Malaysia officially declares disappearance of MH370 aircraft an accident, all on board dead

The wife of a missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 passenger shows a press statement to reporters at a media conference room in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Jan 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 
The wife of a missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 passenger shows a press statement to reporters at a media conference room in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on Jan 29, 2015. -- PHOTO: EPA 

Malaysia has declared Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 an "accident", meaning all 239 on board the ill-fated aircraft are presumed dead, but insisted the search for the plane last seen on March 8 last year "remains a priority".

Nearly 11 months and up to S$130 million were spent on an unsuccessful search for the plane which mysteriously disappeared without a trace enroute from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that after 327 days "and based on all available data", "survivability is highly unlikely" for those on the plane that is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia.

The area is far from any landing site and has "adverse sea conditions with known depths of more than 6,000 metres," he said.

"It is therefore with heaviest heart and deepest sorrow, that on behalf of the government of Malaysia, we officially declare MH370 an accident in accordance with standards... and that all 239 of the passengers and crew onboard MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives," the Department of Civil Aviation director general said in a pre-recorded statement broadcast live on national television at 6pm.

Mr Azharuddin added that the search for the Boeing 777 remains a priority for the government but today's announcement means the process of compensation "whether it is pursued through consultation or through litigation" can begin.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday also called on “the Malaysian side” to fully investigate and settle claims with passengers over a missing Malaysia Airlines jet, Reuters reported. Mr Li made the remarks to reporters, according to a statement on the government’s website.  

Australia is leading the efforts to locate debris of MH370 in some of the remotest and deepest parts of the Indian Ocean in the world’s longest search for a jet in modern aviation era.

The aircraft’s disappearance on March 8, 2014, on a routine flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur has puzzled authorities as no distress signal came from the Boeing 777-200 plane before it went off radar screens.

Malaysia's government and the ailing national flag carrier - which also saw a flight on its way home from Amsterdam being shot down over Ukraine on July 17, 2014 - were widely criticised for a disorganised and secretive response to MH370's disappearance, especially from Chinese citizens, whose countrymen made up the bulk of those onboard.

A press conference was scheduled earlier in the evening but relatives of those lost had turned up unannounced, forcing authorities to cancel the event as "it was not appropriate to continue", the department said in a statement, adding that separate arrangements had been made to brief the next-of-kin.

shannont@sph.com.sg