News Of Flight 370's Suspected End Is Met With Relatives' Despair

Malaysia's prime minister concluded that Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 "ended in the southern Indian Ocean," setting off howls of grief and anger among passengers' families. The search continues for debris that would confirm the flight crashed.

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The Malaysian government now says it has reached a conclusion in the 17-day search for a missing airliner. Malaysia Airlines flight 370 was lost at sea in the southern Indian Ocean. They're basing that finding partly on a new reading of satellite information. We'll hear more about that in a few minutes from NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.

After all kinds of speculation that the plane was hijacked, that it may have flown to India, this is the first official finding that the plane crashed.

SIEGEL: But there is still no hard proof. Dozens of ships and planes are still searching for wreckage of the Boeing 777, and some family members of the plane's 239 passengers and crew angrily rejected today's announcement. Here's NPR's Anthony Kuhn.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: At a hastily convened press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that he'd been briefed by British air accident investigators. He also spoke to Inmarsat, a UK-based satellite company. Najib Razak said that, based on the satellite data, the plane's last known position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth, Australia. And from that, he drew this conclusion.

PRIME MINISTER NAJIB RAZAK: This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. It is, therefore, with deep sadness and regret, that I must inform you that according to his new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean.

KUHN: In recent days, Australian and Chinese satellites and aircraft have spotted unidentified objects floating in the ocean, but none of these have been conclusively linked to the missing plane. Search and rescue teams are still trying to recover those objects. Prime Minister Najib Razak added that authorities had already notified the families of passengers and crew of their conclusion.

RAZAK: For them, the past few weeks have been heart-breaking. I know this news must be harder still. I urge the media to respect their privacy and allow them the space they need at this very difficult time.

KUHN: But family members and media found themselves at very close quarters at the Lido Hotel in Beijing, where relatives have come to seek information every day since the plane went missing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

KUHN: Some relatives who had been watching the press conference in a hotel meeting room came out wailing, hysterical and inconsolable. Others came out mute and grim-faced. Several people collapsed and paramedics brought them out on stretchers to waiting ambulances. Many shielded their faces from the throngs of reporters who crowded around the meeting room's exit.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: One woman, who did not identify herself, cried that her son, daughter-in-law and grandson were on the flight. She beseeched China's ruling Communist Party to take charge of the situation and support her.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Long live the Communist Party, socialism is good, she sobbed. Adding, I've given up hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: There's an inside story that we are not being told, shouted one man coming out of the room. Many family members say Malaysian authorities have released delayed and contradictory information, which suggests to them that the authorities are covering up the truth.

Some relatives emerged from the room cursing the Malaysian government, others vented their fury on reporters, kicking and hitting them and telling them not to film the anguished families. In a two-line statement, China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it has demanded that Malaysia provide evidence of how it reached its conclusion. It added that China continues to search for the missing plane and it hopes Malaysia and other countries will do the same.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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