ANTANANARIVO, Madagascar – A Frenchman whose wife and two of his three children were on a Malaysia Airlines plane that disappeared in 2014 said Sunday that he was still trying to find out what happened to the aircraft partly as a way of dealing with the emotional cost of his loss.
Ghislain Wattrelos joined half a dozen relatives of some of the 239 people aboard Flight 370 on a weeklong visit to Madagascar to ask coastal residents to look out for debris from the missing plane that may have washed up after drifting across the Indian Ocean. Wattrelos said he was frustrated over the failure of a high-tech, expensive search by governments to turn up any hint of why the plane apparently crashed in the ocean, and wanted to do something for his spouse and children.
"It's been 1,000 days and we still have no clue of what happened — what happened to my family," Wattrelos, a business executive, said at a hotel in Antananarivo, Madagascar's capital, where he and relatives from Malaysia and China planned their itinerary to areas where they believe plane debris may have come ashore.
"It's part of the recovery process I'm going through," he said.
The relatives, who formed an association called Voice 370, are becoming increasingly anxious because Malaysia, Australia and China are close to completing a deep-sea sonar search, so far fruitless, of 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) off Australia's southwest coast in the Indian Ocean. The plane is believed to have crashed there after deviating from its flight path from Malaysia to Beijing on March 8, 2014.
Officials say they will suspend operations if there is no new evidence that could help pinpoint the crash site, but relatives of the missing travelers believe the discovery of plane debris around Africa since last year is a good reason to widen the search.
Pieces confirmed to have come from the missing Boeing 777 include a wing flap known as a flaperon that was found on Reunion Island last year, and another wing flap that washed ashore on an island off Tanzania. Blaine Gibson, an American wreckage hunter, found a piece of debris in Mozambique that officials say was almost certainly a horizontal stabilizer from a Flight 370 wing, and he has found possible plane remains in Madagascar.
"The reason that I'm so focused on Madagascar is that this is the only place where more than one piece of debris has been found on the same beach," said Gibson, who is accompanying the relatives on their travels in Madagascar. He said he had also found "personal effects" — including a shoe, a slipper, the remains of a leather purse and part of a computer case — but acknowledged uncertainty over their origin.
"No passports, no ID cards, no baggage tags. Not yet," Gibson said.
Wattrelos said he was troubled that the official search hasn't focused more on debris around Africa, and that it could be too late to find such wreckage a year from now.
"I will stop searching when I have a definite answer," he said. He doesn't want his surviving son, who is in his early 20s, to get involved.
"He should do something else," Wattrelos said. "I need to show him that life still goes on, that life can still be beautiful."