By: Tim Sullivan and Eileen NG
One morning, many stories. The three women woke before sunrise that day, leaving their hotel while it was still dark and boarding a small plane in Kathmandu, Nepal, for a look at the Mount Everest. They were Chinese retirees, avid photographers ending a two-week tour of the Himalayan nation. Late that night, after a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, they would head home to Beijing.
The Indonesian couple woke up at home, a two-storey house in the city of Medan. A taxi arrived to take them to the airport, starting them on a journey to a long-anticipated vacation without their children, a trip to China to see the Great Wall and Beijing’s Forbidden City.
In Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, artists and calligraphers headed down to breakfast about 8 am. Some had been celebrating the night before, downing shots of the powerful Chinese liquor called Xifengjiu at the end of almost a week exhibiting their work. But they gathered early in the restaurant, ready for a day of sightseeing and shopping before the late-night flight back to Beijing.
And in Perth, in western Australia, the 39-year-old mechanical engineer woke up early in his bungalow, leaving his wife and their two young boys for a 28-day mining job in Mongolia. Just before he headed to the airport, on his way to connecting flights in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, Paul Weeks gave his wife his wedding ring and watch for safekeeping. If anything happened to him, he said, he wanted the boys to have them someday. “Don’t be stupid!” she told him.
It was Friday morning, March 7.
By that evening, they would all be together in a departure lounge in Kuala Lumpur’s airport. And a little after midnight on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off for Beijing, carrying 239 people.
Soon after takeoff, Flight 370 disappeared. Its transponders had been switched off. Soon, the blip was gone from radars. After searches across tens of thousands of square miles, Malaysia’s prime minister announced that satellite data showed the plane’s last known position to be in a remote corner of the Indian Ocean, far from its destination and far from any possible landing sites.
How it happened, and why, remains unclear. Perhaps it was a hijacking, perhaps pilot suicide, perhaps a catastrophic malfunction.
It had been a heavily Asian passenger list, reflecting both the locale of the flight and the changing face of the continent, home to a new generation of 21st-century people who form an emerging tourist and travelling class. Some of those aboard were heading home, others just making a quick stopover. Some were returning from their first trip abroad. For others, foot soldiers in Asia’s growing economies, it was just one more connecting flight in a lifetime of connecting flights.
Is it important that Paul Weeks told continued…