Former Reformer intern speaks from Malaysia about airplane mystery
BRATTLEBORO -- Nearly 30 years ago, a young Malaysian came to the United States as part of newspaper exchange program and found himself behind a desk at the Reformer.
"I found it to be a very welcoming community here," said Soo Ewe Jin, who is now an executive editor at The Star, Malaysia's most widely read English language newspaper.
Speaking via Skype from his home in Kuala Lumpur, Ewe Jin said he came to Vermont in 1986 as participant in the American Society of Newspapers Exchange Fellowship program. He was asked which paper he would like to intern at and simply said a community newspaper.
"They chose for me the Brattleboro Reformer," he said.
At 26, Ewe Jin had just gotten married, and had hoped that his wife could accompany him to the U.S. as a honeymoon, but that never panned out.
"We still haven't had a honeymoon," he said with a laugh.
The Reformer reached out to Ewe Jin to ask about his reading of the mood in Malaysia during the mystery of the disappearance of Flight 370, which was last in contact with flight controllers at 1:19 a.m. on March 8 with a voice message from the cockpit: "All right, good night." The Boeing 777's transponder went silent two minutes later.
Flight 370 veered from its original course, with a destination of Beijing, and was last tracked at 2:15 a.m. over the Straits of Malacca. At 8:11 a.m., the plane's systems emitted a satellite ping that could have come from somewhere in Kazakhstan, the Indian Ocean or the Java Sea. Twenty-six nations are involved in the search, but so far, the airplane seems to have vanished.
"Everyone in Malaysia is talking about it," said Ewe Jin, who penned a column for The Star on March 16, detailing his own indirect connection to the mystery.
"I have been looped together with a group of old friends from Penang Free School where information is shared freely, with a personal tinge to it," he wrote. "The captain of the flight, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, is our schoolmate -- two years our junior."
While Ewe Jin never met the captain, he was told by the school's headmaster that Zaharie Ahmad Shah was in one of the top classes that ever graduated from the school.
"He was described as an extremely bright boy and my classmates who knew him said he was a very nice fellow and very professional."
As in the United States and around the world, said Ewe Jin, conspiracy theories abound. He said while the alternative press has been printing some pretty wild theories, the mainstream press has been more cautious about its reporting.
"The drama is still unfolding but let us try not to be dramatic for all the wrong reasons," he wrote in his March 16 column.
"At the same time, there is so much information, just one thing after another, and the facts are very hard to pin down," he told the Reformer. "Things are changing every day."
He added that authorities have been learning as they go about how to best present the facts as they change.
"In some strange ways, I agree that the information dissemination has been far from ideal," wrote Ewe Jin, "I will not rush to judgment to condemn those who are currently on the frontline. Every day, I can see how tired these people are. We may be able to view things from a safe distance, but we will never be able to feel what they are going through."
Nonetheless, while the mystery remains unsolved, there is a vein of hope that runs through Malaysia, he said, with many people wearing new T-shirts emblazoned with the word "Hope" and Flight 370.
"We are praying for a miracle," he said, adding the disappearance has drawn people closer together. "We have hope, but there is a reality ..."
Bob Audette can be reached at email@example.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.
Slideshow: Malaysia Airlines jetliner missing.
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