BEIJING: Relatives of dozens of Chinese passengers on board a Malaysia Airlines plane which disappeared almost 10 years ago called for a new investigation, as a Beijing court began hearing their fresh appeal for compensation.
The MH370 jet vanished on March 8, 2014, carrying 239 people – mostly from China – en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
More than 40 families have filed lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines, the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, engine maker Rolls Royce and Allianz insurance group, state broadcaster CCTV said.
The families’ litigation requests focus on compensation and finding the truth behind the flight’s disappearance, according to Zhang Qihuai, a lawyer quoted by CCTV.
Hardly any trace of the plane was found in a 120,000-sq km Indian Ocean search zone, with only some pieces of debris picked up.
The Australian-led operation, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January 2017.
The families on Monday released an open letter addressed to Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim calling for a new search for the missing aircraft on a “no find, no fee” basis.
“Our family members hope to search for flight MH370 on our own,” the letter said, adding “family members are willing to invest their own money or cooperate with capable individuals and companies”.
They asked for “effective communication” with the Malaysian government to kick off a new hunt.
Outside the court, many relatives were on the verge of tears as they recounted stories of their loved ones, some holding pieces of paper saying “restart the search” and “open, fair, impartial”.
Bao Lanfang lost her son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter in the disaster, and her husband died last year.
“Personally, I do not care about the monetary compensation,” the 71-year-old told the media.
“What I want is that Malaysia Airlines gives me the truth. What happened to our loved ones?
“What I want now is for them to resume the search and the investigation.”
Malaysia’s transport ministry and Malaysia Airlines both declined to comment on the hearings.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Beijing “attaches great importance to the follow-up work” into MH370’s disappearance and “hopes that all parties will continue to maintain close communication”.
It is unclear what jurisdiction the Chinese court has to enforce the claims for compensation against the defendants.
Each family filed for civil compensation of between 10 million yuan (US$1.4 million) and 80 million yuan (US$11.2 million), as well as moral damages of 30 million yuan (US$4.2 million) to 40 million yuan (US$5.6 million), CCTV reported.
The families of more than 110 other passengers have already reached a settlement with the defendants and received between 2.5 million and 3 million yuan, the broadcaster said.
Gathering outside the court despite freezing temperatures, relatives were keen to talk to journalists.
Jiang Hui, whose mother was on flight MH370, said the opening of the hearing was “very comforting, and it is a turning point”.
“The survival of the relatives during these 10 years, the deterioration of their living conditions… This really makes us very sad. So I hope that the legal relief can be realised as soon as possible. It is not difficult,” he said.
“Ten years have really been unbearable for us,” added Jiang.
The hearing was not listed on the court’s public website, but Jiang wrote on social media this month the court hearings would continue until mid-December.
A US exploration firm launched a private hunt for MH370 in 2018, but it ended after several months of scouring the seabed without success.
The disappearance of the plane has long been the subject of a host of theories – ranging from the credible to outlandish – including that veteran pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah had gone rogue.
In 2016, Malaysian officials revealed the pilot had plotted a path over the Indian Ocean on a home flight simulator but stressed this did not prove he deliberately crashed the plane.
A final report into the tragedy released in 2018 pointed to failings by air traffic control and said the course of the plane was changed manually.
But they failed to come up with any firm conclusion, leaving relatives angry and disappointed.