. They cannot just say it’s gone without any evidence.”
Many families fear Malaysia’s declaration on January 29 that the disappearance was an “accident” is the first step towards calling off the search.
Voice370 has started a petition to ensure it continues.
Kelly Wen, 30, gave up her job selling furniture to try and find out more about what happened to her husband, who worked in Malaysia, but was returning to Beijing to see his family – including his three-year-old daughter – when the flight disappeared.
Wen plans to stay in Malaysia until at least April, living in the apartment her husband once called home. She refuses to give up hope.
“I feel very troubled,” she told Al Jazeera on the second day of the Lunar New Year, the most important holiday of the year for Chinese families.
“I am so sad because it’s Chinese New Year and families should be together. This year, it’s not like that. We’re waiting. Just waiting.”
MH370 wasn’t the only aviation disaster of 2014.
In July, Malaysians and the world were stunned when another plane belonging to Malaysia Airlines was shot down over Ukraine.
In December, an Indonesian AirAsia plane crashed in a thunderstorm on its way from Surabaya to Singapore.
Crashes in Africa and Taiwan also highlighted safety in an industry that has expanded rapidly over the past decade.
“If we are talking about loss of life, then yes, last year was pretty bad,” said Gerry Soejatman, an aviation analyst based in Jakarta.
“But in terms of the number of accidents, last year was the safest ever – one accident per 2.83 million flights.
“Some people are pushing a commercial agenda. Some people are pushing a safety agenda, but everyone should take a step back and look at the bigger picture.”
The International Civil Aviation Organisation, which oversees the industry, has tightened risk assessments for conflict zones and is calling for improved tracking.
The use of ejectable “black boxes” is also on the agenda.
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The twin disasters prompted drastic action at Malaysia Airlines, which had long been in financial difficulties.
Now controlled by the country’s sovereign investment fund Khazanah Nasional, the airline has a foreign boss for the first time in its history.
Christoph Mueller, credited with rescuing Aer Lingus, started work a week ago, and is expected to drop routes, renegotiate supplier contracts and fire as many as 6,000 of the airline’s employees.
After initial drops in demand, there are signs that passenger traffic is returning to Malaysia, even from China, but for the families and friends of those who went missing on MH370, moving on is next to impossible.
Not knowing only makes their situation more agonising.
“The first day my daughter asked me why her Dad didn’t come home,” Wen said.
“Now she points to the sky and says, ‘Please bring back my dad, I have something to tell him. Please, please bring him back’.”