Relatives of MH370 Victims Finally Get Their Day in Court

2017-11-21 11:25:44

As a pretrial conference kicked off Monday, relatives of the Chinese passengers onboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are hopeful that the upcoming trial will result in renewed efforts to locate their loved ones.

The conference, held at the Beijing Railway Transport Court, is the first of 36 such meetings in China, in which the missing passengers’ relatives will seek compensation from the airline and other entities associated with the incident, The Beijing News reported Tuesday.

MH370 was en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, when it deviated from its course as it passed over the South China Sea. Where it ended up remains a mystery, as does the fate of its 239 passengers, nearly two-thirds of whom were Chinese.

The plaintiff in the case, 67-year-old Li Xiuzhi, is asking for 14 million yuan ($2.1 million) in compensation from Malaysia Airlines for the loss of her only child, as well as more information about what happened on the flight. The other defendants in the case include American aircraft manufacturer Boeing, British engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, and German insurance firm Allianz — all of which have denied any responsibility for the accident.

Zhang Qihuai, the lawyer for the families of 14 missing passengers, told The Beijing News that what his clients hope for most is an explanation for what happened. “The plaintiffs want the defendants to investigate the cause of the incident and identify the people responsible,” Zhang told The Beijing News.

Malaysia Airlines had not responded to Sixth Tone’s request for comment by time of publication. However, at the pretrial conference on Monday, the airline said it bore no responsibility to investigate the incident, as the Convention on International Civil Aviation stipulates that the country or region where an incident occurs should investigate the case.

“I am very angry. It’s been three years and they are still shirking responsibility,” Li told The Beijing News after the conference. “I want a fair explanation on behalf of my child.”

After nearly a year of some 25 countries searching for the missing aircraft in vain, Malaysia’s department of civil aviation declared in January 2015 that all passengers and crew onboard could be presumed dead. Search and rescue efforts were officially suspended in January of this year. Last month, U.S. company Ocean Infinity reached an agreement with the Malaysian government to continue the search for the aircraft. 

“People are saying this is an unprecedented incident, but have we really made unprecedented efforts to look into it?” Jiang Hui, whose 71-year-old mother was on MH370, asked Sixth Tone. Last year, Jiang filed a compensation lawsuit against Malaysia Airlines and Allianz. The pretrial conference for her case will start later this month.

After the incident in 2014, the airline offered Jiang and the other relatives of MH370 passengers an unconditional payout of $50,000. But like many others who were at that time just coming to terms with their loss, Jiang did not accept it. “This was shortly after the incident — I felt that the money had blood on it,” he said. Nearly three years later, the pain and suffering that rushed over him during those first few months is still as present as ever.

In January 2016, the airline made another proposal, offering the victims’ families 2.52 million yuan each, provided they waived their right to legal action. Again, Jiang did not accept the offer. “The aircraft is still missing, and there is no evidence pointing to what happened,” he explained. “How could I accept their proposal?”

Jiang’s lawyer, Wu Chen, told Sixth Tone that the trial would likely drag on for several years, and that its outcome would be hard to predict, given the uncertainty surrounding the accident itself. Even if the plaintiffs win, Wu speculated, they should not expect to be awarded a sum as high as those previously offered during extrajudicial negotiations.

But for Jiang, who now devotes the lion’s share of his time and energy to looking for clues that could point to the aircraft’s final resting place, the case was never about money.

“This isn’t a business,” he explained. “I hope the trial will encourage further investigation into the incident, to reveal the truth.” In Jiang’s mind, continuing the investigation is as much about the broader picture of aviation safety as it is about finding out what happened to his missing mother.

Wu told Sixth Tone that Jiang has also filed lawsuits in the U.S. against Boeing and in Malaysia against the country’s aviation authority.

Since the tragedy of 2014, Jiang said, several elderly members of his family have passed away. “I hope this incident won’t be forgotten, and won’t become an unsolved mystery,” he said.

Editor: David Paulk.

(Header image: A Chinese relative of a passenger who went missing on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 cries outside the airline’s offices in Beijing, Aug. 6, 2015. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images/VCG)