Malaysia Airlines crew says no one untouched by missing plane mystery

Story highlights

  • Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crew talks about missing co-workers
  • Some personally know the crew aboard Flight 370
  • "This nightmare has affected every one of us," one flight attendant said

Boarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport was normal enough. But once inside, passengers and even crew members couldn't help talking about the disappearance of a sister aircraft under circumstances so bizarre that it's become the greatest civil aviation mystery since Amelia Earhart vanished.

Why are we so gripped by missing Malaysia Airlines plane?

I was heading on a 12-hour flight across Europe, Russia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and a half a dozen other nations to Kuala Lumpur.

The cockpit door remained opened only briefly as the captain and first officer chatted with ground maintenance staff. Once it closed, attendants began their usual pre-flight routine.

About two hours into the flight, I introduced myself as a CNN journalist to two of the attendants, who agreed to talk to me as long as I did not use their names.

"This nightmare has affected every one of us," said one attendant who said she had been flying for Malaysia for years.

"Most of us knew each one of the cabin staff. The purser was a wonderful man who had children and grandchildren."

When I asked about the captain and first officer on board the lost flight, there was nothing but praise.

Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah "has a first-rate reputation," said another flight attendant, a woman who too has worked for the airline for years. "I can't imagine him being involved in even a tiny way in something."

More on Malaysia Flight 370's pilots

As Malaysia Flight 17 flew only a couple hundred miles north of the Crimean port city of Sevastopol (according to the plane's inflight tracking system), a cockpit crew member appeared. He also agreed to talk, on the condition again not to use his name.

"It's all so unbelievable," he said. "This totally defies logic."

He used the present tense to refer to Zaharie.

"I hope when they find him, they don't fire him," he said. He quickly returned to the cockpit.

My seatmate, who said he was an engineer for an oil company that had leases in Malaysian waters, said he too was transfixed by the drama of the missing plane.

"None of this makes any sense at all," he said. "Absolutely none of it."

Flight 17 proceeded normally through the night sky and made a landing 20 minutes earlier than scheduled in Kuala Lumpur. As passengers began to file off, one of the flight attendants with whom I had spoken said goodbye and asked me to pray for the passengers and crew.

"We must find them," she said. "We have no choice."