PERTH, Australia (AP) – Six weeks into the extensive search for the lost Malaysia Airlines plane without so much as a piece of debris yet found, several Chinese relatives met Friday to pray for spouses who never came home, while begging for answers that could end their misery of not knowing.
Candles burned on a table in the shape of a heart with the letters MH370 in the middle while about three dozen relatives held a prayer service at a hotel ballroom in Beijing where they have been meeting since the Boeing 777 mysteriously vanished. A banner behind them read in Chinese: “Husband, wife, come home soon.”
“There are different relationships touched by grief, from children, to parents, to siblings, and now we wanted spouses to have a chance to release their feelings,” said Jack Song, a representative for the relatives. Many of those gathered sobbed as gentle music played and a microphone was passed around for anyone who wished to speak.
Thousands of miles away, off the western coast of Australia, aircraft, ships and a robotic submarine continued searching for the aircraft that disappeared with 239 people on board en route from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, six weeks ago on Saturday.
The U.S. Navy’s Bluefin 21 sub was scanning the seabed with sonar to find anything that could resemble wreckage. It has searched 110 square kilometers (42 square miles) of the silt-covered seabed but has found nothing so far, the search coordination center said.
On Thursday, officials said oil samples taken from a slick near the underwater search area were not related to the plane. The underwater search was narrowed to that area because of signals believed to be emanating from the jet’s black boxes. The sounds were last detected April 8, about the time the batteries on the beacons from the all-important flight data and cockpit recorders would have failed.
Radar and satellite data show the plane flew far off-course and would have run out of fuel in the remote section of the Indian Ocean where the search has been focused.
The underwater hunt is being complicated by the depth of the largely unexplored sea floor in an untraveled part of the ocean. The unmanned submarine dived to 4,695 meters (15,404 feet) during its fourth search mission, beyond its recommended limit of 4,500 meters (15,000 feet), according to the U.S. 7th Fleet. That could risk the equipment, but it is being closely monitored.
The search coordination center has said the search for floating debris on the surface will continue at least into next week. On Friday, 11 planes and 12 ships searched across about 52,000 square kilometers (20,000 square miles) of sea. The U.S. alone has flown 35 missions, racking up 319 hours of flight time over nearly 450,000 nautical miles of ocean, according to the 7th Fleet.
Some families refuse to believe the aircraft crashed into the sea and have instead denounced the search effort as a cover-up.
“We believe the plane and our relatives are still alive. Bring them home, that’s all we ask,” said one of the Chinese relatives, who would only give his surname, Zhang. “The only way there could be no evidence, no debris is if the plane landed intact.”
He and several other family members marched from the prayer service to a local park and held a brief sit-in on Friday.
For other waiting families, each day with no news brings more tortuous doubts as they try to go on living without knowing why their relatives didn’t come home.
“We ask that they find the plane, find our loved ones, live or dead, give us something,” Song said. “Until the evidence is presented, we have a right to question.”