Officials' finding: Missing jetliner hit ocean

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia -- After 17 days of desperation and doubt over the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner, 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 Malaysia's 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. Listed among the passengers was Chng Mei Ling, a 33-year-old Malaysian national who was a resident of the Pittsburgh suburb of South Park and an engineer with Flexsys America LP in Washington County.

A solemn Mr. Najib, clad in a black suit, 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 position, as it reached the end of its fuel, Mr. 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."

Mr. 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 1,240 miles southwest of Perth.

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, which is coordinating the search over the southern Indian Ocean, said in a statement.

The Australian navy supply ship HMAS Success, which had been headed to the location where a search plane spotted some floating objects Monday, was unable to find any materials before the search was put on hold.

Search aircraft would remain in Perth today, AMSA said, and the Success was leaving the search zone until the seas calm down. Weather was forecast to improve this evening and the search was expected to resume Wednesday, the statement said.

Authorities are racing to find any trace of the plane that could lead them to the location of the black boxes, the common name for the cockpit voice and data recorders, whose battery-powered "pinger" could stop sending signals within two weeks. The batteries typically last a month or perhaps a bit longer. The plane disappeared March 8.

Some of the relatives who gathered to listen to Mr. Najib convulsed in grief at the news, with shrieks and uncontrolled sobs. Others collapsed into the arms of loved ones.

"My son! My son!" cried a woman in a group of about 50 gathered at a hotel near Beijing's airport, before falling to her knees. Minutes later, medical teams carried one elderly man out of the conference room on a stretcher, his face covered by a jacket.

In Kuala Lumpur, screams came from inside the Hotel Bangi Putrajaya, where some of the families have been given rooms.

Selamat Omar, father of a 29-year-old aviation engineer aboard the flight, said in a telephone interview that he and other families were waiting for word about whether they would be flown to Australia, closer to where it is believed the plane went down.

"We accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate," Mr. Selamat said.

But Sarah Bajc, the girlfriend of an American passenger, Texas-native Philip Wood, said the announcement based only on data, without any recovered wreckage, put resolution beyond reach.

After Najib's announcement, some of the relatives of the 154 Chinese passengers went before cameras to criticize the Malaysian officials who "have concealed, delayed and hid the truth" about what happened to the plane.

The new findings do nothing to answer why the plane disappeared shortly after takeoff. More specifically, they shed no light on investigators' doubts about possible mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.

A 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. He noted the conclusion of Malaysian authorities and said the U.S., which has been aiding the search, was focused on that southern corridor of the ocean.

Also Monday, Malaysia's police chief, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar, reiterated that all the passengers had been cleared of suspicion.

But he said the pilots and crew were still being investigated. He would not comment on whether officials had recovered the files that were deleted a month earlier from the home flight simulator of the chief pilot.


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