There were 12 crew and 227 passengers on the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared about 40 minutes into a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. They were from far-flung parts of the world: 14 nationalities that included New Zealanders, Iranians, Americans and Indonesians. Two thirds of the passengers were from China. These are the stories of some of those on board.
The flight’s pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah, 53, joined Malaysia Airlines in 1981 and had more than 18,000 hours of flight experience. People who knew Zaharie from his involvement in opposition political circles in Malaysia and other areas of his life described him as sociable, humble, caring and dedicated to his job.
His Facebook page showed an aviation enthusiast who built his own flight simulator at home and flew remote-controlled aircraft, posting pictures of his collection, which included a lightweight twin-engine helicopter and an amphibious aircraft.
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Born in northern Penang state, the captain and grandfather was an enthusiastic handyman and proud home cook. As part of what he called “community service,” he had posted several YouTube videos including how to make air conditioners more efficient to cut electricity bills, how to waterproof window panes, and how to repair a refrigerator icemaker.
“Likes” and other activity on Zaharie’s YouTube account showed approval of atheist views, an unusual admission in predominantly Muslim Malaysia.
Described by the imam of his local mosque as a “good boy” and by neighbors as pious, co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid was dubbed a playboy by foreign media after the revelation he and another pilot invited two women boarding their aircraft to sit in the cockpit for an international flight in 2011. During the journey, the pilots smoked and flirted, one of the women, South African Jonti Roos, said in an interview broadcast by Australia’s Nine Network.
Fariq, 27, was filmed recently by a crew from “CNN Business Traveler,” and reporter Richard Quest described the experience as a perfect landing of a Boeing 777-200, the same model as the plane that vanished. An online tribute page to the pilots shows a photo of Fariq in the cockpit with Quest, both smiling.
Fariq, however, was new to the 777 and had 2,763 flight hours overall.
Neighbor Ayop Jantan said he had heard that Fariq was engaged and planning his wedding. The eldest of five children, Fariq’s professional achievements were a source of pride for his father, Ayop said.
Destination North Korea
Chemistry lecturer Kranti Shirsath was on her way to North Korea via Beijing to visit her husband Prahlad, who was close to completing a three-year contract with nonprofit group Concern Worldwide. She was planning to help him pack for the move home to India, where she lived with the couple’s two sons in the western city of Pune.
Over the past 17 years, the couple lived in many countries, including Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as Prahlad took assignments with different NGOs. But she stayed behind with the children when he took up the post in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang.
Prahlad was among family members who traveled to Kuala Lumpur after hearing that the plane had gone missing. After spending four fruitless days in Kuala Lumpur, Prahlad has returned to Pune to be with his sons.
“Apart from no news of the aircraft, what is even more painful are the conspiracy theories,” Prahlad Shirsath told reporters in Pune.
Prize-winning calligrapher Meng Gaosheng, 64, was leading a delegation of two dozen artists to Malaysia for a three-day exhibition titled “The China Dream, An Ode to Colors.”
Meng’s works are among the collections on display in major tourist spots in Beijing such as Mao Zedong’s memorial hall and mausoleum and the Great Hall of the People.
In Kuala Lumpur, Meng spent most of his time with the artists at the exhibition. On the day before their departure, however, the artists toured well-known sites in the city that included the royal palace and the Petronas Twin Towers, which are Malaysia’s tallest buildings.
According to Xu Lipu, an artist who was on the trip but took another flight back to China, Meng was a knowledgeable artist and was happy to share his thoughts on artistic theory with the others. Meng was always encouraging the other artists by praising them and their work, Xu said.
Retired civil servant, passionate artist
Wang Linshi, 69, worked for the Chinese government in the eastern city of Nanjing until he retired, but his passion was painting, in particular chickens and roosters, according to son Wang Zhen. The elder Wang was traveling with Meng Gaosheng’s group.
“I remember that when I was a child, my father raised chickens to watch how they behave in order to draw them,” Wang Zhen said.
Wang Linshi’s wife Xiong Deming, 63, also traveled with the group. Wang Zhen described his mother as sweet and thoughtful, someone who was always looking out for him and was also kind to his new wife.
Wang Zhen, an engineer, said that since he got married a year ago, his parents have made it their mission to encourage him and his wife to have a child.
“They have wanted us to bear them a grandchild. They didn’t care if the child was a boy or a girl, as long as they had a grandchild,” said Wang.
