Flight 370: Stories of that final day

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A man, one of the relatives of Chinese passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, rests near a board covered with written wishes at a hotel in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 29, 2014. Some of the wishes are “Dear husband, you must stay strong, I am waiting for you. Dear father, please be back home safely and the whole family is here waiting for you.” (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

A man, one of the relatives of Chinese passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, rests near a board covered with written wishes at a hotel in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 29, 2014. Some of the wishes are “Dear husband, you must stay strong, I am waiting for you. Dear father, please be back home safely and the whole family is here waiting for you.” (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

A man, one of the relatives of Chinese passengers onboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, talks on his mobile phone as he touches a board covered with written wishes, while a board, right, marks the 17th day since the flight lost contact, at a hotel in Beijing, China, Saturday, March 29, 2014. Some of the wishes are “Dear husband, you must stay strong, I am waiting for you. Dear father, please be back home safely and the whole family is here waiting for you.” (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Travellers queue at the immigration counters as they make their way through the departure hall at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Sunday, March 16, 2014 in Sepang, Malaysia. Malaysian authorities Sunday were investigating the pilots of the missing jetliner after it was established that whoever flew off with the Boeing 777 had intimate knowledge of the cockpit and knew how to avoid detection when navigating around Asia. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

A man checks in at a Malaysia Airlines counter at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Checks into the background of all the Chinese nationals on board the missing Malaysian jetliner have uncovered no links to terrorism, the Chinese ambassador in Kuala Lumpur said Tuesday. The remarks will dampen speculation that Uighur Muslim separatists in far western Xinjiang province might have been involved with the disappearance of the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew early on March 8. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — One morning, many stories.

The three women woke before sunrise that day, leaving their hotel while it was still dark and boarding a small plane in Katmandu, Nepal, for a look at Mount Everest. They were Chinese retirees, avid photographers ending a two-week tour of the Himalayan nation. Late that night, after a stopover in Kuala Lumpur, they would head home to Beijing.

The Indonesian couple woke up at home, a tidy two-story concrete-walled house down a small alley in the city of Medan. A taxi arrived a few hours later to take them to the airport, starting them on a journey to a long-anticipated vacation without their children, a trip to China to see the Great Wall and Beijing’s Forbidden City.

In Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, the artists and calligraphers headed down to breakfast about 8 a.m. Some had been celebrating the night before, downing shots of the powerful Chinese liquor called Xifengjiu at the end of almost a week exhibiting their work. But they gathered early in the hotel restaurant, ready for a day of sightseeing and shopping before the late-night flight back to Beijing.

And in Perth, in western Australia, the 39-year-old mechanical engineer woke up early in his red-roofed bungalow, leaving his wife and their two young boys for a 28-day mining job in Mongolia. Just before he headed to the airport, on his way to connecting flights in Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, Paul Weeks gave his wife his wedding ring and watch for safekeeping. If anything happened to him, he said, he wanted the boys to have them someday. “Don’t be stupid!” she told him.

It was Friday morning, March 7.

By that evening, they would all be together in a departure lounge in Kuala Lumpur’s airport, with its granite floors and soaring ceilings and tiny plot of transplanted, living rainforest. And a little after midnight on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 took off for Beijing, carrying 239 people inside its meticulously engineered metal shell.

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We know only the broadest outlines of what happened next.

Soon after takeoff, Flight 370 disappeared. Its transponders had been switched off. Soon, the blip was gone from radars. This past week, after more than two weeks of searches across tens of thousands of square miles, Malaysia’s prime minister announced that satellite data showed the plane’s last known position to be in a remote corner of the Indian Ocean, far from its destination and far from any possible landing sites.

How it happened, and why, remains unclear. Perhaps it was a hijacking, perhaps pilot suicide, perhaps a catastrophic malfunction.

It had been a heavily Asian passenger list, reflecting both the locale of the flight and the changing face of the continent, home to a new generation of 21st-century people who form an emerging tourist and traveling class. Some of those aboard were heading home, others just making a quick stopover. Some were returning from their first trip abroad. For others, foot soldiers in Asia’s growing economies, it was just one more connecting flight in a lifetime of connecting flights.

The people at airports, those who get dropped off, proceed through security and make their way to their gates, are usually right in the middle of the business of their lives. Much of what happens is not even memorable. But now, for many who knew the people aboard Flight 370, that last full day looms so large. Everyday details, now loaded with the ballast of hindsight, take on fresh weight.

But does it mean anything that Liu Rusheng, at 76 one of the oldest of the 19 Chinese artists and calligraphers, argued

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