In a sombre breakthrough in a weeks-long search, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 “ended” in the southern Indian Ocean.
Najib said searchers used a new form of data analysis — never used before in a search for a missing plane — to determine the aircraft was lost in a remote area of the Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia.
The area where the plane is believed to have gone down is far from any possible landing sites, Najib said.
- LIVE BLOG RECAP | Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 disappearance and search
"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.
Dressed in a black suit, Najib broke the news in an announcement that lasted just over four minutes. He took no questions.
Malaysian authorities briefed family members before Najib’s comments. At the podium, Najib said he understood the search has been “heartbreaking” for the families.
"I know this news must be harder still," he said.
The flight was heading from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it disappeared on March 8 carrying 239 people, an estimated two-thirds of whom were from China. With the location of Flight 370 itself still unknown — most likely somewhere at the bottom of the Indian Ocean — questions remain about what brought down the aircraft and why.
Families grieve at Beijing hotel
Many relatives of those on board were called to a Beijing hotel to hear the news. When they were informed there was no hope of survivors, many shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably.
Some nearly collapsed, held up by loved ones, their grief pouring out after 17 days of waiting for a definitive conclusion.
One woman collapsed and fell on her knees, crying "My son! My son!"
Medical teams arrived with several stretchers and at least one elderly man was carried out of the conference room on one of them, his face covered by a jacket.
Wang Zhen, whose father and mother, Wang Linshi and Xiong Yunming, were aboard the flight as part of a group of Chinese artists touring Malaysia, heard the announcement on television from another hotel where he has been staying.
He said some of the relatives had received a text message in English from the airline advising of the findings to be announced in Najib’s late-night news conference.
Nan Jinyan, whose brother-in-law Yan Ling was aboard the flight, said she was prepared for the worst when she heard the Malaysian prime minister would hold a news conference.
"This is a blow to us, and it is beyond description," Nan said.
Selamat Omar, the father of a 29-year-old aviation engineer who was on the flight, was more resigned.
"We accept the news of the tragedy. It is fate," Selamat told The Associated Press in Kuala Lumpur.
Najib urged the media to respect the privacy of grieving families.
Another news conference is set for tomorrow.
Search for plane continues
The Malaysian ministry of transport said the search for the plane itself is continuing. Earlier Monday, ships rushed to the location of floating objects spotted by Australian and Chinese planes, close to the Indian Ocean search area identified by several satellites.
One ship was carrying equipment to detect the plane's vital black box.
In one of two new sightings Monday, Abbott said the crew on board an Australian P3 Orion had located two objects in the search zone — the first grey or green and circular, the second orange and rectangular. The crew was able to photograph the objects, but it was unclear if they were part of an aircraft.
There was another sighting of what appeared to be wooden pallets floating in the water.
Malaysian Airlines confirmed MH370 was carrying wooden pallets, but company officials said there was no evidence the wood spotted came from the missing plane.
Disappearance still baffles investigators
The plane's disappearance shortly after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur on a routine flight to Beijing has baffled investigators, who have yet to rule out mechanical or electrical failure, hijacking, sabotage, terrorism or issues related to the mental health of the pilots or someone else on board.
Malaysian authorities have said that evidence so far suggests the plane was deliberately turned back across Malaysia to the Strait of Malacca, with its communications systems disabled. They are unsure what happened next.
Officials have said the plane automatically sent a brief signal — a "ping" — 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 an initial analysis showed that the location of the last ping was probably along one of two vast arcs running north and south.
Najib said Inmarsat had done further calculations "using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort," and had concluded that the plane's last position was "in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth."
He gave no indication of exactly where in the Indian Ocean the plane was last heard from, or what the next step in finding it would be.