The last time he heard from his father was when they exchanged mobile text messages when his father was at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport. Wang had messaged his father to ask him how things were going. “The trip was quite successful. We’ll be back tomorrow evening. A bit too busy to talk now, ” was Wang’s reply.
Last work trip to China
Philip Wood’s family saw him in Texas before what was meant to be his last work trip to China as an executive for IBM. The 50-year-old Wood had recently earned his certification for scuba diving, one of the ways in which he satisfied his craving for adventure.
Wood’s family continues to track the twists and turns of the investigation at home in Keller, Texas, a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth. His youngest brother, James, said on Monday that the family continues to pray, though they are realistic about Philip’s chances.
“Our faith isn’t that he’s going to come back home safe, even though that’s what we’re hoping for,” James Wood said. “Our faith is everything is going to be OK.”
Wood had been working in Beijing for the past two years and was making his last work trip to China, via Kuala Lumpur.
James Wood said his brother was an adventurous person who loved to travel and see new places, one of the things he loved about his job. He was divorced and has two grown children, one of whom attends Texas A&M University.
“I can honestly say he’s one person who’s lived his life to the fullest,” said James Wood.
First trip abroad
Maimaitijiang Abula, a 34-year-old art teacher from China’s far west Xinjiang region, home to China’s Turkic-speaking Uighur ethnic minority, was abroad for the first time and part of the group of painters and calligraphers in Malaysia for an exhibition.
His close friend, Yimamu’aishanjiang, told the Chinese magazine Nanfang People Weekly that the artist had confided in him that he aspired to be a master at painting in the style of realism.
Maimaitijiang was overjoyed by the accolades he received in Malaysia: he won an award, was interviewed by a Malaysian TV station and had one of his paintings curated by a gallery, the friend told the magazine.
Another friend Aiyin Abudu told the magazine that Maimaitijiang began drawing at age 6 and wishes that “the whole world can know about Xinjiang through his works.”
Moments before he boarded flight 370, Maimaitijiang called his friend Yimamu’aishanjiang. “How are you guys?” Maimaitijiang asked.
Paul Weeks, a 39-year-old mechanical engineer and New Zealand national was on his way to a new job in Mongolia. He planned to return as often as possible to his home in the Western Australia city of Perth, where he left his wife and two young sons.
Before he left, he handed his wedding ring and watch to his wife, Danica, for safekeeping, and told her to pass it down to his two sons, 3-year-old Lincoln and 11-month-old Jack, should anything happen to him.
Danica Weeks said Tuesday that she was “surviving,” but was too upset to say anything further.
In a Facebook post the day after the plane vanished, she wrote: “in a place I never wanted to be, trying to gather strength for my two beautiful boys, miss my darling with all my heart.”
Paul Weeks was interviewed by New Zealand’s The Press newspaper in 2012 about his decision to move his family to Australia from the southern New Zealand city of Christchurch, which was devastated by an earthquake the previous year.
“I consider our move to Australia to be one of necessity, rather than by choice, as we were content starting a family in Christchurch,” Weeks told The Press.
Mohamad Khairul Amri Selamat, 29, an aviation engineer with a private jet charter company and father of a 15-month-old daughter, was traveling to Beijing for work. His presence on the flight has drawn scrutiny after Malaysian authorities said they believed the plane’s course change and the severing of automated communications were deliberate.
Mohamed Khairul had recently moved into a new house in a suburb outside Kuala Lumpur and his family was planning to visit him this month when he returned from Beijing, said his father Selamat Omar.
Khairul called his father on the evening of March 6 to let him know about the trip and ask about his health as Selamat said he is diabetic.
“People can talk but I know my son. It is impossible for him to be involved in something like this,” Selamat said. “I am praying hard that the plane didn’t crash and he will be back soon.”
Always called twice
Chandrika Sharma always called her mother twice before traveling.
The first call is to tell her about the trip and to ask if she needed anything. The second call is to say she was at the airport and getting ready to fly.
“This time too, Chandrika called me before leaving to remind me to take my medicines,” said 88-year-old Shakuntala Sharma, recalling her last conversation with her daughter late on Mar. 7 before the flight took off.
An NGO worker who was director of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, Chandrika was en route to Mongolia for a conference. Chandrika had always been concerned with the “poor and the powerless in society,” her mother said.
She is married with a daughter, a university student studying in the Indian capital.
Chandrika’s husband, K.S. Narendran, a management consultant in Chennai, puzzled over how the plane could have simply vanished.
“One is left with a creeping suspicion that there is more to it than what is being shared. And if that is the case, whose interests are being served?”