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Dealing With Malaysia Airlines Over Missing Jet 'Has Gotten Worse'


This Sunday marks one year since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared.


It was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it simply vanished. A massive international search was launched covering a vast stretch of ocean, but no trace of Flight 370 has ever been found.

MONTAGNE: And that has left the loved ones of those on board desperate for information, sifting through possible theories about what happened to the 239 people on board. One of the passengers was Philip Wood, an American who was on his way home to Beijing, where he lived with his partner, Sarah Bajc.

SARAH BAJC: He never pinged me from the plane, which he always, always, always did. And there was no connection, of course, when the flight should have landed.

MONTAGNE: Philip Wood was traveling to Kuala Lumpur because he and Bajc were preparing to move there. In fact, she was packing up their apartment in Beijing when she got the news.

BAJC: I was paying very careful attention to the time because the movers were coming at 9 o'clock in the morning. And he should have been home by 7:15. You know, by 8:00, 8:15, I was starting to get really seriously worried. I'd been looking at the Malaysia Airlines website, and it just kept saying delayed, delayed. But take off was on time. And so I just thought to do an open Internet search and found the CNN article that the flight was missing. That was at about 8:30 in the morning.

MONTAGNE: I guess there's no good way to hear that. But that must have been an especially shocking way to hear it.

BAJC: Yeah, for it to be two hours after the designated landing time - and, you know, now we know, more than seven hours after the flight had gone off communication - it was shocking to me. And it took the airline until 2:30 that afternoon to contact me.

MONTAGNE: Well, during all the coverage, we did hear many complaints from families about how they were treated by officials from the airline and also the Malaysian government. What about that?

BAJC: Oh, it's been terrible. But at least in the beginning, it felt like they were trying to do the right thing. They mostly had volunteers from their own employee base, so flight attendants who were off-duty and people from customer service who were off-duty. And they were genuinely empathetic and caring. But they didn't have any information to share. And they were so darned disorganized. But then, as time has gone by, it's actually gotten worse - because you'd think they'd have learned a couple of lessons about what to do and not do when dealing with people in a crisis. But they've actually - their behavior has actually gotten worse. For instance, one of the requirements under the international guidelines for airline incidents is that the airline contact family members with any news updates before media is alerted. There has only been one time since the beginning that I have been notified of anything before I've heard it through media. And that was when I received a text message telling me that the plane ended in the southern Indian Ocean and all lives were lost. And I received that about 10 minutes before the press conference. And this goes for all the family members. No one receives information directly from the authorities. We all get it through our media contacts.

MONTAGNE: The media scrutiny was so intense in those first days and weeks, even months. I wonder how hard that was, and then what it was like when the spotlight turned away.

BAJC: Well, at the beginning, the ups and downs and all the false leads were exhausting and traumatic. And the official investigation team was horrific in their management of communication. So, you know, we were just on a constant high hopes and then dashed hopes and then high hopes and then dashed hopes. But along the way, one of the problems here is that the media has focused so much on the mystery aspect that they've stopped talking about - or really haven't ever given sufficient coverage to - systemic failures that occurred on the operational side. The reason the plane is missing is because Malaysia was negligent in their responsibility. They had an unidentified 777 flying through their airspace for almost an hour. And they did nothing.

MONTAGNE: Of course, that was reported. But what you're saying is that it was not the focus of the reporting. The focus was the mystery.

BAJC: The focus has been the mystery and all the conspiracy theories. We started off with more than a hundred, and we've narrowed it down to about 12 that we're still investigating. I mean, myself and a number of other family members have hired a private investigator. And, you know, we've been able to narrow it down. But there's still about a dozen scenarios that we haven't been able to rule out, including the official story. But the official story is, like, at the bottom of the list. It is the least likely. There's a lot of evidence that points to an intentional cover-up of what would normally be evident in a case like this. So, you know, the private investigator we've hired gives me this analogy to share with people. It's kind of like you've walked into a living room in a home where you believe a murder has been committed. And so you try to collect trace evidence. And there's nothing except for cleaning residue. There's no normal fibers. There's no hair. There's no crumbs. There's no normal dirt from a house. There's only cleaning residue. You know, that's kind of what our private investigator has found, that normal evidence that would exist if it was an accident - complete cargo manifest, air-traffic control records, including the system tracking, all of the cell phone tower and cell phone account records - that's all been missing.

MONTAGNE: Well, given this not being settled, do you have hope that Philip Wood, your partner, and others on board could still be alive?

BAJC: Of course I have hope. If I didn't have hope, then it would be really hard to keep my energy level going. On the other hand, I'm a very pragmatic and realistic person. But there's absolutely no evidence that the airplane crashed or that all on board were killed. And in the absence of that evidence, there is a tiny chance that people are still alive. And beyond that, there is the need to find the truth.

MONTAGNE: Do you have plans to mark the one year anniversary?

BAJC: A number of the family members will be holding an event on Sunday. I've let them know I'm not going to participate. From my perspective, March 8 is going to be a day to celebrate the incredible impact that Philip has made to my life and to remember all the good things. And so I'm going to stay home by myself and look through photo albums and read old love letters and treat it as a celebration as much as I can.

MONTAGNE: Well, our hearts go out to you. Thank you very much for talking with us.

BAJC: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Sarah Bajc's partner, Philip Wood, was on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared one year ago on Sunday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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