MH370: Hope transcends frustration in quest to bring families closure

Story highlights

  • The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now
  • No closer to solving mystery of what happened to the 239 men, women, and children
  • Despite frustration, searchers remain determined to bring closure to relatives of passengers

"I'm an engineer, so we don't talk emotions too much." Those were the words of Capt. Mark Matthews of the U.S. Navy shortly after the Australian Defense vessel Ocean Shield had discovered a series of pings in the southern Indian Ocean.

Perhaps he didn't want to discuss his feelings. But he had a twinkle in his eye, a bit of what he called "cautious optimism." I've seen that same glimmer shining through on the faces of dozens of others involved in the arduous search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It's been there through each new lead, and even through some of the setbacks.

READ: Search in 'more difficult' phase

The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. We've all had to learn a new technical language: from Inmarsat satellite data and the "Doppler Effect," to the TPL-25 and Bluefin-21. We've heard countless theories about where the plane might have gone and who might have been flying it.

Both the science and the science fiction have, at times, almost drowned out what this search is about at its core: solving the mystery of what happened to the 239 men, women, and children who were on board MH370.

Closure

Search for MH370 intensifies, expands
Search for MH370 intensifies, expands

    JUST WATCHED

    Search for MH370 intensifies, expands

MUST WATCH

Search for MH370 intensifies, expands 01:13
Timeline of the vanished MH370
Timeline of the vanished MH370

    JUST WATCHED

    Timeline of the vanished MH370

MUST WATCH

Timeline of the vanished MH370 02:15
Flight 370 report raises serious questions
Flight 370 report raises serious questions

    JUST WATCHED

    Flight 370 report raises serious questions

MUST WATCH

Flight 370 report raises serious questions 03:04
Malaysia Airlines to close hotel centers
Malaysia Airlines to close hotel centers

    JUST WATCHED

    Malaysia Airlines to close hotel centers

MUST WATCH

Malaysia Airlines to close hotel centers 01:42

It takes people to find clues and to follow the trail of where they lead. People who are working tirelessly across borders and time zones, putting their lives on hold with the aim of bringing even the smallest bit of closure to the families of those who have been lost, and to prevent their nightmare from ever happening again.

Some, like Capt. Matthews, might humbly say that they're just doing their jobs. Others remain anonymous, like the international team in Kuala Lumpur, who did much to give the search a tangible focus, even if that focus has shifted several times.

READ: Mixed messages, lost time before search

I've been covering the missing flight for CNN for more than 50 days in Malaysia and Australia. I can't pretend that what I do compares with the dedication of the hundreds of service members from China to New Zealand, who have flown tirelessly day after day over millions of square kilometers of the Indian Ocean. I can't pretend that I understand the pain of Selamat Omar, who lost his 29-year-old son, or Danica Weeks, whose husband, Paul, disappeared on the way to start a new job in Mongolia.

But as a journalist, I've felt at least a small part of their confusion and frustration. I recall the difficulty in getting a candid response from Malaysian authorities in the early days of the search -- the way they sidestepped almost all tough questions during that first week after the plane vanished.

I remember the Chinese family members who were brave enough to try to take their quest for answers public and were dragged out of the press room in Kuala Lumpur, screaming and crying. Thinking about their grief, the expressions on their faces that afternoon, still hits me hard.

Human spirit

There have also been moments that have made me proud to be telling this story -- moments that have to do with the human spirit. The card from a 7-year-old on the Wall of Hope inside Kuala Lumpur International Airport, which said she was ready to greet the MH370 passengers as soon as they landed safely.

The moment I saw the pinger locator and Bluefin-21 robotic submarine on the dock at Garden Island in Western Australia, I felt a sense of awe and honor standing just steps away from keys that still have the potential to unlock this puzzle.

And the moment search chief Angus Houston told the world "I'm now optimistic that we will find the aircraft ... in the not too distant future. But we haven't found it yet because this is a very challenging business." A voice of reassurance and reason, even if the challenge soon outweighed the optimism.

