BEIJING — American teacher Sarah Bajc sat in her Beijing apartment and insisted that the people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are still alive, including her partner, Philip Wood.
"If they find the bodies, then I'll change my opinion, but there's no evidence that points to a crash," said Bajc, 48, still confident when she spoke 17 days after the flight disappeared that she would be reunited with Wood, 50, an IBM executive from Texas.
Bajc has used traditional and social media to become one of the most prominent voices of the many hundreds of people directly affected by the mystery of the
missing plane. She is skeptical of Malaysia's claims about the plane, and believes there is hope.
So do others. The social media platform Bajc and the Wood family helped build had by Monday achieved a reach of 400,000 people, and 22,000 likes in one week.
"An unbelievable response," said Bajc (BAY-jack), who hoped it could inspire and link to initiatives by other families. "We will find some greater good for the momentum we have built to help the families, and to prevent something like this happening again."
Malaysia announced Monday that satellite analysis revealed that the flight "ended" in the remote Indian Ocean and that there was no hope of survivors.
The dreaded news has sparked public anguish and angry protests over the past three days from relatives of the 153 Chinese citizens among the 239 people aboard the Kuala Lumpur-to-Beijing flight.
Blasting Malaysian authorities as "murderers" and "liars," Chinese protesters at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing shouted "kill him" at its ambassador. They demanded further evidence to support the conclusion that their loved ones are gone.
Bad weather cut short the hunt for possible debris fields from the aircraft as satellite data revealed hundreds more objects that might be wreckage. Japan said it provided Malaysia with information from satellite images taken Wednesday showing about 10 objects that might be debris from the plane. A Thai satellite also spotted about 300 objects southwest of Perth, Australia.
However, not one piece of debris has been recovered.
Though she has not given up hope, the former entrepreneur and longtime executive with Microsoft stopped giving interviews after Monday and reduced postings on the Finding Philip Wood Facebook page that she turned into a popular platform for news and comments on the mystery.
And Bajc continues to move forward with the plans she and Wood made.
After two years living together in Beijing, where they met in 2011 in a bar called "Nashville," the couple were planning a move to Malaysia. Wood flew from Kuala Lumpur on March 8 to help Bajc finish packing up their Beijing apartment.
They found a dream apartment in the Malaysian capital within walking distance of their two jobs — Wood still with IBM, and Bajc teaching business and economics at a British school. This Friday, they had planned a spring break trip there, ahead of her final move in June.
Bajc and her 17-year-old son still plan to go to Malaysia. They will fly there with an empty seat where Wood should have sat.
It appeared this week she may have concluded that she would never see Wood again. In an e-mail she stated, "It looks like the first phase of our mission has ended. Now Philip's family and I will need some time for private grief."
But on Tuesday, Bajc posted on Facebook that there was still no proof of a crash.
The satellite data "is not irrefutable proof. Dead bodies are irrefutable proof. Until we have those, we will keep hoping!!!" she wrote.
"If he is never found, we don't know that he is gone, there are enough examples of miracle returns that I am one of those eternally optimistic people," Bajc told USA TODAY before the Malaysia announcement.
Surviving on three to four hours sleep a night, Bajc has continued to work days at her job and returning daily to a home full of packing boxes. Her father died a month ago and she had surgery on an injured wrist, so was packing house with one hand.
She says she has been sustained by yoga and the positive energy of the Facebook platform.
"Things come in threes," Bajc said.
Born in Utah, her strength and pragmatism has roots in a difficult childhood, "where I kind of had to raise myself, and help raise my younger brothers," Bajc said. "It taught me to be very independent, very early."
She is also inspired by her missing partner. "If that was me, he would be walking through hell and high water to try to make a difference," she said.
Sticking to her teaching routine has also helped her cope, "as schools are a very happy place," she said. "I'm getting much better behavior in class, and they're doing their homework," she smiled.
On the Facebook page, one pupil wrote: "You are my favorite teacher and the best teacher ever." "I don't know that she would have said that before," Bajc laughed.
Her good opinion of Malaysia has not changed, despite frustration at the way authorities have handled the search.
"I'm still counting on the fact that I'll be building a new life together with Philip there … but I am prepared that it may just have to be with his spirit instead," she said Monday.
"Philip lived a life of joy, we celebrated every day," said Bajc, who continued to post love notes to Philip on her personal Facebook page after March 8. "He'd want me to continue living life fully."
In a recent e-mail to a friend, Bajc revealed the emotional strain and reaffirmed her belief that the truth remains hidden.
"Honestly, it is hard to shift from being shocked, to anxious, to crushed, to proper grieving as there is still no proof, there is only analysis of incomplete data by people who have been making mistakes for weeks," she wrote. "There is a much bigger story to tell."