Flight 370: More than 45 days into the search, here come the lawyers

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By Ed Payne, CNN

A month and a half ago — 46 days — Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 vanished over the southern Indian Ocean.

Search Continues For Missing Malaysian Arliner Carrying 239 Passengers

Families were sent text messages before the Malaysia Prime Minister’s press conference. (Photo: Getty Images)

The milestone is a somber one because it now allows attorneys to move in. There’s a 45-day rule that says American lawyers have to wait that long to reach out to a family that’s lost a loved one in a plane crash.

What it means is that families can now file suit in American courts against U.S. aircraft manufacturer Boeing.

The only problem is: there’s no wreckage. It’s kind of like a murder case with no body.

Coming up empty

Search efforts came up empty again Tuesday.

The underwater drone scanning the ocean floor for the jetliner started its 10th mission, but there have been “no contacts of interest” in the first nine, Australia’s Joint Agency Coordination Centre said.

The Bluefin-21 has scanned about two thirds of the intended territory without finding any sign of the missing plane.

“If we don’t have the black box with all the critical information on it, or we don’t have any part of the wreckage, it would be very hard to maintain a claim against Boeing in any court in the United States,” said aviation attorney Daniel Rose, a partner at the firm Kreindler & Kreindler.

Still, at least one U.S.-based case against Malaysia Airlines and Boeing is already in the works. Aviation attorney Monica Kelly said she filed a request for documents and other information in an Illinois court last month. She said she represents Januari Siregar, whose son was aboard Flight 370.

While it may be more difficult to make a case against Boeing, the same can’t be said for Malaysia Airlines.

The Montreal Convention governs such matters. Under the international law, the families can sue in the country where the passengers bought the ticket, where the airline is based or their final destination.

But the lawsuits and the money they may bring will never replace what they have lost or answer all their questions.

Waiting for answers

Malaysia Airlines representatives and government officials had scheduled a meeting with families of Chinese passengers in Beijing on Tuesday, but the session was postponed. The relatives were told some Chinese tech experts would probably talk to them instead.

It was the second day in a row they had been disappointed, which only added to their frustration.

On Monday, the relatives wept, begged and cursed a Malaysian diplomat in China’s capital .

They went to a meeting at a hotel there, expecting a long-awaited briefing from Malaysian technical experts, but erupted in anger when the diplomat announced there wouldn’t be one.

“We don’t know at this point whether they are alive or dead. And you haven’t given us any direct proof of where they actually are. We want our loved ones back,” a father of a missing passenger cried.

Drawing up a list

Relatives have drawn up 26 questions — many of them on technical issues — that they want addressed by Malaysian officials.

Among them: What’s in the flight’s log book? Can they review the jet’s maintenance records? Can they listen to recordings of the Boeing 777 pilot’s conversations with air traffic controllers just before contact was lost?

The diplomat said it’s hard to give families answers when they have so little information themselves about the March 8 flight that set off from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, destined for Beijing.

Because of the plane’s flight path, most of the lawsuits against Malaysia Airlines would be filed in China or Malaysia. The families of the three Americans who were onboard the Boeing 777 can also sue Malaysia Airlines in U.S. courts.

Kelly, an attorney at Ribbeck Law Chartered — a firm that specializes in aviation accident cases — believes that based on her experience, families could receive between $400,000 and $3 million in damages.

However, it could take two years before they see the money, she said.

CNN’s Jean Casarez and Gregory Wallace contributed to this report.

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