Chinese court starts hearing lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines over missing flight MH370

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For nearly 10 years, Jiang Hui has been searching for answers as to why the plane carrying his 70-year-old mother back from vacation in Malaysia vanished without trace.

Jiang’s mother, Jiang Cuiyun, was one of 239 people on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 when it deviated from its scheduled path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing and disappeared over the Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014.

To this date, the fate of MH370 remains one of history’s greatest aviation mysteries, and Jiang has never given up on his quest to find out what happened.

On Monday, a Chinese court will begin hearing claims for compensation for families of MH370 passengers, who say the disaster not only deprived them of their loved ones, but also plunged some into financial distress.

“In fact, my mood is very complicated now. There is both a sense of relief and a deep feeling of helplessness.”

Jiang is suing Maylasia Airlines, its insurer, Boeing and the manufacturer of the plane’s engine – companies he believes should be held responsible under Chinese law for damage occured during transportation. His demands include compensation, a formal apology, and the resumption of psychological assistance to family members, as well as the creation of a fund to continue searches for the plane.

About 40 Chinese families are taking these companies to court with varying but largely overlapping appeals, with hearings expected to last until December 5, Jiang said. His own case will be heard on Friday, he added.

Of the more than 200 people aboard the flight, 153 were Chinese nationals.

“The complete lack of legal remedies over the past decade has made our painful lives even more unbearable,” Jiang said.

Legal uncertainty

It’s unclear what enforcement power the Chinese court can wield over the defendants if it rules in favor of Jiang and the other plantiffs. All of them are international companies headquartered outside China, though Malaysia Airlines, Boeing and Roll-Royce have offices in China.

Similar cases brought in the United States by the victims’ families have been dismissed on the grounds that these lawsuits should be handled by the Malaysian legal system.

In Malaysia, two young boys who lost their father on the flight sued Malaysia Airlines for breach of contract and the Malaysian government for negligence in 2014. The case was settled out of court the next year.

In China, families who signed a settlement agreement with Malaysian Airlines received 2.5 million yuan ($350,000) in compensation. Only a few dozen Chinese families signed initially, but over the years more have opted to settle.

By March 2021, about 90 families had still declined to settle, but the number halved after the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Jiang.

Now, only about 40 families have not settled, according to Jiang, who said they refused to sign the agreement because it removed all responsibility from the airline and the Malaysian government.

Three years of Covid lockdowns and other stringent control measures wreaked havoc on the Chinese economy, leaving many families struggling to make ends meet.

“On our long journey seeking the truth, many families fell into a tough livelihood or even survival situation. They settled as a last resort to ensure their lives,” Jiang said. “But no matter having settled or not, our ultimate goal remains the same – which is to find the plane and our loved ones.”

A 2018 report by Malaysian authorities concluded the investigation team was “unable to determine the real cause of the disappearance of MH370.” Human interference or error were more likely the cause of the plane’s disappearance than an aircraft or system malfunction, the report found.

The lack of conclusive evidence led to various theories and speculation about what happened to the flight, and Jiang said some family members still believe their loved ones are alive. He says he’s keeping an open mind – and will accept any outcome, as long as there is evidence.

While the jetliner was never found, pieces of apparent debris have washed up on islands in the southern Indian Ocean and the shores of Africa – suggesting the plane had broken up.

Years-long quest

Jiang’s persistence was driven by a key motivation – the urge to do something for his mother, who enjoyed traveling in her retirement.

“I’m at an age where I should pay filial piety to my mother, but I no longer have the chance to do that. So, finding her is the only way I can be filial to her,” he said.

Before the MH370 tragedy, Jiang was an ambitious manager at the Beijing office of a state-owned communications company. But one year after the flight went missing, he left the company and has since focused his time and energy on finding the plane.

Over the years, he has visited search teams in Australia and roamed the remote shores of Mauritius, Madagascar and Réunion – a French island in the Indian Ocean – to scour for the Boeing jetliner’s debris.

In Beijing, he has held regular gatherings with family members of other flight victims to discuss the next step in seeking answers and justice for their loved ones’ disappearance.

“I used to get completely immersed in my job, but now I can truly understand what’s the meaning of life, and what are its most precious things,” he said.

“If I can push for any progress (in finding MH370), or I can try my best till the end, I would feel very gratified and happy – and such happiness is beyond comparison with earning a higher salary.”

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