'When your four-year-old screams at you in a rage "bring my Daddy back now", how do you respond?', Perth mother Danica Weeks writes about her struggle to explain what happened to husband Paul on flight MH370.
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Tuesday, March 3, 2015 - 21:30
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Staring into his eyes full of anger and sadness as your heart breaks, the only words I can conjure up are “I’m sorry darling I can’t”.

And I can’t promise him I can, if only to relieve a small portion of his heartbreak, as I’ve tried everything to do that for them both, bring their Daddy home dead or alive, as me more than anyone knows everything they are missing out on.

But how are they supposed to comprehend or understand that now, they just want him back, the huge void to be filled.

And I know they say you should always tell children the truth, but what is the truth here? I wish desperately someone would tell me!

12 months on, I know no more of what has happened to my soulmate, best friend, amazing father and husband, than I did on March 8th 2014.

And the only people, the Malaysian Authorities, who are legally and morally tasked with telling us the truth are either hiding it or don’t know themselves

But how do we know as they continue to be non-transparent and treat us as a nuisance, only hoping, it feels, that we will all just go away.

But where does that leave our children? Growing up under the banner of the world’s greatest aviation mystery or cover-up seen in the world thus far. I don’t know, and trust me every professional in the field doesn’t either!

There is no manual for the ‘unprecedented’ as the Malaysian Authorities continually like to label it.

So I fumble along, struggling with life’s simple tasks in desperation, frustration and anger - not knowing what day it is, with all the special days now having passed full of sadness in Paul’s absence, but also bewilderment of not knowing why, the time is a blur.

So as our one-year-old learns to talk, especially to say ‘Daddy’ or as our oldest now refers to as his ‘superhero’ for leaving him the super powers to take care of us all, I wonder every day sadly if Paul will ever get the chance to hear them say it.

But for now when they scream and cry for their Daddy, all I can do is be there, broken-hearted, torn apart, fighting back the emotions so as not to exacerbate the situation, knowing I can cry and yell in private later.

I’m just trying my hardest to do whatever I can to soften the road for them as we sit in limbo, waiting for something, anything, that will bring our Paully home to us, so we can do what is right by him, but most of all so I can tell our children the truth.

See Alex de Jong's full story about Danica Weeks' search for answers above.

The Search for MH370

The scale of the search for MH370 is unprecedented – potentially covering more than a million square kilometres of ocean west of Australia with no guarantee it’s even there at all.

The decision to move the search so far from the Malaysia Airlines route between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing was driven by just eight brief contacts between the aircraft and an Inmarsat communications satellite.

Those contacts came after the plane’s normal communications system somehow stopped operating during the flight last March.

That left investigators to approximate its final position from the small amount of data available, including how far it could possibly have flown with the amount of fuel on board.

Dateline also looks at the latest on the search to find the plane in one of the deepest, most remote and unexplored areas of the world.

The map of the search area in the Southern Indian Ocean shows the scale – from the initial aerial and surface search last March up to the current underwater mission.

That detailed sonar search is covering a priority area of 60,000 square kilometres, which is about two thirds the size of Tasmania. Around 40% of it has been covered so far.

Four search boats carrying a team of around 180 people are working 24/7 towing a 900 kilogram scanner at walking speed to get the clearest possible view of the sea floor.

Any promising images from the search are not only analysed by computer, but are checked by at least 12 sets of human eyes for any evidence of the plane.

The images of the search area are rendered at a resolution of one metre per pixel, but can be magnified to 10 centimetres on particular areas of interest.

“I think at last count there’s 220 people involved,” Peter Foley from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau tells Dateline.

“Lots of folks are doing work for us free of charge, they’re doing it because they believe in what we’re doing… we can’t leave this a mystery.”

A video put together by Geoscience Australia shows the physical challenges facing the search team.

Not only are the seas rough in this remote area 1,800 kilometres off the WA coast, but the ocean floor has very uneven terrain and is over six kilometres deep in places.

“There’s lots of geological features - lumps, bumps, some volcanoes,” says Steve Duffield from Fugro Offshore Survey, which is providing three of the vessels involved in the search.

