The director-general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, has officially declared the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 to be an accident and said this evening in a recorded televised address that all 239 passengers and crew on board were presumed to have died.
He said the underwater search in the Southern Indian Ocean was continuing, but after 327 days, and based on available data, survivability in the defined area was “highly unlikely”.
Azharuddin said the safety and criminal investigations were also ongoing.
He also said that Malaysia Airlines was ready to proceed immediately with the process of giving compensation to the next-of-kin of those on the flight. Only very few families have so far taken up offers of compensation.
He said that, on behalf of the Malaysian government, and in accordance with the standards of annexes 12 and 13 to the Chicago Convention, the DCA officially declared Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident. “All 239 of the passengers and crew on board MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives,” he said.
There was anger among relatives earlier today when a scheduled press conference was cancelled because of the presence of next-of-kin. The DCA said in a statement that it would have been inappropriate to continue with the press briefing because of the presence of the relatives.
Many relatives will be refusing to accept today’s accident declaration, given that there is no actual evidence as to the cause of the plane’s disappearance.
It is only analysis of satellite pings from the aircraft that led to the search moving to the Southern Indian Ocean.
Azharuddin said himself this evening that there was no evidence to substantiate any speculation as to the cause of what the Malaysians have now concluded was an accident.
An interim report on the safety investigation is due to be published by March 8, which will be one year after flight MH370 disappeared when en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
Azharuddin said it was “with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow” that he was making his announcement. He said the Malaysian government acknowledged that his declaration would be very difficult for the loved ones of those on board to consider, much less accept.
“Thirteen nations have also lost sons and daughters to this tragedy. It is nonetheless important that families try to resume normal lives, or as normal a life as may be possible after this sudden loss. 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.”
Azharuddin said that, based on analysis of all available evidence, the Malaysian government had concluded that flight MH370 ended its life in the southern Indian Ocean, had exhausted its fuel over a defined search area of that ocean, and was located on the sea floor close to that area.
It was, he said, a remote area, far from any landing site, and with adverse sea conditions and where the ocean depth was more than 6,000 metres.
Many relatives would dispute the conclusion that MH370 is at the bottom of the Southern Indian Ocean, pointing to the lack of proof and the fact that no debris has been found.
Most of the passengers on flight MH370 were Chinese and, after today’s announcement, China’s foreign ministry called on the Malaysian government “to honour the promise made when they declared the flight to have been lost and earnestly fulfil their compensation responsibilities”.
Sixty-five aircraft and 95 vessels have been involved in an unprecedented search of more than 18,000 square kilometres of ocean, but MH370 has not been located.
An underwater search involving four vessels is ongoing in a 60,000 square kilometre priority area.
Azharuddin said Malaysia was greatly indebted to all those who had provided assistance and support. “We offer our heartfelt gratitude for the generosity of response in a dark hour in the history of the aviation industry.”
He said today’s declaration was by no means the end. “We will forge ahead with the co-operation and assistance of the governments of China and Australia. MH370, its passengers, and its crew will always be remembered and honoured.”
There have been a host of theories about what may have happened to MH370.
Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has speculated that someone is not giving the full picture of how the aircraft disappeared
In a post on his blog in May last year, he postulated that the pilot of MH370 lost control of the aircraft after someone directly or remotely activated equipment to seize control of the aircraft.
It was a waste of time and money to look for debris or an oil slick or to listen for pings from the black box, he wrote. “Someone is hiding something. It is not fair that MAS and Malaysia should take the blame.”
In one of the most controversial theories, the former director of the French airline Proteus, Marc Dugain, suggested that United States military personnel may have shot down MH370 over the Indian Ocean to prevent it being used to attack the US military base on Diego Garcia.
He speculated that the plane may have been forced to divert from its flight path because of remote hacking or an on-board fire.
Dugain pointed to the testimony of residents of the Maldives who said they saw an airliner travelling towards Diego Garcia on March 8, but whose claims were dismissed.
According to France Inter radio, Dugain said he had been warned off delving too deeply into the fate of flight MH370 by a British intelligence officer who reportedly told him that he was taking risks.
The president and CEO of Emirates airlines, Sir Tim Clark, made headlines in October when – in an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel – he said he was sceptical about the satellite “handshakes” that positioned the plane in the Southern Indian Ocean.
That an aircraft the size of MH370 could simply disappear without a trace, “not even a seat cushion”, was downright suspicious, he said.