Malaysia says the passenger jet that went missing more than two weeks ago crashed in the Indian Ocean, but it’s shed no light on the mystery of why it veered from its intended course.
Prime Minister Najib Razak said new satellite analysis of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370’s path placed its last position in remote waters off Australia’s west coast, and far from any landing sites.
The sombre announcement on the fate of the plane ended 17 days of agonising uncertainty for relatives of those on board – two thirds of them Chinese.
“It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” Najib said on Monday night.
He said the flag carrier had already spoken to the families of the passengers and crew aboard the jet which disappeared on March 8 on an overnight flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
“For them, the past few weeks have been heartbreaking; I know this news must be harder still.”
Najib said he had been briefed by representatives from Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which relayed further analysis of satellite data by British company Inmarsat.
The airline, in a statement sent to families, said “we have to assume” the plane was lost.
“Our prayers go out to all the loved ones of the 226 passengers and of our 13 friends and colleagues at this enormously painful time,” it said.
“We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain.”
“No hope left” for relatives
In the lobby of a hotel outside Kuala Lumpur where relatives, including many flown in from China by Malaysia Airlines, had gathered, an elderly woman sat down hard on the floor and wept.
“He died too young, I want my son back,” she cried out in Mandarin before security escorted her into an elevator.
Stretcher-bearing paramedics had been drafted in to tend to family members devastated by the news.
At least two people were borne out on stretchers, including a woman whose body was shaking, her eyes glazed and heavy with tears, as a family member held her arm.
Cries of deep pain rang out as relatives burst forth, sobbing uncontrollably, while the news left others appearing disoriented, with one man lying on the floor holding his head.
One Chinese relative said: “We know we have no hope left now.”
Two-thirds of passengers were from China.
Subramaniam Gurusamy, 60, whose 34-year-old Malaysian son Puspanathan Gurusamy was on board, had continued to hold out hope of his return throughout the agonising 17-day wait.
“I had the belief that my son would return home safely. But what can be done? This is fate. We must accept it,” he said, choking back tears.
Some relatives in Beijing lashed out as they left their meeting with the Malaysian flag carrier, with one man throwing punches and kicks at assembled media.
One woman left the room shouting “Murderers! Murderers” and crying uncontrollably as she was held by two other family members, while another swiped at cameramen with her handbag, shouting “Get away!”
The airline said the multinational search, which is scouring a stretch of the forbidding Indian Ocean to find any debris, would continue “as we seek answers to the questions which remain”.
Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board. But the absence of firm evidence has fuelled intense speculation and conspiracy theories, and tormented the families of the missing.
Leading theories include a hijacking, pilot sabotage, or a sudden mid-air crisis that incapacitated the flight crew and left the plane to fly on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel.
MH370 last made contact over the South China Sea halfway between Malaysia and Vietnam. For reasons unknown, it backtracked over the Malaysian peninsula and then flew on for hours.
Search continues in Indian Ocean
The search swung deep into the Indian Ocean last week after initial satellite images depicted large floating objects there.
Hopes of a resolution to the mystery rose after a weekend in which an Australian aircraft spotted a wooden pallet, strapping and other debris, and French and Chinese satellite information indicated more floating objects.
An Australian-led multinational air and sea search has been scouring the vast ocean and there have been two separate sightings of possible debris from the plane.
Crew members of an Australian P-3 Orion plane reported seeing two objects, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Monday.
Australian officials said they were different to pieces seen by a Chinese plane earlier in the day.
The Australian naval ship HMAS Success, equipped with a crane, is in the area, about 2500km southwest of Perth, and will attempt to recover the objects.
A US Navy P8 Poseidon, a second RAAF Orion and a Japanese Orion are also en route to try to find the items.