Chinese physics student Jimmy Wang had no interest in aviation until March 8, when Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing with his 58-year-old father Wang Lijun on board.
But Wang, 31, now spends evenings combing through aviation blogs for Boeing 777 technical specs, exchanging what he finds with fellow MH370 next-of-kin.
He is one of hundreds of relatives who are channelling their grief in a cross-border but so far frustrating citizen campaign to solve aviation’s greatest mystery.
“Malaysia Airlines and others are not doing their jobs, so we have to organise,” Wang, who abandoned graduate studies in Sweden to be with his grieving mother, said via Skype from his home in the city of Anyang.
“I cannot live the rest of my life in questions.”
Through Chinese micro-blogging site Weibo – 153 Chinese were aboard MH370 – a closed Facebook group and Skype “meetings”, participants exchange findings, discuss the latest theories, and assess proposals for group action.
The group, with some 300 members and calling itself Voice370, receives and debates advice from aviation, legal and other experts.
Most exchanges, held mainly in English, are conducted via webcam or extensive email strings, with members voting on strategies for pushing Malaysia Airlines and governments involved in a search for more information.
“It’s really quite a community,” said Sarah Bajc, an American whose partner Philip Wood was on the flight.
“I feel compelled to do everything in my power to find Philip. We owe it to them.”
Flight MH370 disappeared with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
No trace has been found despite an extensive search in the southern Indian Ocean.
Some next of kin have accused the airline and Malaysian authorities of a bungled response – its military tracked MH370 on radar after it mysteriously diverted, but did nothing – and of withholding data from the public.
In an open letter to authorities in Malaysia, Australia and China in May, Voice370 demanded to see satellite and other data that Malaysia says indicates MH370 went down in the Indian Ocean.
The information was eventually released but shed little light on what happened.
In June, several families, including Bajc, launched a drive to raise $5 million for any whistleblower with information on the jet’s fate. Only $100,500 has been raised.
“You get tired, and part of you wants to put it behind and say, ‘That’s where it all ends’, and part of you says, ‘You can’t rest until you figure things out,'” said K.S. Narendran, an Indian business consultant whose wife, Chandrika Sharma, was on MH370.
The airline and the Malaysian government deny charges of a cover-up.
“We would like to assure the next of kin of MH370 that our commitment to the search for this flight has remained consistent and has strengthened,” Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in an August 9 statement.
The government is yet to announce any findings of its investigations.
Its attention is now diverted by the July 17 downing of MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine.
Bajc said MH17 underlines the importance of Voice370, particularly the need to highlight “critical flaws” in global aviation and to police “incompetent” airlines and authorities.
She no longer joins the video meetings, as she and others look for different ways to pressure authorities, such as lawsuits against the airline or Boeing.
No significant lawsuits have yet been filed. Some families say they are sifting through the complexities of where and how best to file a case in such an unprecedented disaster.
“It’s my father. I’m his only son,” Wang said. “No matter what happened, we need to bring them back.
“I think if I don’t do this, I will feel guilty.”