Malaysia Terms MH370 an Accident; 239 on Board Presumed Dead

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Malaysia declared Flight 370 an accident and all 239 people on board as presumed dead to help families obtain assistance, including compensation.

Malaysia Airlines is ready to immediately proceed with compensation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, said in an e-mailed statement today. The search to find MH370 will remain a priority and a criminal investigation by Malaysia’s police is ongoing, he said.

Australia is leading the efforts to locate debris in some of the remotest and deepest parts of the Indian Ocean in the world’s longest search for a jet in the modern aviation era. The jet’s disappearance March 8 on a routine flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur puzzled authorities as no distress signal came from the Boeing Co. 777-200 plane before it went off radar screens.

“After 327 days and based on all available data as well as circumstances mentioned earlier, survivability in the defined area is highly unlikely,” the Department of Civil Aviation Malaysia said in the statement. “It is therefore, with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that, on behalf of the government of Malaysia, we officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident and that all 239 passengers and crew onboard MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives.”

Malaysia’s sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional Bhd. has taken the airline private and is restructuring the flag carrier as traffic fell after the carrier lost MH370 in March and MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July. The two accidents killed a combined 537 people.

Deliberately Steered

Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak said Flight 370 was deliberately steered off course and its journey ended in the Indian Ocean. Using communications the twin-aisle plane had with a satellite, investigators concluded that the aircraft flew back over Malaysia and into the Indian Ocean, before diving into the ocean after running out of fuel.

According to the Chicago Convention rules of international civil aviation, the definition of the term “accident” includes “the aircraft is missing,” Azharuddin said in the statement. It also states that “an aircraft is considered to be missing when the official search has been terminated and the wreckage has not been located.”

Earlier this week, Chinese families said they are opposed to any move to declare MH370 as missing and signed a petition against such a plan, according to a letter relatives of those on board the aircraft wrote to the carrier. The plane had 227 passengers and 12 crew, two-thirds of them from China.

‘Any Eventuality’

“We are prepared for any eventuality, including the fact that our loved ones may never come back,” it said. “However, almost all families are unanimous in our stand that we do not want to declare our loved ones dead, without a shred of evidence.”

Last month, investigators looking for the wreckage in the southern Indian Ocean widened the search area to cover the chance the aircraft fell from the sky at a shallower angle than expected. That could put the plane on the sea floor as far as 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) from the seventh arc, a line drawn over the ocean where satellite communications suggest its fuel ran out.

“The government of Malaysia also assures the families of the passengers and crew that the search for MH370 remains a priority,” Azharuddin said in the statement.

More than 200,000 square kilometers have been scanned by ship-based sonars. The best evidence of the plane’s location comes from eight failed connections with an Inmarsat Plc orbiter over the Indian Ocean, showing the plane probably traveled south from the Bay of Bengal before ditching somewhere along an arc to the west of the Australian city of Perth.

The aircraft probably spiraled anti-clockwise into the sea after its right and then its left engines ran out of fuel, according to an Oct. 8 update on the search process.