Heavy heart

“I love you, daddy.” Notes to a father lost aboard flight MH370

Unsure if a piece of debris is from the missing plane or not, Maira Elizabeth Nari says her family is confused and frustrated

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It was midnight when Maira Elizabeth Nari scrolled through her Twitter feed and saw the news: A piece of an airplane wing had washed ashore on an island in the Indian Ocean. Home with her mother watching television at the time, Nari had “mixed feelings,” she says. For nearly a year and a half, she had held out hope that her father, the chief steward on the Malaysia Airlines flight that vanished last year, could still be alive, perhaps “stranded somewhere,” she says. The rusty bit of wing, covered in barnacles from the sea, meant her dad might not be coming home.

Nari, a 19-year-old college student studying communications in Malaysia, had been sending notes to her father, Andrew Nari, on Twitter and Instagram ever since his disappearance, telling him she was waiting for him. In one early tweet, she wrote, “Daddy. It’s almost 24 hours. When will you be back home? I’ll be waiting, all of us are. Goodnight, daddy.” At Christmas, she wrote on Instagram, “I love you, daddy. Have a blessed Christmas with the rest of the crew and passengers.” A few months later, she wrote, “I miss you, and I’ll wait for you. Even if you’re not gonna come home, that’s okay. Because I know, you’re waiting for us to join you. Wait for me, daddy. Up there, we’ll do things that we never get to do.”

Her love notes to her dad captured the attention of the world—she now has has more than 92,000 followers on Twitter and more than 23,000 on Instagram. “It feels good to know that people actually care for you,” she says, describing Twitter as “like a diary to me.” At the same time, she says, “it is so weird to have the attention. It’s like people are watching whatever you tweet, and you have to be careful.”

One tweet caught the eye of the Liverpool Football Club in England: “Daddy, Liverpool is winning the game. Come home, so you can watch the game! You never miss watching the game.” Last month, the team’s manager, captain, and a former star met with her near Kuala Lumpur, where she attends college. “I was so happy and excited to meet them,” she says. “My dad has been a Liverpool fan for so many years, even before he met my mother.”

Just days later came the news of the wing. “I don’t know what I felt at that time,” she says, adding that part of her hoped the debris was from the plane and part of her hoped it wasn’t. All of her family had maintained hope that her father had survived, she says, ever since Flight MH370 vanished from the radar on March 8, 2014, while traveling from Malaysia to China with 239 people on board. Until the wing fragment washed up, no debris from the Boeing 777 had been found. For family and friends of the passengers, the unsolved mystery left room for hope that their loved ones were still alive, perhaps the victims of a hijacking.

Nari and her mother and brother spent an anxious few days waiting to hear if the debris was indeed from the flight. Nari was asleep when Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak made the predawn announcement last week: Experts had concluded that the debris was from the plane, he said. Nari saw the news on Twitter when she awoke, and began to cry.

Other international investigators did not immediately confirm the findings in Malaysia, calling for more analysis. The mixed messages reportedly caused confusion and frustration among friends and relatives of people on the flight. In China, relatives of Chinese passengers protested outside the Malaysia Airlines offices in Beijing. Family members also went to the Boeing offices in Beijing, demanding a briefing on the wing fragment. On a Facebook page devoted to an American passenger, Philip Wood, a commenter wrote, “This is yet another piece of circumstantial evidence. Still, no proof.”

Nari says her family is also confused and frustrated, and she is unsure if the debris is from the plane or not. She says she doesn’t know if she’ll ever have answers about what happened to the flight. As for the investigators, she says, she is “being very positive that they are trying their best.” She says the relatives of other passengers are like family now.

Two weeks before Nari’s father went missing, he celebrated his birthday with his wife and kids. Nari used her first-ever paycheck from a job as a hostess at a hotel to buy him a birthday cake and a portable power bank to charge his devices. “He always wanted to get himself a power bank,” she says. When he opened the gift box, she says, “he smiled from ear to ear.” She recalls how her father told her to “study hard so that I have a good future.” He said she could have a boyfriend only after she finished her degree. “Oops,” she says, “I broke the rule.”

She said goodbye to her dad on the night of the fateful flight, as he headed out the door to drive to the airport with her mother and brother. Her father had worked with the airline for 25 years, and her mother had worked there for a time too, she says, serving as a flight attendant. Nari, tired that night from a long day of work at the hotel, told her dad she would see him when he returned.

She was at work the next day when a colleague said a plane had gone missing. She called her mother and learned the unthinkable news. “I was out of my mind,” she says of her grief. “I wasn’t thinking straight. All I did was cry for few days. I didn’t eat at all. I fell asleep crying the whole time. It took me a week to actually get back on track to think properly.”

She says she gradually began to heal with the help of her Catholic faith and a belief that she needed to stay strong for her family. “I was thinking about my mother and my brother. I’m the eldest, so I thought, I should take care of them and that they need me. So I had to be strong and positive,” she says. “But I am thankful, we all made it through.”

Expressing her emotions on Twitter also helped, she says. “At that time, I didn’t know who to tell about what I feel and think. On Twitter, you can tweet whatever you want without what others may think.” She adds, “Well, that was last year,” before she attracted followers from around the world. “Now everyone has their eyes on me.” Sometimes people send negative comments, for instance suggesting that the flight crew was to blame. “At first I felt really sad about it, but then I got used to it,” she says. “So I ignore all the negative comments and be positive.”

In the meantime, her father visits her in her dreams. In a poignant note last November, eight months to the day after her dad disappeared, she wrote on Instagram, “Daddy, few days ago you came to see me. It was the funniest dream, but hey! Thank you for stopping by.” She went on to describe her recent dream of a busy morning, taking a shower and checking text messages on her phone. “Suddenly I feel like I had to look up, and I saw you standing at the stairs looking at me and your smile…your ear to ear smile. You said, ‘I’m home.'”

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