The last few weeks have been torture for relatives of passengers who were on MH370.

Over the past eight weeks, I've witnessed something. It's called hope. It was in the words of the housekeeper who answered the front door at Captain Zaharie's house in the Kuala Lumpur suburbs. It was in in the wake of the Ocean Shield as it pulled away from the dock at Stirling Naval Base and made speed for the search area. It was there when I sat a few feet away from the Malaysia Airlines CEO on Day 4, and it was there when I spoke to Captain Matthews around Day 44.

Just a few days ago, I felt it again, when I returned to Pearce Air Force Base outside Perth. As I stepped onto the tarmac, I recalled the first time I'd done so, more than a month earlier, to welcome back one of our reporters after she'd taken part in an 11-hour search flight.

Solving the mystery

Almost 350 flights later, the massive air search was over with no trace of MH370. Planes from seven countries were lined up in formation at Pearce. Flight crews from Australia to Malaysia to South Korea traded stories, reflecting on the moments behind them, before pausing to recognize the task that still lies ahead.

I remember what a young American pilot who flew on the P8 Poseidon search plane told me: that his greatest disappointment after weeks of looking out over the vast open ocean was not being able to give the families what they needed the most. And that if he could continue the search, he would, until the day he found something.

After all these weeks, it's a feeling that remains strong as ever -- the hope and the belief that we may eventually be able to solve this mystery, and that the families of 239 passengers and crew will one day have the answer to a crucial question: Why?

READ: In MH370 search, incompetence, lost time

        Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

      • nr intv moni basu husbands quiet suffering flight 370_00020822.jpg

        An empty space on earth

        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.
      • 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.

        Is this the sound of the crash?

        Was the sound of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 striking the water captured by ocean devices used to listen for signs of nuclear blasts?
      •  A crew member of a Royal New Zealand Airforce (RNZAF) P-3K2-Orion aircraft helps to look for objects during the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in flight over the Indian Ocean on April 13, 2014 off the coast of Perth, Australia. S

        Search back to square one

        What was believed to be the best hope of finding the missing plane is now being called a false hope. Rene Marsh explains.
      • Caption:A Chinese relative of passengers on the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 uses a lighter as she prays at the Metro Park Hotel in Beijing on April 8, 2014. The hunt for physical evidence that the Malaysia Airlines jet crashed in the Indian Ocean more than three weeks ago has turned up nothing, despite a massive operation involving seven countries and repeated sightings of suspected debris. AFP PHOTO/WANG ZHAO (Photo credit should read WANG ZHAO/AFP/Getty Images)

        Bring in the lawyers

        Involved parties, including the manufacturer Boeing, are bracing for a long public relations siege.
      • The painstaking search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 got a vote of confidence Friday that the effort is headed in the right direction, but officials noted that much work remains.
Credit: 	CNN

        Pings likely not from Flight 370

        Official: The four acoustic pings at the center of the search for Flight 370 are no longer believed to have come from the plane's black boxes.
      • INDIAN OCEAN (April 14, 2014) -- Operators aboard ADF Ocean Shield move U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 into position for deployment, April 14. Using side scan sonar, the Bluefin will descend to a depth of between 4,000 and 4,500 meters, approximately 35 meters above the ocean floor. It will spend up to 16 hours at this depth collecting data, before potentially moving to other likely search areas. Joint Task Force 658 is currently supporting Operation Southern Indian Ocean, searching for the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. (U.S. Navy video by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/RELEASED)

        Underwater search on hold

        The underwater search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane will effectively be put on hold this week, and may not resume until August at the earliest.
      • Movie-makers say they have recruited leading Hollywood technicians to bring their experience to mid-air flight sequences.

        An MH370 movie already?

        Movie-makers in Cannes have announced they're making a thriller based on the disappearance of Malaysian flight MH370.
      • The story of the search

        The search for the missing Boeing 777 has gone on for eight weeks now. CNN's David Molko looks back at this difficult, emotional assignment.