On 8 March 2014, the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing lost contact with air traffic control less than an hour after its departure. The plane was carrying twelve Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers from fourteen nations — 152 of them from China. A search team organised by the Malaysian, Chinese and Australian governments, aided by Japan, the US, South Korea and Vietnam, searched from the coast of Vietnam to the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal, without discovering any debris.
Relatives and friends of the missing passengers in China grew increasingly distressed and angry with the Malaysian government’s handling of the affair, including its perceived lack of transparency and delays in passing on information, and staged protests. Chinese state media also voiced criticism of Malaysia, and Chinese social media flared with anti-Malaysian sentiment.
One plausible theory held that the plane was flying on autopilot, but ran out of fuel and crashed somewhere near the Australian coast — which still doesn’t explain why it was on autopilot or turned away from its course in the first place. Evidence in a report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in late June revealed an unexplained power outage early in the flight that may have been caused by tampering from the flight deck. In late June, the Malaysian government called pilot Zaharie Shah a ‘prime suspect’, after investigators discovered that he had used his personal flight simulator to practise journeys over the Indian Ocean. But there is no other evidence, no clear motive, and the case remains far from solved.
On 14 July, sixteen family members of victims went to the Malaysia Airlines’ office in Shunyi, Beijing to demand to see official video footage of passengers boarding the flight, which the airline had previously refused to release. The South China Morning Post reported that police arrived and detained all of them, and that two other female relatives of passengers alleged they were beaten by police officers ‘after asking for the release of two other relatives — a father and daughter — who had been detained on a separate occasion’. The grieving families’ demand is simple — in theory, at least: if the passengers are alive, they want to see them; if they are dead, they want to see the bodies.