By Ron Corben, William Ide – Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Monday evening that new satellite data has concluded missing Malaysian flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew went down in the Indian Ocean.
Razak did not say that wreckage has been found. He said that “never before used analysis” from the British satellite company Inmarsat formed the basis to conclude that the plane’s last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean southwest of Perth, Australia.
“This is a remote location far from any possible landing sites.” he said in a brief statement at a news conference in Kuala Lumpur after 10 p.m. local time.
“It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you, that according to this new data, flight MH 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,’’ he said.
Inmarsat evaluated changes in data signals from the plane as they had been received, and compared those changes to signals from other, similar, aircraft on known flight trajectories, a company official told VOA.
That enabled them to narrow down where the missing plane was when its last signal was received, and to determine that it was moving and in which direction.
“The last known position of a ping was way over the southern Indian Ocean, with no landfall and no long runways, obviously, around it,” said Inmarsat senior vice president Chris McLaughlin..
“The distance to Perth was far further than the remaining fuel would allow after seven hours,” he said. “The range simply wasn’t there.
“The Eureka moment for them [the engineers] was when not only did they realize that they had one ping, but they had several, and that the aircraft was moving,” he said. “And then it’s been a process of digging deep into the data thereafter to build a picture, if not a final solution, at least a picture.”
After learning of Inmarsat’s conclusions, Malaysia’s prime minister informed relatives of passengers of the data telling of the plane’s fate. The announcement seems to indicate that the government is resigned that all aboard have perished.
“We absolutely are not saying that we know exactly where this aircraft may have ended its days, but we are saying that we know the direction is south, that it is in that southern ocean area, and that we can give you a general area to look,” said Inmarsat’s McLaughlin.
Most passengers on board were Chinese. For nearly three weeks, the Chinese families of passengers have been hoping for a miracle.
But those hopes were dashed upon the announcemnet. After 17 days of riding an emotional roller coaster the grief for many was too much to bear.
Paramedics were on hand at Beijing’s Lido Hotel, where many Chinese families have been gathered since plane went missing. After hearing the news, several were taken away on stretchers.
Amid the anguish some family members lashed out at journalists. As one family member cried, another yelled at a reporter, telling him to stop asking questions.
China’s state-run CCTV said some hurled water bottles at video journalists standing nearby. The scene at the hotel was chaotic with many crying and wailing.
On China’s social media sites, some were calling on the Chinese government to mark a national day of mourning for those on board MH 370.
Following the announcement, a brief statement by China’s Foreign Ministry demanded the Malaysia government provide more evidence and information to support its findings.
The statement also said China hopes other countries will keep searching for the missing plane.
A posting on the social media site of the newspaper of the Communist Party noted many questions remain. The post said until the black box is found, search and rescue efforts cannot stop.
Throughout Monday, Australian and Chinese search teams looked for signs of the missing jet in the southern Indian Ocean and reported sighting more debris that may be from the plane.
The latest leads come as the United States prepares to send specialized equipment to aid in the search for the aircraft’s “black box” flight recorder.
During a briefing in Kuala Lumpur, authorities say an Australian plane spotted two objects: one circular and gray and the other rectangular and orange – inside the targeted search area for the plane.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott earlier described the sightings as “significant” in the search for the Malaysian flight MH370 with 239 passengers and crew, bound for Beijing on March 8.
“There have been three significant developments – new satellite imagery, new Chinese satellite imagery, does seem to suggest at least one large object consistent with the object that earlier satellite imagery discovered which I told the Australian parliament about last week,” Abbott said.
The search Monday extended to almost 70,000 square kilometers, although weather conditions were reported as poor. Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority said 10 aircraft had been dispatched from Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, and the United States.
A Chinese icebreaker is reported to have changed course and heading to the area where the latest objects were seen.
Specialized locator en route
Also Monday, the U.S. Pacific Command said it is sending a specialized locator to assist in the recovery of the vital “black box” flight recorder in the hope a debris field is located.
The locator device is capable of receiving the black box transmitter signals to a depth of 6,100 meters.
Martin Tasker, technical director with the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, said it is a race against time to find the recorder because the box’s locator batteries will fail after 30 days
Tasker said a recovery from such depths is similar to the problems posed by the loss in 2009 of an Air France airliner that crashed into the Atlantic.
“In the case of Air France 447 it took two years and they found it and of course the locator beacon had been dead for a long time,” he said.
“So I can’t say how long it will take but they’ll put every effort in just like they did with the Air France event to try and locate, once they know or confirm the area where the aircraft possibly went down. They will then find a way to find the black boxes,” Tasker said.
Despite several sightings of possible debris from the plane, none of the reports have been confirmed as from the missing aircraft.
The initial search of the South China Sea over several days later shifted to the southern Indian Ocean as a possible location for the aircraft after reports the plane’s transponder “pings” had been sent over several hours after the last civilian radar sightings.
Flight MH370 Timeline
March 8: Contact lost less than one hour after departing Kuala Lumpur for Beijing
March 10: Search radius expanded, China urges Malaysia to speed up investigation
March 12: Chinese satellite images of possible debris are released and determined not to be related to the plane
March 14: Media reports say MH370 communications system continued to ping a satellite hours after plane disappeared
March 15: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says someone on MH370 likely turned off its communications systems
March 17: 26 countries now involved in the search
March 20: Australian aircraft investigate possible debris in a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean
March 24: Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak says new analysis indicates MH370 crashed in Indian Ocean
Ron Corben reported from Bangkok and William Ide from Bejing. VOA’s Al Pessin contributed to this report from London.