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June 23, 2017

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Families wage citizen campaign to solve the mystery of Flight MH370

KUALA LUMPUR--Chinese physics student Jimmy Wang had no interest in aviation until March 8, when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing with his 58-year-old father Wang Lijun aboard.

But Wang, 31, now spends evenings in central China combing through aviation blogs for Boeing 777 technical specs, exchanging what he finds with fellow MH370 next-of-kin.

He is one of hundreds of relatives who — desperate to learn the fate of their loved ones — are channeling their grief in a cross-border, social-media-enabled, but so far frustrating citizen campaign to solve aviation's greatest mystery.

"Malaysia Airlines and others are not doing their jobs so we have to organise," Wang, who abandoned graduate studies in Sweden to be with his grieving mother, said via Skype from his home in the city of Anyang.

"I cannot live the rest of my life in questions."

Through Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo — 153 Chinese were aboard MH370 — a closed Facebook group, and Skype "meetings" of up to dozens of people, participants exchange findings, discuss the latest theories, and proposals for group action.

The group, calling itself Voice370 with some 300 members, receives and debates advice from aviation, legal and other experts. While some face-to-face meetings have been held, most exchanges are conducted via webcam or extensive email strings, with members voting on strategies for pushing Malaysia Airlines and governments involved in a still-fruitless search for more information.

In doing so, they juggle time zones and language barriers — "meetings" are held mainly in English, with bilingual Chinese translating for their countrymen.

Yet despite their efforts, families have seen only modest success.

In an open letter to authorities in Malaysia, Australia and China in May, a skeptical Voice370 demanded to see satellite and other data that Malaysia says indicates MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean. The information was eventually released but shed little light on what happened.

In June, several families, including Bajc, launched a drive to raise US$5 million for any whistle-blower with information on the jet's fate. Only US$100,500 has been raised.

"You get tired, and part of you wants to put it behind and say 'That's where it all ends', and part of you says, 'You can't rest until you figure things out,'" said K.S. Narendran, 50, a soft-spoken Indian business consultant, whose wife, Chandrika Sharma, was on MH370.

Families denied AFP's request to sit in on meetings.

The airline and Malaysian government deny charges of a cover-up and insist they will leave no stone unturned. Its attention is now diverted by the July 17 downing of another Malaysia Airlines passenger jet, MH17.

Bajc said MH17 underlines the importance of Voice370, particularly the need to highlight "critical flaws" in global aviation and police "incompetent" airlines and authorities that endanger passengers.

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