Earlier this week, loved ones of those aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 heard this: “All lives are lost.”
But on Saturday, Malaysian officials left relatives with a thin sliver of hope that someone may have survived.
“Even hoping against hope, no matter how remote, of course we are praying and we are continuing our search for possible survivors,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, the acting transportation minister.
Eight planes and seven ships scoured the waters Saturday for signs of the vanished plane hundreds of miles off of Australia’s coast.
As they did, Hishammuddin dealt with the torment of family members on a roller coaster of grief and desperate hope that the plane is intact.
Relatives have heard how the analysis of data and estimates of MH 370’s whereabouts have changed.
They’ve felt their hopes rise when satellite images indicated large groups of floating “possible objects” in the past days. And when five planes spotted debris on Friday.
On Saturday, a Chinese aircraft made a fresh spotting of three “suspicious” objects, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
“The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships,” AMSA said.
Separately, a Chinese ship saw something in the ocean, but it turned out to be garbage, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported.
No one has been able to confirm that any of it is from MH 370, and the southern Indian Ocean has plenty of floating garbage.
With hopes stoked and dashed with every new message, agonized relatives don’t know whom or what to believe anymore.
‘They’re still alive’
In Beijing on Saturday, loved ones took to the streets to vent their anguish.
“They’re all still alive, my son and everyone onboard! The plane is still there too! They’re hiding it,” demonstrator Wen Wancheng, 63, yelled. His only son, Wen Yongsheng, is a passenger.
He held up a banner that read: “Son, mom and dad’s hearts are torn to pieces. Come home soon!”
Many relatives remember the stories from early on in the search that it may have landed somewhere on land. They implored Malaysian officials to find their relatives.
“What they want is a commitment on our part to continue the search, and that I have given,” Hishammuddin said.
The search endures along with gut wrenching hopes, and every day, relatives ask again, where is the plane? And Hishammuddin steps in front of microphones to tell them and the world that he still doesn’t know.
On Saturday, the wear of their desperation on his own emotions showed through.
Hishammuddin appeared to choke up a little when he admitted, “For me as the minister responsible, this is the hardest part of my life, at the moment.”
He refused to give them false hopes, he said. But he also seemed unwilling to take away their last hope of finding any of the 239 people alive who were aboard the plane that went missing on March 8.
It’s “not unreasonable” for them to want to hold on to that.
“Miracles do happen, remote or otherwise, and that is the hope that the families want me to convey not only to the Malaysian government, MAS, but also to the world at large,” he said.
He promised to do whatever it takes.
On Saturday that meant hunting again for debris in an ocean with much flotsam adrift in it — odds and ends that have fallen off of passing ships — in hopes that among it are pieces of the Boeing 777.
After the latest data analysis, experts believe that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared three weeks ago, ended up in choppy waters in the southern Indian Ocean.
A Chinese ship, Haixun 01, has plowed the waters of the latest search area all morning while six others are expected to arrive around sunset, Australian authorities said.
The eight planes, which had straddled flight times, have all taken off from Perth and flown out over the ocean.
Even if they haven’t had anything definitive to report yet, the search has gotten easier. The current search area is 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the northeast of the previous one.
It’s closer to Australia’s coast and in calmer waters. Planes should be able to undertake longer searches than before.
Still, the area is vast and remote, roughly 123,000 square miles (319,000 square kilometers) in size and 1,150 miles (1,850 kilometers) west of Perth.
The latest analysis of satellite data showed the commercial airliner could not have flown as far south as once thought, Australian authorities said.
Pieces of debris spotted Friday were hundreds of miles away from each other, but given the ocean conditions and the time passed since the airplane’s purported crash, they could be part of the same object.
Friday’s spottings included 11 small objects spotted by a military P-3 plane. CNN’s Kyung Lah, who went out on a U.S. Navy P-8 search plane Friday, said the crew of that plane spotted white objects, orange rope and a blue bag.
“At one point, sure, everybody on board got a little excited, but it’s impossible to tell from that distance what anything is,” she said.
If or when the body of the 777 is found, the question still remains: Why did it go down? That may not be answered until investigators undertake the arduous process of retrieving the aircraft and trying to, literally, piece together what happened to it.
Vast, shifting search
The shifting hunt for Flight 370 has spanned oceans and continents.
It started in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, where the plane went out of contact with air traffic controllers.
When authorities learned of radar data suggesting the plane had turned west across the Malay Peninsula after losing contact, they expanded the search into the Strait of Malacca.
When those efforts proved fruitless, the search spread north into the Andaman Sea and northern Indian Ocean.
It then ballooned dramatically after Malaysia announced on March 15 that satellite data showed the plane could have flown along two huge arcs, one stretching northwest into the Asian landmass, the other southwest into the Indian Ocean.
The search area at that point reached nearly 3 million square miles.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that further analysis of the data led authorities to conclude the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, far from land.
Malaysian officials then told the families of those on board that nobody would have survived. They seem to have backed away from that message.
Many relatives have said that only the discovery of wreckage from the plane will convince them of the fate of their loved ones.