“One rift to the south was 250 kilometres long with a wall 1,000 metres high,” he says, demonstrating the challenge to keep the scanner 100 and 150 metres from the ocean floor.

“The hardest part is that they’re six days away from the port of Fremantle to the work site,” Steve adds. “So it’s a big sail away - they’re a long way from home. It’s 42 days before they come back to Fremantle.”

The Australian and Malaysian Governments are contributing equally at up to $60 million each for the underwater search. Australia has committed up to $89.9 million in total. It's the most expensive search and rescue in history.

“We’re determined to put in the maximum, the best possible effort, and if the aircraft is where we think it is, we’re confident we can find it,” Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss tells Dateline.

“[It’s] been frustrating, but particularly frustrating obviously for the families, who are seeking information, so that they can have some closure in this incident,” he says.

The current stage is expected to finish by May, but Warren Truss has already said that the search won’t be able to continue forever.

Experts say the only comparable incident to the MH370 search is the loss of Air France flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean in 2009.

In that case, the approximate location was known and wreckage was found within a week, but it took almost two years to recover the plane’s black boxes from a depth of around four kilometres.

Watch the full story above and follow the links below to find out more about those involved in the search.

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Credits

  • Reporter: Alex de Jong
  • Camera: Ben Foley
  • Editor: David Potts

Transcript

LINCOLN WEEKS: It’s full of sugar. It's making me jump off the walls.

DANICA WEEKS:  Pauly and I always had this rule that the kids were in bed by seven. It was our time then. I don't have that time any more. I know it's not good parenting but I've been keeping Lincoln up just because it lessens the amount of time I have alone.

VOICEOVER:  The Southern Indian Ocean is one of the most remote areas of the world. This is where they have been hunting for MH370 for almost a year. In parts, the ocean is over 6km deep. And, if the plane is here - it's almost certainly broken up and scattered into pieces.

PETER FOLEY, SEARCH COORDINATOR: The area that we're searching is a very challenging part of the ocean. It's remote. The sea conditions that far south at times are absolutely horrendous.

ALEX DE JONG, REPORTER:  Danica.

DANICA WEEKS:  Alex. How are you? Nice to meet you, come on in.

ALEX DE JONG:  Oh wow, that is fantastic. Is that Batman's cave? Awesome.

DANICA WEEKS:  Okay, breakfast time. It was the Friday. He was just finishing off some of his packing and he had a split all the way through his jeans. I said to him - we started obviously laughing. I said Pauly, you can't go like that, you cannot go on a plane with split jeans. He's like, "Why not, why not?" We sat here as a family. We did some family videos and a family selfie video and he was just so happy.

ALEX DE JONG: He was flying business class?

DANICA WEEKS:  Yes, he was flying business class. Hence he couldn't go with his split jeans. He was really looking forward to it.

VOICEOVER:  Paul Weeks was heading to a mine in Mongolia where he'd just got a new job as a mechanical engineer. It was a big break. Danica and Paul are Kiwis. They met 14 years ago at the Munich Oktoberfest. They married, had two kids and eventually settled in Perth.

DANICA WEEKS:  He said he would Skype us at about 1 o'clock in the afternoon. It was after he landed in Beijing. I put Skype on waiting for him to call us. We were blissfully going about our day not thinking of anything and then I suddenly get a phone call I's about 1pm in the afternoon. It was a report from the New Zealand Herald. She said to me, "Is Paul Weeks there?" I went, "No, he's on a flight to Mongolia." "He's on his way to Mongolia". She said, "You haven't heard then?". And I said “What?”  "There's been an incident with the plane."

VOICEOVER:  It was a phone call that changed this family forever.

DANICA WEEKS:  Okay boys, come on, it's breakfast time.

VOICEOVER:  For a brief moment she thought Paul wasn't on the plane because his name had not been listed with the Australian Embassy. But of course it wasn't there because they're New Zealanders living in Australia.

