Every hour the mystery deepens: How could an airliner with 239 people on board simply vanish? There are disparate theories about what might have happened to Malaysian Airlines flight 370 but no clues that lend merit to any of them. The exhaustive multinational search has failed to turn up even a shred of debris and false leads have fed false hope.

What has emerged in the absence of fact is a glimpse at the lives of those on board. Passengers and crew were from 14 nations and varying backgrounds.

The 153 people from China appeared to be a cross-section of the country: A group of artists, a delegation of Buddhist monks, employees of a technology firm and families on vacation. A New Zealander, Paul Weeks, was on a business trip that his son had drawn on a map on his bedroom wall. Weeks’ wife, Denica, wept as she told reporters that their son kept asking when daddy was going to Skype.

The Canadian couple, Muktesh Mukherjee and Xiaomo Bai, had enjoyed a romantic holiday in Vietnam. His Facebook page features photos of them smiling in the sun and sipping cocktails. The flight was supposed to return them home to Beijing and their two little boys.

Muktesh, 42, was an executive with U.S.-based XCoal Energy and Resources while Xiaomo, 37, graduated from Beijing’s Foreign Studies University. They met in Beijing and married in 2002, and went on to live in Montreal and Chicago before returning to China for work.

The couple took frequent vacations – with and without their sons. This time they stayed back with their grandmother. The youngest, Miles, will turn 3 in May. Xiaomo had posted a photo last month of the boys making snow angels and wrote, “The first snowfall of this winter!!!”

Neighbours at the Central Park apartment complex were in shock that there is so little information about what might have happened. Matthew McConkey, a close friend, said in an email that his heart is broken and he cannot stop crying.

“They were wonderful and welcoming people and exceedingly devoted parents to two fantastic little boys,” he said. “This is tragic beyond words.”

According to an uncle, Xiaomo’s father was in London when the Canadian embassy called to say that his daughter was missing. He was travelling back to Beijing and would go on to Kuala Lumpur with Canadian officials when, or if, search crews find a crash site.