Malaysian officials have officially declared the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 an accident more than 10 months after the Boeing 777 aircraft vanished on March 8.
The declaration rules out the possibility that there might have been survivors among the 239 people aboard. But it also paves the way for the airline to pay settlements to the families.
“It is therefore, with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that … we officially declare Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation, said in a news conference Thursday. “All 239 of the passengers and crew on board MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives.”
Flight 370 disappeared from radar after taking off from Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, for Beijing. It is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean — far from its intended course — although no debris has been found.
The certitude with which the airline made its announcement has angered some families of victims, who believe the airline is too swiftly ending the search for the truth about what happened.
“Because you have no evidence at all. How can you come to such a conclusion?” Wang Chunjiang, who lost his brother Wang Chunyong, told the Associated Press. “Chinese New Year is coming up. Why did you choose now to make the announcement?”
Airline officials said that the search for the plane will continue and that this declaration has “no bearing” on that process. And the move to settle with families was agreed upon by the governments of Malaysia, China and Australia.
“We hope the Malaysian side honors its promises and fully investigates the incident, settling claims and making peace with the families, especially continuing to make all efforts to find the missing plane and its passengers,” Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters, according to Reuters.
Investigators are searching the Indian Ocean, and Malaysia is conducting a criminal investigation of the disappearance.
“At this juncture, there is no evidence to substantiate any speculations as to the cause of the accident,” Azharuddin said.
For some families, that is unacceptable.
“There’s nothing new. The Malaysian authorities have been covering up the truth from the get-go, and they have no credibility to speak of. We are not accepting the conclusion,” Wen Wancheng, whose son Wen Yongsheng was aboard the plane, told the AP.
Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation will issue a preliminary report on the investigation on March 7. And the airline plans to immediately move forward to compensate families of victims.
“This is more for lawyers and courts, not for the families as they are going to accept none of this till there’s evidence,” Martin Eran-Tasker, technical director at the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines, told the Wall Street Journal.