The conclusion of the underwater search for the wreck of MH370 is another blow to the families of Australian victims, as the third anniversary of the plane’s disappearance nears.
Six Australian citizens and two residents were among the 239 people on board the Malaysia Airlines flight bound for Beijing from Kuala Lumpur when it was lost on 8 March 2014.
Bob and Cathy Lawton and Rod and Mary Burrows, two married couples from Brisbane, were travelling to China together on a much-anticipated holiday.
Bob Lawton, 58, had worked for more than 30 years at Sharp Plywood in Wacol, where his father had been a factory manager before him.
Cathy, 54, was visually impaired with advanced glaucoma and had reportedly pushed to go on the trip before, she feared, she would lose her sight entirely. Their trip was due to take them to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore after Kuala Lumpur and China.
Rod Burrows, 59, had worked for Energex, but had accepted redundancy in late 2013. Mary, 54, had been a civilian employee of the Queensland police force for 16 years at the time of her death.
Only a fortnight before their holiday, the couple had moved out of the Middle Park home in which they had lived for 22 years and raised three children. The park next door was renamed in their honour in June 2016.
“This was their time, they were all about the kids,” their former neighbour, Wandy Watt, told Brisbane’s Courier-Mail shortly after the plane disappeared. “The kids had moved on … they’re all successful, all happy. This was their time.”
The Burrows and the Lawtons each had three adult children, who in April 2016 lodged proceedings against Malaysia Airlines for compensation in Australia’s federal court.
Rodney Burrows’s sister, Kaylene Mann, lost her stepdaughter in the MH17 air disaster in July 2014, four months after MH370 disappeared.
The third Australian couple on board the flight were Naijun Gu and Yuan Li, of Sydney’s southern suburbs, who were believed to be going to Beijing to visit their two daughters who were living there with their extended family.
Li, 33, was born in Beijing and Gu, 31, in Shanghai. The couple – known by their adopted English names, Carlos and Carrie – had met as students in Sydney, and lived in an apartment in Hurstville.
In the weeks after MH370’s disappearance, it was reported that they had been beset by business problems, selling their home in Sylvania and their petrol station in nearby Miranda in 2013.
Weeks, a mining engineer and New Zealander living in Western Australia, was bound for Mongolia for his first shift in his new job with Transwest Mongolia. He had moved to Perth with his wife and two children from Christchurch, in the South Island, after the earthquakes there in 2011.
His relatives filed proceedings against Malaysia Airlines in the West Australian supreme court in March 2016, days before the second anniversary of MH370’s disappearance.
On Wednesday his wife, Danica Weeks, told Australian Associated Press the Malaysian government should realise that she and other relatives would never stop fighting for the truth.
“It is their plane, their responsibility, they’re the ones that promised they would bring them home and now they are just giving up,” she said. “We will keep fighting. If Malaysia thinks it’s just going to disappear on them then they have got another think coming … I’m not going to leave him out there or wherever he is, we’re not going to leave our loved ones out there.”
Tan was a Malaysian citizen living in Melbourne with his wife of 22 years, Jennifer Chong, and their two sons, aged 17 and 13 at the time of their father’s death.
Chong was the first Australian to file proceedings against Malaysia Airlines over the plane’s disappearance. Shine Lawyers lodged documents in the Victorian supreme court on her behalf in February 2016.
She remains in touch with other victims’ families and campaigns for the search to be continued on Twitter, which she joined shortly after MH370 disappeared.
Her bio on the site reads: “MH370. 239 persons vanished. To the world they might be a NUMBER, but to a number of us, they are the WORLD.”
One Wednesday she told Guardian Australia even though the planned search suspension was publicly known last year, she still found the decision unacceptable.
“The governments made a commitment to the families and public to find the plane and to see them go back on their promise is frustrating,” she said.
“Finding the plane is an inescapable duty owed to the families and the flying public – in terms of aviation safety there is too much at stake to cancel the search halfway. Until we know what caused the crash, it is irresponsible to dismiss the chances of this happening again. Anyone that flies regularly should find it unacceptable that one of the most popular planes today can vanish without a trace.”
Chong said it was a mistake to suspend the search without extending it to the new, small, area recommended by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.
“I hope that the governments will not let the ATSB’s findings be a wasted exercise, keep investigating, and continue to review the available evidence,” she said.
“The governments cannot passively wait and rely on a breakthrough to guide them to the exact location of MH370.
“The possibility that what happened to our loved ones will never be known terrifies me. The Malaysian government may want to bury the issue but the families will never forget and never stop working to reopen the search.”