KUALA LUMPUR, March 24 — Datuk Seri Najib Razak confirmed today that the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner MH370 “ended” its journey in the southern Indian Ocean, a location he described as remote and far from any possible landing site.
The prime minister, speaking at an emergency press conference at the Putra World Trade Centre (PWTC) here, stopped short, however, of saying the Boeing 777 aircraft that has been missing for 17 days now, had crashed into the vast ocean.
He said fresh data gleaned from British satellite firm Inmarsat confirmed that the plane had continued its journey towards the southern Indian Ocean and not along the northern arc, which was one of the possible sites identified earlier.
“Its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean west of Perth. This is a remote location... far from any possible landing site.
“It is therefore with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean,” he said.
Explaining, Najib said he was informed of the development by representatives from the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
He said Inmarsat had performed more calculations on data it had collected earlier from MH370’s track marks, using a type of analysis “never before used” in such an investigation.
The somber-faced Najib then urged the media to respect the families of those on board and allow them some space to grieve, saying tonight’s news would hit them hard.
A press conference will be held tomorrow to shed more light on the investigation, which has now moved into a search and recovery operation instead of a search and rescue effort.
The Boeing 777 aircraft disappeared off the coast of Kota Baru, Kelantan, less than an hour after take-off at 12.41am on March 8 and has remained missing ever since.
Early investigations saw searchers concentrated on the waters off Malaysia’s east coast — in the South China Sea and between Malaysia and Vietnam — where the plane was last heard from before it lost contact with the Subang Air Traffic Control (ATC).
But local military radar later spotted the plane flying westwards, forcing the authorities to redirect its search efforts to the Straits of Malacca.
More information from foreign military and satellite data then confirmed the plane’s flight to the west of Malaysia, hundreds of miles away from its original flight path to Beijing.
According to data from British satellite firm Inmarsat on March 14, its satellite registered “routine, automated signals” from the missing Malaysia Airlines aircraft during its flight from Kuala Lumpur.
On March 15 — a week after MH370’s disappearance — Najib told a press conference that Malaysia would call off the search at the South China Sea and Straits of Malacca.
Search troops were then redirected troops to scour two corridors — a northern arc from northern Thailand to the border of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in central Asia, or a southern one from Indonesia to the southern Indian Ocean.
On March 20, authorities in Australia announced what they said was a possible breakthrough in the two-week hunt for MH370.
Satellite images taken by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado satellite imaging company, four days earlier showed at least two objects in the Indian Ocean, south of the search zone for MH370 that Australia was leading.
The largest of the objects found measured 24 metres or 79 feet in length, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) Emergency Response division general manager John Young said at then.
Since then, much focus has been given to the search south of the vast Indian Ocean.
Over the weekend and earlier today, several reports of alleged “debris” streamed it from the French, Australian and Chinese — some picked up by search planes, some via satellite images.