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Friday, March 28, 2014

We have been waiting 37 years for answers, families of MH653 crash recall their trauma

A boy touching a tribute board to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The search for MH370 has triggered painful memories for families of another Malaysia Airlines tragedy – the hijacking of MH653 in 1977. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, March 28, 2014.A boy touching a tribute board to missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. The search for MH370 has triggered painful memories for families of another Malaysia Airlines tragedy – the hijacking of MH653 in 1977. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, March 28, 2014.The disappearance of flight MH370 has triggered painful memories for families of another Malaysia Airlines tragedy who have been waiting for answers even longer – 37 years, to be exact, reported CNN today.
In 1977, flight MH653 was hijacked en route from Penang to Kuala Lumpur. The Boeing 737-200 crashed into a mangrove swamp as it descended, killing all 100 on board.
It was the deadliest incident in Malaysian aviation history prior to MH370.
"Thirty-seven years down the line, we still don't really know the truth," Ruth Parr, who was 19 when her father, Thomas, died in the crash, told CNN.
The hijacker or hijackers of MH653 have never been identified, despite cockpit voice recordings that captured everything from the breach of the cockpit to the sound of gunshots that killed both pilots.
A report by the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department said the aircraft was hijacked as it approached Kuala Lumpur.
Apparently, there was confusion over whether it should land there and the aircraft then proceeded towards Singapore.
As it descended, the crew was shot and the aircraft "carried out some unusual pitch up and pitch down terminal manoeuvres before finally crashing into swampy ground at some 450 knots".
The report, quoted by CNN, concluded that the crash was caused by the crew being fatally incapacitated, leaving the aircraft "professionally uncontrolled".
However, some eyewitnesses at the time reported seeing the aircraft in flames before it hit the ground, while others reported hearing an explosion before the crash although there was no evidence to support these allegations.
As the search for MH370 enters the 21st day, for the family members of victims of flight MH653 contacted by CNN, MH370 tiggered painful memories although they have learned to cope with their grief.
"You have to carry that with you all the time," Tom Sherrington, whose father, Richard, was on MH653, told CNN.
He said talking about their memories of his father, whom he described as a "fun guy" and "big adventurer," helped his family to cope.
The family also visits the memorial, built near the crash site in the coastal town of Tanjung Kupang, Johor, and Sherrington said this enabled his family to have a tangible place to reflect on their loss.
Sherrington told CNN that families of those on board MH370 should focus on remembering their loved ones and not become obsess with assigning blame for the tragedy.
"The one thing I would say is not for them to get too obsessed with the detail and the recriminations and all that," he said, adding that he hoped the families would stick together and find comfort in each other. Both Parr and Sherrington said everyone processed his or her grief in different ways and there was no shortcut.
"It gets a little easier over time but you can never forget the date," Parr told CNN.
"You will forever think you see that person out and about, a glance in the car's rearview mirror or crossing the road. It could be anywhere, a voice that sounds like him will have you spinning around only to find it's someone else."
Anguished families of passengers on board MH370 have been clamouring for proof that the Boeing 777-200ER (9M-MRO) had indeed ended its flight in the Indian Ocean as announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on Monday night.
Ch’ng’s Khai Cheak, whose sister Ch’ng Mei Ling was on the flight, said such an announcement should only have been made when there was physical evidence or bodies to show that the plane had indeed crashed in the ocean.
“What do I tell my mother back home? She saw the news but she cannot accept the fact that my sister is dead. She keeps asking how did she die?” said a visibly angry Khai Cheak, the eldest of five children.
“I don’t know what to tell her because there is no proof to show that Mei Ling is dead.”
Families in China, too, have criticised the Malaysian authorities and had lambasted senior officials at briefings held for them.
Scores of angry relatives of the Chinese passengers aboard MH370 had marched to the Malaysian embassy in Beijing to demand more answers about the fate of the plane and its passengers.
Around 200 family members, some in tears, linked arms and shouted slogans, including "the Malaysian government are murderers" and "we want our relatives back".
Some families have also approached a Chicago-based law firm to help them file a suit against the 777 aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co and Malaysia Airlines as they believe the plane had crashed because of mechanical failure.

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