Lives, not numbers: Snapshots of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 passengers

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The more time that passes, the wider the search area for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 becomes. After starting in the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, the plane's last confirmed location, efforts are now expanding west into the vastness of the Indian Ocean. (CNN)

By Eliott C. McLaughlin

CNN

(CNN) — Amid the void of information on their fates, it seems at times the passengers and crew of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been reduced to a number.

Two hundred and thirty-nine.

Yet, as their families and others who love and miss them can attest through their anguish, they are so much more. Hailing from at least a dozen nations, they represent a vast gamut of humanity.

The youngest is 2, the oldest 76. Five passengers haven’t seen their fifth birthdays.

They are engineers, an artist and a stunt man, along with Buddhist pilgrims, vacationers and commuters. To those who wait for them, they are fathers, mothers, children, soulmates and the dearest of friends.

As could be said of any large, random group, they are many things, individuals with 239 unique backgrounds, idiosyncrasies and lives.

Here are a few of their stories:

Ju Kun

Ju’s social media account has been flooded with well-wishers praying for his safe return. Many know the 35-year-old martial arts expert from his stand-ins as a stunt man in films like “The Grandmaster” and “The Forbidden Kingdom.” The latter starred genre luminaries Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Ju was slated to begin filming on the Netflix series, “Marco Polo” in coming weeks.

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi wrote on Weibo that Ju “is a sincere, kind and hardworking man,” while Netflix said he is “an integral part of our production team and a tremendous talent.”

Chandrika Sharma

K.S. Narendran considered going to Kuala Lampur for more information on his wife, but ultimately he didn’t see the point. No information in Chennai, India, is the same as no information in Kuala Lampur, so he’d prefer to be “surrounded by family and friends.”

Sharma, the executive secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, was en route to Mongolia for a U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization conference. Narendran says he’s received little information from authorities and, like most of the world, has relied on news reports, which “thus far amounted to nothing,” he said.

Paul Weeks

Weeks left his wedding ring and watch at home when he took a mining job in Mongolia. The New Zealander instructed his wife, Danica, to pass them on to his two sons “should anything happen.”

Danica clutched her husband’s wedding ring and fought back tears as she explained to CNN that her husband was aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, en route to Mongolia. She describes him as “the most amazing husband and the most amazing father,” who always spends time with his boys. She says the hardest part is the cruel mystery: not knowing what happened to the plane.

“He had strength, character. He’s just so much. He’s my best friend and my soulmate, and I just can’t wait for him to come back. I hope. I hope.”

Gu Naijun and Li Yuan

Gu, 31, uses her Weibo account to keep her oft-traveling husband, Li, 32, apprised of the goings-on of their two “princesses,” whether the daughters are swimming, playing on the slide, dressing in frilly costumes or just enjoying a lunch outing, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

The Chinese couple fell in love in Sydney, Australia, and moved to its suburbs. They had recently sold their Sylvania home and were spending most of their time in China, the paper reported. Li, who went by Carlos, is a partner with Beijing Landysoft Technology, where one longtime employee said he and his coworkers were shocked. “He’s a good boss, kind, and extremely hard-working,” the employee said.

Muktesh Mukherjee and Xiaomo Bai

Mukherjee, 42, is vice president of China operations for Xcoal Energy & Resources. He and his wife, Xiaomo Bai, 37, who broadcaster CTV identified as Canadians who once lived in Montreal, left their two young boys with Bai’s mom in Beijing while they went on vacation in Vietnam, according to Bai’s Facebook page.

Matthew McConkey, a friend of the couple’s, said Mukherjee “was very much in love with” Bai, and “as parents nothing was more important to them than those kids.”

Mao Tugui

Hu Xianquan last spoke to her husband, Mao, a painter, March 2, as he was boarding a plane to attend an exhibition for his work. Like Danica Weeks, she finds the dearth of information frustrating, and her grief has morphed to agonizing frustration.

Mohd Sofuan Ibrahim and Ch’ng Mei Ling

Hasif Nazri, 33, was doubly sad upon learning of the plane’s disappearance. Not only did he live in the same dorm as the 33-year-old Ibrahim during their school days in Malaysia, but Mei Ling, also 33, is another former classmate.