DANICA WEEKS:  This why, what, when, how is just a constant, constant in your life. I search on the phone, on the internet, just constantly looking for one piece of information that will tell me where they are. That's just the most crazy thing of all, is how do you lose a plane? I wake up every day and say, "How do you lose a plane?" They fly past here every day. I think, ah, it's impossible. It's truly impossible.

NEWSREEL: Breaking news, a Boeing 777 is missing.
We deployed our assets but found nothing.
Most can do nothing but expect the worst.
It's not even a need in a haystack - it's a needle in thousands of fields of haystacks.
It will go down in history as the greatest aviation mystery that the world has seen so far.

VOICEOVER:  This map shows all the different places in the Southern Indian Ocean they've looked for the missing plane over the past year. The initial aerial and surface search started here, then it moved north-east, then, further north up towards Indonesia. After that it dropped down again. The current underwater search zone is here. Adding to the mystery and anguish for those like Danica, desperate to find their loved ones, is the fact that the decision to search in the Southern Indian Ocean was driven by just eight brief contacts MH370 had with an Inmarsat communication satellite.

PETER FOLEY: The analysis has been an extraordinary analysis by really expert people who have worked and worked and reviewed it. We are confident that the analysis has placed us in the right area.

DES ROSS, FORMER HEAD AVIATION SAFETY OFFICE: We seem to have gone away from the point at which the aircraft went missing and we're now searching in the Southern Indian Ocean based on scientific data and scientific information which even Inmarsat themselves are saying is not necessarily 100% accurate.

CHRIS MCLAUGHLIN, INMARSAT:  We've been trying to help an investigation based on a single signal once an hour from an aircraft that didn't include any GPS data or any time and distance information. So this really was a bit of a shot in the dark.

CNBC:  The issue with this Inmarsat data is that this data is in no way designed to track aircraft and locate aircraft on the earth. It's merely a carrier signal to carry vital information about the aeroplane to Inmarsat and down to the airline company or engine company on the ground. So they're trying to use this data for something it was never really intended for.

DES ROSS: I mean OK, there's the suggestion it's the only game in town that this is the best information we've got to work with. So - they're going with it.

VOICEOVER:  The mystery of this missing Boeing p 77 deepens at every point. Last October everyone the CEO of Emirates, Sir Tim Clark, said he wasn't convinced by the satellite data and that he believed information regarding the incident was being withheld.

SIR TIM CLARK: We relied on satellite features and that still left a very, very large potential search area – perhaps more than $1 million square kilometres.

VOICEOVER:  It's now the most expensive search and rescue operation in history. The Australian Government set aside $90 million for the search, but it won't reveal how much it has spent to date or how much it is willing to spend.

WARREN TRUSS, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: We budgeted a certain amount of money and we won't make decisions about what to do after that until those decisions need to be made.

ALEX DE JONG: When did he do this one?

DANICA WEEKS:  This was Tuesday. At daycare, I keep all these. Pauly had a box of them. He was going to put them in a big art book, to keep them all. And so I just keep them all so if he does come back then he's got all the recent drawings that he has done. Cute. He asked the teacher how to spell "dad". He knows how to spell Jack and mum and Lincoln.

VOICEOVER:  The detailed sonar search is now focussed on a priority zone of 60,000 square kilometres. That's two-thirds the size of Tasmania. Scanning the ocean floor here is like investigating underwater mountain ranges. All the data collected comes here to the out skirts of Perth. Steve Duffield is MD of Fugro Offshore Survey, the company providing three of the four deep water search vessels looking for MH370.

STEVE DUFFIELD: So this is the area where we receive the data. It's process, checked and packaged and the search begins through the data.

ALEX DE JONG: So it comes directly from the boats to here?

STEVE DUFFIELD: Directly from the boats to here.

VOICEOVER:  The search boats and a team of around 180 work 24/7, often in rough seas.. They're toeing a sonar scanner at walking speed to get a clearest possible image of the sea floor.

