We perish because we know not… #TLENews
Officials declare search for survivors over but underwater hunt for missing plane to continue.
Malaysia has officially declared the disappearance of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident and its passengers and crew presumed dead, 327 days after it vanished.
The announcement cleared the way for the company to pay compensation to families, but provoked fury among relatives of the 329 people on board, some of whom believe there is still a chance their loved ones may be alive. Several said they could not accept the decision.
Civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said the search effort had pursued every credible lead and reviewed all available data, but had failed to locate the plane. He insisted the hunt for the wreckage would continue.
He said that Malaysia was officially declaring – “with heaviest heart and deepest sorrow” – that those on board had lost their lives, given the length of the search and the highly unlikely prospects of survival in the remote stretch of the Southern Indian Ocean where the plane is believed to have ended its flight.
The plane lost contact with air traffic control shortly after take-off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing on 8 March last year, in what remains one of aviation’s biggest mysteries.
Authorities say satellite data shows the plane diverted from its route and turned south, and that they believe the action was taken deliberately. But despite a mammoth international hunt, no wreckage has yet been found and there is still nothing to indicate why the plane diverted.
Azharuddin said the lack of physical evidence – particularly the flight recorders – meant there was no evidence to substantiate speculation as to the cause of the disappearance. An interim statement on the investigation will be released on or around the one-year anniversary of the accident.
He said the government acknowledged the announcement would be difficult for relatives “to consider, much less accept … It is nonetheless important that families try to resume normal lives, or as normal a life as may be possible after this sudden loss.”
He added: “Without in any way intending to diminish the feelings of the families, it is hoped that this declaration will enable the families to obtain the assistance they need, in particular through the compensation process.”
Praising the commitment of China and Australia to the search, he added that it remained a priority for Malaysia.
“We have never wavered in our commitment to continue our efforts to find MH370 and bring closure for everyone, most of all for the families of the passengers and crew of MH370 … This declaration is by no means the end,” he vowed.
But family members remain suspicious that authorities will call off the hunt even if no wreckage is found.
“If they can make this announcement without providing convincing evidence and informing the families, of course they can stop the search anytime they want,” said Steve Wang, whose mother was one of more than 150 Chinese passengers on board.
“I don’t believe the Malaysian government at all, and I didn’t believe them from the very beginning – they have not been directing their efforts to where they are most needed. If they really want to help the families, they should put all their efforts on finding and disclosing the truth rather than playing politics again and again.
“I don’t know what evidence they have to make this official announcement, and I don’t know why they have chosen this timing … Without proper evidence, I would not accept this conclusion.”
The weeks after MH370 vanished, Malaysia’s prime minister said it was believed to have come down in the southern Indian Ocean with the loss of all lives. But that did not amount to a formal declaration.
The families have repeatedly criticized Malaysia for bungling its response to the disappearance, putting out incorrect or misleading information and failing to treat them with respect.
Those complaints were exacerbated on Thursday when the government suddenly scheduled a media briefing in the afternoon, then cancelled it because upset relatives had rushed to the scene. In a statement, officials said the presence of family members was not appropriate. The pre-recorded televised statement was then issued in the evening.
“I meant no harm. I only want to get the respect that we families deserve – the right to know,” said the wife of one of the Chinese passengers, who was among those who had gone to the briefing in Kuala Lumpur.
Speaking before the declaration, the woman, who asked to be identified only as Kelly, added: “Whatever they are going to announce, they should first inform and consult the families. It is a basic display of respect – it’s about 239 human lives.
“We do not need them to announce the death of our love ones before they have any concrete evidence. We don’t want money. We demand to know the truth.”
Earlier, a small group of relatives were removed by police after protesting outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing.
“The most frustrating thing is that they (were planning) an announcement to the world first, then only to the next of kin,” Wesley Walter, whose brother-in-law was on the flight, told AFP.
• A news alert sent with this article, and the original headline, stated that the search for MH370 was declared over. The headline was amended to make clear that the search for survivors has been called off but the underwater search for the plane continues.