Beijing: When Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 vanished from radars on March 8,2014, it was carrying three members of Gao Xianying’s family: her son-in-law, her daughter and her three-year-old granddaughter, Zhao Yingxin.
Two years on, and with investigators yet to find any trace of the plane’s main wreckage — or those on board — the softly spoken 62-year-old says she remains convinced her family will one day return.
“My daughter is still alive. The MH370 passengers are still alive,” Gao insisted on Monday, clutching a damp tissue as she fought to contain her emotions. “I am just waiting for my children to come home.”
The head of the Australian task force battling to solve one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history this week expressed optimism that the multimillion-dollar hunt would soon bear fruit with the discovery of the plane’s final resting place.
By July investigators should conclude their search of a 120,000 sq km zone of the southern Indian Ocean where experts believe MH370 crashed after changing course and running out of fuel killing all 239 people on board. The reasons for the tragedy are unknown.
So far only one fragment of the missing Boeing 777 has been found, on the French island of Reunion, while two other suspected pieces of debris are still being examined.
But in China, home to 153 of the passengers, many families still reject the idea that the aircraft went down in the sea at all.
“I don’t believe the plane crashed,” said Gao, whose 32-year-old daughter, Zhang Xiaolei, had been returning from holiday. “There is no evidence to prove the plane is in the Indian Ocean.
“Over the past two years, they have found no evidence to prove the plane crashed or that the passengers were all dead despite so many rounds of searching,” Gao added. “If they cannot provide the evidence, I cannot believe them.”
For Gao, and scores of other relatives, MH370’s disappearance signalled the start of a lonely quest for answers and closure that has yet to run its course. Within hours of the crash, she and her husband, Zhang Jianyu, set off for Beijing from their home in Guoyang, nearly 900km south of the Chinese capital.
At first the couple stayed at a four-star hotel near the city’s international airport where victims’ families had congregated near a support centre in search of information about the whereabouts of their relations.
When the centre was closed and families were asked to leave the hotel two months later, Gao and Zhang went to Beijing’s eastern suburbs where they rented a two-bedroom flat. They have lived there ever since.
“I feel that by living here we are closer to them,” Gao said of her decision to remain in the capital, where she continues to petition authorities and airline officials for answers.
On Monday, Gao began the latest phase of her crusade, travelling to a drab five-storey courthouse in western Beijing with about a dozen other relatives to file a lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines before a legal deadline that coincides with the disaster’s two-year anniversary.
Zhang Qihuai, the lawyer representing the families, said that many had been “deeply conflicted” over the decision to take their fight to the courts and seek compensation of $1 million (Dh3.67 million) per victim.
“Originally, many didn’t intend to sue, and instead wanted to continue waiting,” he said. “But there’s a time limit, so they have no other choice — losing the right to sue would be terribly painful.”
Even those now taking legal action continue to view claims that flight MH370 crashed into the Indian Ocean — or that their loved ones are dead — with disbelief and contempt.
Like many Chinese relatives, Lin Xiaolan, whose 27-year-old son Lin An’nan was on the plane, still refers to her child in the present tense.
“He is very kind, honest, funny,” she said on Monday, sobbing as she remembered her only child, who had been flying home from Malaysia, where he was studying.
Lin, who had travelled nearly 1,700km to Beijing from her home in the western province of Qinghai ahead of the second anniversary of the disaster, said she was convinced the truth was being concealed.
“I won’t believe it,” the 51-year-old said of claims the flight went down in the Indian Ocean.
“Technology is so advanced these days — there were so many iPhones, iPads and Apple laptops on [the flight] and the Boeing 777 is a very good plane, so how come we can’t find its location? How come we don’t know?”
“There is no evidence to suggest this plane crashed and that the people died,” added her husband, Zou Jingsheng. “If there is no evidence, we won’t give up.”
Gao blamed the plane’s disappearance on a “political game” and said she was convinced those on board were being “hidden”. She said: “I believe it is a conspiracy. It is politics. They are being deliberately hidden for a certain benefit.”
On Tuesday, precisely two years after MH370 disappeared, grief-stricken families will converge on Beijing’s Lama Temple to burn scented sticks and remember their loved ones.
As she prepared for the latest tribute to her absent daughter, Gao lamented the calamity that has befallen her family.
“I feel that life is no better than death,” she said. “My heart is not so good. I’ve suffered from depression and amnesia. My life was destroyed. It hurts so much. I cannot fall asleep at night and I never feel like eating.”
Yet for all the pain, Gao claimed she had not lost hope. “I believe my family is still alive. And so I wait here,” she said. “I have been waiting for them to come home for the past two years.”