KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – After 17 days of desperation and doubt over the missing Malaysia Airlines jet, the country’s officials said an analysis of satellite data points to a “heartbreaking” conclusion: Flight 370 met its end in the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean, and none of those aboard survived.
The somber announcement late Monday by Prime Minister Najib Razak left unresolved many more troubling questions about what went wrong aboard the Boeing 777 to take it so far off course.
It also unleashed a maelstrom of sorrow and anger among the families of the jet’s 239 passengers and crew.
A solemn Najib read a brief statement about what he called an unparalleled study of the jet’s last-known signals to a satellite. That analysis showed that the missing plane, which took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing early on March 8, veered “to a remote location, far from any possible landing sites.”
“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,” he said.
His carefully chosen words did not directly address the fate of those aboard. But in a separate message, sent to some of their relatives just before he spoke, Malaysia Airlines officials said that “we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived.”
Officials said they concluded that the flight had been lost in the deep waters west of Perth, Australia, based on more thorough analysis of the brief signals the plane sent every hour to a satellite belonging to Inmarsat, a British company, even after other communication systems on the jetliner shut down.
The pings did not include any location information. But Inmarsat and British aviation officials used “a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort” to zero in on the plane’s last direction, as it reached the end of its fuel, Najib said.
In a statement, Inmarsat said the company used detailed analysis and modeling of transmissions from the Malaysia Airlines jet and other known flights to describe “the likely direction of flight of MH370.”
Najib gave no indication of exactly where in the Indian Ocean the plane was last heard from, but searchers have sighted possible debris in an area about 1,550 miles southwest of Perth.
China demanded today that Malaysia turn over the satellite data used to reach Monday’s conclusion.
Among the flight’s 239 passengers, 153 were Chinese nationals, making the incident a highly emotional one for Beijing. Family members of the missing passengers have complained bitterly about a lack of reliable information and some suspect they are not being told the whole truth.
Monday’s announcement sparked mournful, angry and chaotic scenes at the Beijing hotel where relatives had gathered.
Early this morning, a group of family members read out a statement condemning Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government and military and vowing to hold them responsible for the deaths of their loved ones.
High waves, gale-force winds and low-hanging clouds forced the multinational search to be suspended for 24 hours today, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.
Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss, who is responsible for the search coordination, said today in Canberra the determination that the plane had crashed shifts the search to a new phase, but that it would be a difficult and long one.
“The Malaysian announcement is purely based on the satellite imagery that’s available, the calculations about fuel and capacity of the aircraft to stay in the air, so it’s really a long, long way away before much can be done by way of physical examination,” he said.
He said that under international agreements governing air travel “Malaysia needs to take control” and decide how to proceed.
Truss said the Australian naval supply ship HMAS Success had been in the area where objects had been spotted Monday, but its crew had been unable to find anything.
“Obviously, recovery of any kind of debris that may be related to the aircraft will be important for the investigative stage,” he said. “So it’s still important for us to try and find as much of the aircraft as possible.”
U.S. deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes stopped short Monday of saying the U.S. had independent confirmation of the status of the missing airliner.