While Nazri acknowledges losing hope as the days drag on, he has fond memories of his old friends. Ibrahim, who posted a Facebook photo before boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, was traveling to Beijing to begin work for Malaysia’s Ministry of International Trade and Industry. A good student and speaker, Ibrahim is also “a good, kind-hearted friend, very helpful, cheerful and definitely no wallflower,” Nazri said.

Nazri remembers Mei Ling, meanwhile, as a funny woman with an infectious laugh. She’s a “very cheerful girl.” Mei Ling works for Flexsys America LP, an Ohio-based manufacturer of chemicals for the rubber industry, and has lived in Pennsylvania since 2010. She “was very adaptable,” Nazri recalled from his days doing course work with her

Swawand Kolekar

In Mumbai, India, Archit Joshi, 23, desperately sought information on his classmate, Kolekar, whose family in Beijing was also desperate for any information on his whereabouts.

Joshi described Kolekar as “very reserved but very, very intelligent … a bit of a techno-freak and he made a lot of circuits and projects at engineering college.”

“He didn’t have many friends — he was a bit of a loner — but he had all the attributes a good friend should have.”

Li Yan

Li’s aunt, Zhang Guizhi, traveled from central China to Beijing and was hoping to obtain a passport to travel to wherever the plane is found. She wasn’t sure how to go about the process and began weeping when she explained Li, 31, had traveled with her husband and four friends to Malaysia for vacation.

Philip Wood

The 51-year-old father of two graduated from Oklahoma Christian University in 1985 with a Bachelor of Science in math and computer science, said school spokeswoman Risa Forrester. On the school’s Facebook page, a man wrote that Wood, an IBM executive, is “gentle, kind, had great taste in music and was a wonderful artist.”

“His word was gold,” his family said in a statement. “Incredibly generous, creative and intelligent, Phil cared about people, his family, and above all, Christ.”

Mary and Rodney Burrows

Neighbors Mandy Watt and Don Stoke say the Burrowses are the hard-working parents of three “successful, all happy” adult children — two daughters and a son. Rodney Burrows had planned his trip to China after being laid off last year, the Australian Associated Press reported.

Watt further said of the Middle Park, Australia, couple, “I hate to use the cliche, but they were soulmates.”

Catherine and Robert Lawton

The Lawtons, a Springfield Lakes, Australia, couple, in their mid-50s, are passionate travelers, parents to three daughters and doting grandparents, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Robert’s brother, David, described him as a “very good father, such a good person.” Robert’s sister-in-law said the Lawtons had planned their trip with their good friends, the Burrowses. Cathy’s last Facebook post before leaving was, “Off to China.”

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet, Ray Sanchez, Steven Jiang, Bharati Naik, Mariano Castillo, Peter Shadbolt, Dayu Zhang, Serena Dong, Sophie Brown, Anjali Tsui, Euan McKirdy, Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper contributed to this report.

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8 comments

    • jenn

      – A transponder was turned off and that would have made the oxygen masks not drop except for the pilots- the plane then went up to 45000 feet- at that level you would not get oxygen-the plane max feet was 40000. the passengers were unaware as that would make them loose conscious and die. – then the plane went back to 40000 and turned off the second transponder.- flew for 7 more hours and probably flew deep into the indian ocean-where it is miles below the ocean and debris won’t start coming to the top for quite some time.

    • Tony

      If this hijack was planned out and it seems it was, there is an electronic device that can block cell traffic. No calls in or out.

    • Manuela Dolan

      Laura is right! Those cell phones gives tracking and location. And I’ve been on many of flights and I always knew what was going on.

  • GERALD SNIFF

    COULD THERE BE SOME TYPE CHEMICAL GAS RELEASED IN THE PLANE THAT JUST KNOCKED EVERYONE OUT. I DO REALIZE THAT WOULD NOT TURN OFF ANY ELECTRICAL SIGNALING DEVICE. AND THE PILOT’S COULD HAVE PASSED OUT ON THE CONTROL STICK CAUSING THE TURN AROUND. JUST A GUESS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. MY HEART GOES OUT TO THE FAMILIES.

  • Bill Thomas

    Could it be the next time we see this plane it will be loaded with explosives headed for a target? And if so, would it be shot down if passengers are thought to be aboard?

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