PAUL KENNEDY, SEARCH PROJECT DIRECTOR: The most unforgiveable thing we can do is survey the sea floor and miss it. It's a one-shot deal. You only go there once. You need to make sure that when you pass over it there's no chance of missing it. I’m under enormous pressure, enormous pressure to find this plane, enormous pressure. We all feel a terrible responsibility to find it. This is the all-consuming, for many many people in this building, since April last year. We spend night and day working on this.

PETER FOLEY:  I've shed a tear occasionally and I can even recall last week talking to Danica Weeks. I really empathise with what she's experiencing and what she's feeling and I think it's certainly motivating you.

VOICEOVER:  The search team can't tell Danica where her husband is. Although she tried briefly, she hasn't been able to face work since Paul disappeared. One of the most heartbreaking parts of this story is when you ask Danica what she tells four-year-old Lincoln about his missing dad.

DANICA WEEKS:  When I look at them is when I am the most emotional, because I know what they're missing out on and that Paul should be here.
Do you want to have some fruit, Lincoln?
The kids, you know, talk to Lincoln about dad and say, "Your dad is not here". I mean, I haven't told Lincoln really anything about what's happened. I'm unaware myself. I have to keep telling him that dad's in his heart and hope that that brings some comfort to him.
I don't know if you heard Jack last night, but he started now, he cries "daddy", because Lincoln has done it so often and Jack copies everything Lincoln does. It's heartbreaking. Cause you know there's a good possibility that they may never, well, he will never get to know him. And Paul him.
He was incredible. He is an incredible father. He was always playing with the boys. He was my best friend too.
Yes, nice one. There you go. Yes. No water.

VOICEOVER:  Danica is now living off the couple's savings. She was offered some compensation money, but turned it down.

DANICA WEEKS:  I refused the $50,000. People might say why didn't you take the $50,000 they offered? The Malaysians offered that with strings attached. It was that I had to fill out a detailed questionaire which included sending my children's birth certificates and copies of. It felt like it was an information-gathering process. So I consulted a lawyer, obviously and they said the same. It's just to pass onto the insurance companies so they know basically what they're up for.

VOICEOVER:  The Malaysian Ministry of Transport has given the families only one report. It was just five pages long. It confirmed it had taken an unusually long time for Air Conservative traffic Controllers to check on MH370 once it had left Kuala Lumpur's airspace.

DES ROSS: That's the first thing that seems to be terribly amiss - the Ho Chi Min controller took 17 minutes to even chase the missing aircraft. That in itself is a huge problem because the international protocols are that two minutes is the maximum period you allow for such a transfer call.

VOICEOVER:  The report also revealed that once the plane had signed off with air traffic control, it took over four hours to launch a search operation. These are the last words heard from MH370.

DES ROSS: So there's a lot of things that could have happened within those first three or four hours. That would have solved the entire problem. It all could have been resolved that first night. Why wasn't it? That's my question. It is a very frustrating and immensely strange situation to me.

ALEX DE JONG: Do you think you're any closer to understanding that surreal situation?

DANICA WEEKS:  Not at all and I have knocked on doors. I have begged for meetings. I have met with Malaysian Government representatives, the head of the Next of Kin Committee. I am no further ahead. To me it feels like the biggest aviation cover-up of all time.

PETER FOLEY: We have been in full possession of all the information that the Malaysians have held from very early on to advise the work of the search strategy working group. While there's been lots of speculation that various things have been withheld at different times, it has not accurate in my experience.

DANICA WEEKS:  That's for you and Jack.

LINCOLN:  What is it, do you know?

DANICA WEEKS:  No.

LINCOLN: It's a secret?

DANICA WEEKS:  Yes. What's Santa brought you?

LINCOLN: Look what he brought me? A new car.

DANICA WEEKS:  Wow.

DES ROSS: Malaysian Airlines is a business. It needs to move on. It needs to rebuild its reputation.

DANICA WEEKS:  This is what I feel - that they're wanting to put this aside and they're wanting in their own words "to move beyond" MH370.

DES ROSS: There is an unfortunate conflict between commercial realities and human realities in a case like this.

VOICEOVER:  Dateline requested an interview with Malaysia Airlines but they declined, sending an email: It's been a year of firsts without Paul for Danica, Lincoln and Jack. First Christmas. First birthdays. First time at their favourite beach.

