For passengers’ loved ones a vigil of hope gives way to grief: Texan among missing airliner’s passengers

William Wan (c) 2014, The Washington Post. BEIJING — For 16 long days, Sarah Bajc was the face of determined hope.

The American teacher launched a Facebook page and Twitter account devoted to finding her partner, Philip Wood, and the Malaysia Airlines jet he had been aboard when it seemingly vanished into thin air on March 8. On little sleep and in clear pain, she said in numerous interviews that she had a gut feeling that Wood was still alive, awaiting rescue.

But that hope and optimism finally cracked Monday night as investigators expressed certainty that the plane had crashed into the Indian Ocean, killing all aboard.

Bajc, 48, said she was trying to process the news even as she grieved over it.

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Full closure won’t come until the wreckage is found, she said in an e-mail, but at least she and Wood’s family can begin mourning the loss.

“I STILL feel his presence,” she wrote, but she added that “perhaps it was his soul all along.”

Wood, 50, of Texas, was one of three Americans aboard Flight 370. He and Bajc met in 2011 at a bar called Nashville in the Chinese capital, and they moved in together shortly thereafter, according to an interview she recently gave to the Los Angeles Times. Both were divorced. Wood was an IBM executive, and Bajc was a teacher at an international school.

They made plans to start a new life together in Kuala Lumpur and had just recently secured the perfect apartment near their new jobs. The couple were planning a family reunion on an island off Malaysia this summer, with her three children and his two grown sons, Bajc told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week.

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The night of the flight, as Wood rushed to catch his plane from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Bajc was packing their belongings into boxes, she recalled in interview after interview over the next two weeks.

“Everything was coming together. It was so easy,” Bajc told the Times.

In other interviews, she recalled how she and Wood traded text messages before the flight about the packing and what work still needed to be done. She arranged for a car to pick up Wood at the Beijing airport when his flight was due to land. The movers were scheduled to come and take away the packed boxes that Saturday morning.

But hours beforehand, she saw a news alert that the plane was missing.

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In the days that followed, her Facebook page, “Finding Philip Wood,” turned into a platform for her single-minded mission to help find her partner. She and others dissected new information for clues and theories that could be ruled out. She lined up and posted her schedule of upcoming TV interviews, aimed at rallying attention and support for the search.

She also posted a string of open messages on her account, addressed to her missing partner. Over time, the widely read messages became a public journal of sorts, cataloguing the emotional journey of so many relatives and friends of the missing passengers.

March 10: “Keep pushing to find out what has happened. Meeting Philip, my true soul mate, over two years ago was a 1 in 6 billion chance . . . if that could happen, anything can!”

A few hours later: “Please come home, Philip. I know you can hear me.”

March 13: “the lack of information is excruciating. the endless cycle of hope and heartbreak is exhausting.”

March 16: “I hope you are able to get some rest where you are, and that they are feeding you. Any chance they include a glass of wine with dinner?”

Attaching a picture of her unfinished game of Words With Friends to that status update, she wrote: “This morning I had a notice that it had been 9 days, and that you would automatically win unless I played. Can’t have that!”

March 18: “my dearest philip . . . it has been a crazy few days. the positive energy levels are building higher and higher. can you feel it?”

Then, on Monday night, Bajc got a text message on her cellphone.

“Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived,” it read. “We must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak held a news conference minutes later, saying that information from satellite data showed the plane had plunged into the ocean west of Perth, Australia.

Bajc had planned another round of media interviews Tuesday, but she e-mailed a handful of reporters to ask for a reprieve.

“I am very sorry,” she wrote. “I need closure to be certain but cannot keep on with public efforts against all odds . . . i need to regroup. it looks like the first phase of our mission has ended. now philip’s family and i will need some time for private grief.”

And after 16 unbearable days, she managed to close the message on a hopeful, if wistful, note: “We will find some greater good for the momentum we have built to help the families, and to prevent something like this happening again.”