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Malaysia prime minister: Flight 'ended in the southern Indian Ocean'

BEIJING -- A grim-faced Malaysian prime minister had an emergency late-night news conference Monday, saying that the long-missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370 “ended in the southern Indian Ocean” with no hope of survivors.

Najib Razak said his conclusion was based on new data from the British satellite company Inmarsat, identifying the last known location of the flight as southwest of Perth, Australia.

"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 this new data, flight MH 370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,’’ he said delivering his brief statement at the news conference in Kuala Lumpur.

PHOTOS: Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Families of the passengers had been gathered together in Kuala Lumpur and in Beijing ahead of the news conference, and there were unconfirmed reports that families had been offered a charter flight to Australia.

[Updated 7:30 a.m. PDT March 24: In Beijing, paramedics rushed to the Lido Hotel to help family members who might be overcome with grief.

Until the end, some held out faint hope that the flight, which disappeared March 8 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, might have been hijacked, with the passengers being held somewhere for ransom.]

[Updated 8:08 a.m. PDT March 24: Heavy sobs could could be heard emanating from inside a conference room at the Lido, where family members have been gathered these past two weeks. Occasionally somebody would emerge with puffy eyes and a swollen face. One man was taken away on a stretcher.]

The hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight had intensified Monday as search crews reported more sightings of possible debris in the south Indian Ocean, including two objects that could be retrieved shortly by an Australian vessel.

Malaysia's defense minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, said that a search aircraft had located two objects and that an Australian vessel, the Success, was in the vicinity.

"It is possible that the objects could be received within the next few hours, or by tomorrow morning at the latest," he said during a Monday evening news conference. Hishammuddin said that only a few minutes ago Australia's prime minister had informed the prime minister of Malaysia about the development.

If retrieved, the two objects -- one described as circular colored gray or green, and the other rectangular and orange -- would be the first to be found in this remote section of the Indian Ocean about 1,500 miles off the coast of southwest Australia since searchers began focusing on this area Thursday. And they could provide the first physical evidence of the plane that vanished March 8, with 239 passengers and crew on board.

In recent days there has been a growing number of satellite and aircraft sightings of objects in this area that could be wreckage from the missing jetliner.

On Monday, with Chinese and Japanese joining an Australian-led team of American and New Zealand planes, 10 military and commercial aircraft in all combed an area of about 20,000 square nautical miles in the south Indian Ocean looking for traces of Flight 370.

Earlier in the day, one of the two Chinese Ilyushin IL-76 aircraft involved in the search reported seeing "two big floating objects with many white smaller ones scattered within a radius of several kilometers," according to the official New China News Agency.

After the sighting was reported, the U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon plane sought to relocate the objects but was unable to do so, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. A Chinese vessel was steaming toward the area to investigate and was expected to arrive in the area by Tuesday morning, the news agency said.

barbara.demick@latimes.com

Twitter: @barbarademick

don.lee@latimes.com

Twitter: @dleelatimes

 

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