Numbered 1 to 227, the passenger manifest for the missing Malaysia Airlines jet is an outwardly unremarkable document.
But behind the columns of capitalised names, nationalities and ages are 227 unique stories, part of a rich human tapestry that assembles every time a flight departs. There were middle-aged Australians with wanderlust, an acclaimed Chinese calligrapher, a young Indonesian man heading to begin a new career, and two people travelling on stolen passports.
More than a day and a half has passed since the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens in the first hour of a six-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. From France to Australia and China, families and friends are enduring an agonising wait for news about Flight MH370.
The flight had a crew of 12, all from Malaysia, a melting pot nation of ethnic Malays, Chinese and Indians. Passengers on the popular business and tourist route were mostly from China and Malaysia, along with smatterings of people from other corners of the world: Americans, Australians, Indians, French, Indonesians, Ukrainians and other nationalities.
Some travelled alone, some in groups. They were young sweethearts and wrinkled older couples. Some had business in mind, others thought of art. Seventy-four years separates the youngest, 2-year-old Moheng Wang, and the oldest, 76-year-old Rusheng Liu.
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“I can only pray for a miracle,’’ said Daniel Liau, the organiser of a calligraphic and painting exhibition in Malaysia attended by acclaimed Chinese calligrapher Meng Gaosheng, who boarded the flight with 18 other artists plus six family members and four staff. “I feel very sad. Even though I knew them for a short time, they have become my friends,’’ Liau said.
Also travelling as a group were eight Chinese and 12 Malaysian employees of Austin, Texas, semiconductor company Freescale, which said it was assembling “around-the-clock support’’ for their families.
For seasoned Australian travellers Robert Lawton, 58, and his wife, Catherine, 54, the seemingly routine takeoff of flight MH370 was the beginning of another adventure. “They mentioned in passing they were going on another big trip and they were really excited,’’ Caroline Daintith, a neighbor, told Australian Broadcasting Corp television of the couple described as doting grandparents.
Sharing their adventure was another 50-something Australian couple, Rodney and Mary Burrows. Neighbour Don Stokes said the trip was intended as the beginning of the “next step in their life.’’
Among the family groups on board were teenage sweethearts Hadrien Wattrelos, 17, and Zhao Yan, 18, students at a French school in Beijing who were returning from the Malaysian leg of a two-week holiday along with Hadrien’s mother and younger sister.
In December, Zhao changed her Facebook profile photo to one of her and Hadrien. He had commented: “Je t’aime,’’ followed by a heart, and she had “liked’’ his comment.
Some boarded the plane with more serious purposes in mind.
Colleagues of Chandrika Sharma said the 50-year-old director of the Chennai chapter of an organisation that works with fishermen was on her way from the southern Indian city to Mongolia for a Food and Agriculture Organization conference. “There must still be hope,’’ said a colleague.
For 24-year-old Firman Chandra Siregar from Medan, Indonesia, the flight was a new chapter. In Beijing, he was to start a three-year contract with Schlumberger, an oilfield services company.
Dozens of relatives and neighbours gathered at his family’s home, some tearful, praying or watching news of the search and rescue operation. Like Sharma’s colleagues, they were forced to let hope ebb away.