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Jet crash reactions: 'What can you do? What can you say?'

  • Article by: Emma G. Fitzsimmons
  • New York Times
  • March 8, 2014 - 6:41 PM

A Canadian couple returning from vacation in Vietnam. An American who worked in Asia for IBM. A group of Chinese calligraphers who had attended an exhibition in Malaysia.

All of them were aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, which remained unaccounted for Saturday many hours after it was supposed to have landed at dawn in Beijing with 239 people on board, most of them from China. Five passengers were under the age of 4.

By Saturday night, the families of the passengers had few answers about what happened and dwindling hope that they would see their loved ones again.

One passenger was Philip Wood, 50, an IBM employee who was living in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, where the flight originated.

His family in Texas had little information about the flight beyond what had been reported in the media.

“We’re all sticking together,” his father, Aubrey Wood, said Saturday from his home in Keller, Texas. “What can you do? What can you say?”

Three Americans aboard

Philip Wood, who previously lived in Beijing, had two sons in Texas — the younger one is a student at Texas A&M University. Wood had followed in his father’s footsteps when he joined IBM, from which his father retired at the end of a long career.

The two other Americans listed on the flight manifest were Nicole Meng, 4, and Yan Zhang, 2. The State Department confirmed that three U.S. citizens had been on board.

The two Canadian citizens on board were Muktesh Mukherjee, 42, and Xiaomo Bai, 37, a married couple living in Beijing. Mukherjee worked there for a coal supply company called Xcoal Energy & Resources.

The company’s chief executive, Ernie Thrasher, called him “a dear friend, colleague and member of the Xcoal family.”

The couple posted photos on social media last week of beautiful ocean views from a resort on the coast of Vietnam.

They often shared photos on Facebook of their two young sons — a month ago, the boys made snow angels in Central Park in Beijing, but none of the pictures from the trip appeared to include the children.

A group of as many as 24 painters and calligraphers were returning from an exhibition and a cultural exchange conference in Kuala Lumpur. The conference was dedicated to the “Chinese Dream” and celebrated the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Malaysia.

The Sichuan provincial government said Zhang Jinquan, 72, a well-known calligrapher, was on the plane, and the manifest listed Meng Gaosheng, 64, vice chairman of the China Calligraphic Artists Association.

One of the younger members of the delegation was Maimaitijiang Abula, 35, an art teacher at a college in Kashgar.

A friend, Kuerbanjiang Saimaiti, described him as a talented oil painter who once confided that he wanted to spend “a lifetime on painting well.” He had recently completed advanced studies at an art academy in Beijing.

There also were people aboard from Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, India, France, New Zealand, Ukraine, Russia, Italy, the Netherlands and Austria, according to the manifest.

Couple was seeing the world

An Australian couple in their 50s, Catherine and Robert Lawton, were on the flight because they were “looking to see a bit of the world” after their three daughters had moved out, neighbors told the Sydney Morning Herald.

At the Kuala Lumpur airport, a grief-stricken relative of Chng Mei Ling screamed uncontrollably as airline employees escorted him out of the terminal.

“Be truthful about this!” said Koon Chim Wa, the relative, whose booming voice echoed through the terminal.

“They say they don’t know where the plane is,” Koon said, his hands and body shaking. “Is this a joke?”

His niece, Chng, a Malaysian engineer working at a company in Pennsylvania, was on her way to the United States via Beijing, Koon said.

In Beijing, Lu Jiang, 32, told the China Daily newspaper that her neighbor was on the list of passengers.

“I saw her name and the name of her husband and her 1-year-old baby on the missing-passengers list,” Lu said.

“I never thought this would happen. God bless them.”

© 2014 Star Tribune