Skip to main content

Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 surfaces pain of 1977 tragedy

By Pamela Boykoff and Saima Mohsin, CNN
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 0955 GMT (1755 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 653 crashed after being hijacked in 1977
  • Report into crash said the pilots were shot dead and plane slammed into the ground
  • Relatives of the passengers say current crisis with MH370 brings pain flooding back
  • One advised families to remember loved ones and not fixate on assigning blame

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (CNN) -- The families of those on board Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 have been waiting for answers for 20 days. The loved ones of those who were passengers on Malaysia Airlines 653 have been waiting for 37 years.

Flight 653 was hijacked in 1977 en route from the northern Malaysian city of Penang to Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital. The airliner -- a Boeing 737-200 -- crashed into a mangrove swamp as it descended, killing all 100 on board. Before Flight 370, it was the deadliest incident in Malaysian aviation history.

Is it or isn't it? Latest images give analysts hope

"Thirty-seven years down the line, we still don't really know the truth," said Ruth Parr, who was 19 when her father, Thomas, died in the crash.

Expert: Missing airliner will be found
Grieving relatives' anguish continues
Chinese celebs speak out against Malaysia

The hijacker or hijackers of MH653 have never been identified, despite cockpit voice recordings that captured everything from the breach of the cockpit, to the sound of gunshots that killed both pilots. According to the Malaysian Civil Aviation Department's report into the crash, the aircraft was hijacked as it approached Kuala Lumpur.

Amid confusion over whether it was to land there or not, it proceeded towards neighboring Singapore. As it descended, the crew was shot and the aircraft "carried out some unusual pitch up and pitch down terminal maneuvers before finally impacting into swampy ground at some 450 knots." The report concluded that the crash was caused by the crew being fatally incapacitated, leaving the aircraft "professionally uncontrolled."

However, some eye witnesses at the time reported seeing the aircraft in flames before it hit the ground, while others reported hearing an explosion before impact -- though investigators could not find evidence to support these reports.

Defining event

For other family members of MH653 victims reached by CNN, the recent disappearance of MH370 brought back memories of that traumatic time. Over the years, they have learned to cope with their grief, but the 1977 crash will always be a defining event in their lives.

'Unspeakable challenge' for relatives

"You have to carry that with you all the time," said Tom Sherrington, whose father, Richard, was also on MH653. He believes talking openly about their memories of his father, whom he described as a "fun guy" and "big adventurer," helped his family to cope.

He also said visits to the memorial, built near the crash site in the Malaysian coastal town of Tanjung Kupang, have given his family a tangible place to reflect on their loss.

Family photo shows Richard Sherrington (far right) in a family photo. Tom is second from left.
Family photo shows Richard Sherrington (far right) in a family photo. Tom is second from left.

As for the families of those on board MH370, Sherrington said they should focus on remembering their loved ones and try not to fixate on assigning blame.

"The one thing I would say is not for them to get too obsessed with the detail and the recriminations and all that," he said. Sherrington added that he hopes the families will stick together and find comfort in each other.

China treads carefully amid anger and grief of relatives

'You can never forget the date'

Both Parr and Sherrington warn that everyone processes their grief in different ways and there is no shortcut.

It gets a little easier over time but you can never forget the date," Parr said.

"You will forever think you see that person out and about, a glance in the car's rearview mirror or crossing the road. It could be anywhere, a voice that sounds like him will have you spinning around only to find it's someone else."

Hopes dashed as orange objects turn out to be fishing equipment

Get up to speed on the latest developments

A flight attendant's husband wants to give children answers, but has none

Part of complete coverage on
May 28, 2014 -- Updated 2229 GMT (0629 HKT)
What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope.
September 8, 2014 -- Updated 1127 GMT (1927 HKT)
The story began as a puzzling news bulletin. A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet with 239 people on board had vanished from radar screens as it was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
September 5, 2014 -- Updated 1130 GMT (1930 HKT)
The mapping of the main search area for Flight 370 has found parts of the ocean floor that are unusually hard.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0800 GMT (1600 HKT)
Brianna Keilar reports on the new developments that will shape the coming renewed search of MH370.
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0529 GMT (1329 HKT)
Flight MH370 may have turned south earlier than originally thought.
June 25, 2014 -- Updated 0033 GMT (0833 HKT)
Erin Burnett speaks to Miles O'Brien about the latest in the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
June 18, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Ten experts say that the search for MH370 should move hundreds of miles away from the previous search area.
June 17, 2014 -- Updated 1322 GMT (2122 HKT)
His wife never came home from her flight on MH370, and now K.S. Narendran is left to imagine the worst of possible truths without knowing.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Relatives of passengers are launching an effort to raise $5 million for investigations and a "whistle blower" reward.
June 9, 2014 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
Making sure another plane is never "lost" again is the immediate priority for the airline industry.
May 30, 2014 -- Updated 1536 GMT (2336 HKT)
This handout photo taken on April 7, 2014 and released on April 9, 2014 by Australian Defence shows Maritime Warfare Officer, Sub Lieutenant Ryan Penrose watching HMAS Success as HMAS Perth approaches for a replenishment at sea while searching for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean. Two fresh signals have been picked up Australian ship Ocean Shield in the search for missing Malaysian flight MH370, raising hopes that wreckage will be found within days even as black box batteries start to expire.
Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
ADVERTISEMENT