DANICA WEEKS:  It's so unfair. So unfair on them. Everyone was on that plane... It's just so unfair that they just... They won't tell us and we're stuck here and we're still trying to fight for them just to talk to us. I have to keep going until I have him home. That's all I want. I'm just so sick of it. It feels so far away. I don't even know if we're ever going to get it. I can only hope we get something. Anything. Just anything.

VOICEOVER:  The searchers have now covered over 40% of the priority search zone in the Southern Indian Ocean.

ALEX DE JONG: Will you find it?

PAUL KENNEDY: Absolutely. No doubt in my mind we will find it. This will be resolved. No doubt at all.

STEVE DUFFIELD: If it's where they tell us to search, we will find it.

ALEX DE JONG: Absolutely sure?

STEVE DUFFIELD: Absolutely.

ALEX DE JONG: Not a trace of doubt?

STEVE DUFFIELD: None.

PETER FOLEY: We're confident. We're confident.

PAUL KENNEDY: I fully expect one day there will be a phone call early in the morning saying, "We've found it".

ALEX DE JONG: How would you feel then?

PAUL KENNEDY:  Relieved.

DANICA WEEKS:  I know new people on the search and I'm glad for their optimism and their going out there and they're searching and doing it. I appreciate all of that, absolutely. But I can't tie myself in emotionally.

VOICEOVER:  Danica hasn't had the heart or strength to get on a plane since Paul vanished. She recently decided she would face her fear and travel to New Zealand with her boys to see family and friends.

ALEX DE JONG:  Getting close to flight time.

DANICA WEEKS:  Yes. Not looking forward to it. That is for sure. I've been very stressed all day.

LINCOLN:  Where do I put it?

DANICA WEEKS:  In the boot. Thank you. Good work.
I want to stay here until they have finished searching, because I feel if they find something, this is another reason why I'm petrified of going to New Zealand. I'm scared they're going to find something while I'm away.

VOICEOVER:  Spending a couple of days with Danica gives you a small insight into the immense pain her and the boys are going through. It's hard to believe the same grief is being carried by so many other families. Danica tries her best to hold it together and Lincoln's innocence is bittersweet.

DANICA WEEKS:  I can see a plane, soon, do you think we will see a plane?

LINCOLN:  We might see one crash and fall down.

DANICA WEEKS:  Oh God. I'm petrified. I'm absolutely petrified. I'm going to sit on that plane and I'm going to run through every scenario of - what could have gone wrong. It's going to feel like I'm retracing the steps Paul went through. I'm terrified.

PETER FOLEY: To find some debris washed up on a beach somewhere would be an important event. But it's much more important that we actually locate the debris field. These guys don't know what's happened to their loved ones until we find the aircraft.

DES ROSS: I think somebody will come across something, sometime somewhere. It might be next year. It might be in ten years. It might be 40 years. I think that the mystery will eventually be resolved.

DANICA WEEKS:  I'm shaking like a leaf. Sorry. So we leave you here then. Thank you. Thank you.

ALEX DE JONG: Do you think Paul is still alive?

DANICA WEEKS:  I... I don't know. I don't know. I wish someone would tell me. You know? I wish someone would just tell me either way. I've done hopefully everything in my power to find him. I will keep doing it until I do. And I just hope the boys can look back and see that and back that up with - mum just wanted to find him. And bring him home to them.

 

Reporter
ALEX DE JONG

Story Producers
MEGGIE PALMER
BERNADINE LIM

Camera
BEN FOLEY
JENNIFER WELLS
TOM FINNIGAN
GAVIN HARLOW

Story Editor
DAVID POTTS

Thanks to
DANICA, LINCOLN AND JACK
GEOSCIENCE AUSTRALIA
THEA COWIE
STEFANIE COLLETT

Story Graphics
MICHAEL BROWN

Editors
MICAH MCGOWN
DAVID POTTS
RYAN WALSH

Music
VICKI HANSEN

3rd March 2015