- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2014

The missing Malaysian airplane that perplexed investigators for over two weeks went down in the southern Indian Ocean and no one on board survived, officials said Monday in a dramatic development that devastated and infuriated the passengers’ families and amplified the search for wreckage far off Australia’s western coast.

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced the government’s findings in a televised address after the families were told that their loved ones were gone.

He said the conclusion was based on new satellite data and calculations by British company Inmarsat, even though pieces of the plane have not been found. Investigators employed a form of analysis that had never before been used in this type of search, Mr. Najib said.

“This is 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 [the flight] ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” he said.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared March 8 during a routine run from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing, with 227 passengers and a dozen crew members aboard.

For days, the search befuddled aviation specialists and produced around-the-clock coverage on cable news networks. Satellite data initially suggested the plane took a westward turn and went down in the nearby Strait of Malacca near Malaysia, but the search widened along two paths — north or south “arcs” — that spanned from Central Asia to an area of the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia. In recent days, the investigation focused on the southward route.

SEE ALSO: U.S. military gears up for effort to locate Malaysian Airlines plane’s black box

The prime minister exuded soft emotion as he spoke, but the passengers’ families — the majority of them Chinese citizens — wailed and lambasted the Malaysian government for its handling of the 17-day investigation. Some of them needed medical attention.

The passengers’ relatives first received the news via text message from the airline, a detached method that raised eyebrows, although the texts were coupled with in-person briefings. Pundits said the families may have requested electronic updates to receive any news as quickly as possible.

The text message read: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived. As you will hear in the next hour from Malaysia’s Prime Minister, we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”

Television translators at the scene said families demanded physical evidence of the crash, and a group representing the 150-plus Chinese and Taiwanese passengers’ families referred to the Malaysian government as “the real murderers.”

Though the news pinpointed the fate of the plane, it left plenty of questions in place. Investigators are searching the ocean for pieces of the plane, human remains and the flight data recorder that could reveal why the plane veered so far off course, particularly whether foul play was involved or human or mechanical error led to the crash.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said American officials are working with their Malaysian counterparts in the area specified by Mr. Najib.

“We feel like we have very good lines of communication with the Malaysians,” he said. “We’re going to continue to support them. We have resources dedicated, as we speak, not just to the investigation, but also to the recovery of the plane if we can locate it.”

Hours before Mr. Najib’s statement, an Australian navy ship rushed to an area more than 1,000 miles from the coastal city of Perth where a surveillance plane spotted large pieces of debris.

Efforts to retrieve tangible vestiges of the crash have not borne fruit.

Chris McLaughlin, a senior vice president at Inmarsat, said in a CNN interview that the plane’s route of travel was “almost certainly” to the south. He said ships were looking for wreckage in the right area but his company could not pinpoint the presumed crash site.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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