On the ninth anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, Netflix premieres a new documentary series on modern aviation’s greatest mystery – and a still-painful memory for Malaysia.
Two weeks ago, an intense trailer for a new Netflix series, called a ‘speculative documentary’ by some, premiered and quickly riveted potential viewers.
The official trailer for the series MH370: The Plane That Disappeared – which shows a preview of a new documentary focused on how and why the Boeing 777 operating as Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 could have vanished and still remain missing – undoubtedly opened anew wounds that, for many, have never really healed.
“Planes go up, planes go down… but what planes don’t do is just vanish off the face of the Earth,” intones a sombre voice in the introduction of the trailer.
Shortly after midnight on March 8, 2014, 227 passengers and 12 crew members boarded MH370 and stepped into history.
Recounting the progression of events and the weeks-long aftermath which cast Malaysia and its government – really for the first time – into the unrelenting glare of global scrutiny, the Netflix docu-series features scenes of multiple family members of the passengers on flight MH370 reacting to the disappearance of the aircraft in real time back in 2014.
For those of us who were here in Malaysia at that time, it’s sure to be a surreal, jarring return to the past. Frankly, it’s hard to even get past the 30-second mark of the two-minute trailer without feeling a swell of emotion and anguish. The disappearance of MH370 was inarguably a defining, watershed moment in Malaysia’s history. Nine years on, there are still no concrete answers. Nine years on, the families of those aboard still have no closure. Nine years on, suspicions, resentment, and grief linger among the loved ones of the passengers and crew.
“Never in history have 239 people been declared dead on the basis of mathematics alone,” opined Jeff Wise, science journalist and author of The Plane That Wasn’t There: Why We Haven’t Found MH370, an investigative publication dedicated to the investigation of MH370’s disappearance.
“MH370 is not just an unsolved mass murder, it’s potentially an act of war. How is it possible for an airline to disappear out of thin air? Someone knows the answer,” Wise insists towards the end of the trailer. “The question is: Who?”
The trailer then signs off the same way that MH370 did nine years ago: the final radio transmission from the pilot in command of MH370, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, wishing Malaysia goodnight.
Since the trailer debuted two weeks ago, it has amassed over 5.3 million views on YouTube, in addition to millions of views on Netflix’s own platform. For Malaysians, as evidenced by scores of the comments, the anguish of MH370 is still raw.
Many commented that it was hard to believe it had been nine years since the Boeing 777 disappeared without a trace; some expressed grief, along with hope that one day the airliner would be located; some shared their memories of that day, still recalling it clearly; some said they felt shame as Malaysians over the event that made the country a household word for the first time – only to be followed up by MH17’s shoot-down four months later, and then the 1MDB scandal after that.
The trailer hints at the aftermath in the hours and days following the plane’s disappearance. The Malaysian government, then under Prime Minister Najib Razak, faced significant international criticism for its handling of the disappearance of MH370 in March 2014. The country was accused of stonewalling and being uncooperative with other countries involved in the search and rescue efforts, which involved multiple countries, including Australia, China, and the United States. The Malaysian authorities were criticised for their slow response, lack of transparency, and poor communication with families of the victims.
Though 14 nationalities were represented by the passengers and crew of Beijing-bound MH370, China had far more passengers on the doomed flight than any other country – 153 of the 227 total passengers, and both the incident and Malaysia’s response put a considerable strain on the relationship between the two countries. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman accused the Malaysian authorities of a lack of transparency, stating that “there are many things that are unclear and confusing,” while the Australian Prime Minister at the time, Tony Abbott, slammed the lack of coordination and communication, saying, “I think there has been a degree of incompetence, and I think there’s been a degree of obfuscation.”
The international media also levelled a storm of criticism at the Malaysian government’s handling of the incident, with The New York Times describing the response as “an extraordinary case of official obfuscation, foot-dragging, and deflecting blame,” and CNN stating that “the Malaysian government’s handling of the crisis has been widely criticised as chaotic and confused.” It was really the first time that Malaysia had ever needed to step up in a crisis under a difficult and demanding global spotlight, and by virtually all accounts, the government was not at all equal to the task.
The international community’s response resulted in Malaysia establishing a special investigation team to investigate the incident and enhance its emergency response procedures. However, even last year – a full eight years after the disappearance of the plane – a series of fruitless meetings between the Malaysian government and Ocean Infinity led some in the international response community to conclude that Malaysia is simply “not interested in finding MH370.”
In an article published in June 2022 on the well-known aviation industry site AirlineRatings.com, the conclusion was reached that, “When Malaysia rejects a ‘no find, no fee search,’ then it is perfectly clear they do not want to find the plane for whatever reason.”
The upcoming Netflix docu-series will look more in depth at the events following the disappearance, the theories that arose in the following weeks and months, along with the tragic downing of MH17 four months later, and the discovery of large parts of MH370 that washed up on beaches in faraway lands many months after the flight’s disappearance.
The series comprises three episodes, and a full overview can be found on this press release.
MH370: The Plane That Disappeared will premiere exclusively on Netflix on the ninth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, March 8.
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