KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — It was the unwelcome, anguishing news that families of the missing had dreaded, and when they heard it from Malaysia’s prime minister Monday night there were shrieks and intense heartbreak: The missing Malaysian Airlines flight whose fate was a mystery that consumed the world had crashed into a remote corner of the Indian Ocean.
The news, based on fresh evidence gleaned from an unprecedented analysis of satellite data, meant it was all but impossible that any of the 239 passengers and crew on board the jetliner could have survived.
That realization may help bring some closure to families 17 days after their nightmare began when the Boeing 777 inexplicably disappeared from Asian skies during what was supposed to be a routine overnight flight from Malaysia’s capital to Beijing on March 8. But the latest clue is also only a small step toward solving one of the greatest puzzles in aviation history.
With the location of Flight 370 itself still unknown — most likely somewhere at the bottom of the sea in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean — profound questions remain unanswered about what brought down the aircraft and why.
And the grueling search for the wreckage and the plane’s black boxes could take years. The task, involving a multinational force sweeping a vast region of ocean whose dark floor is up to 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) deep, has been daunting. So much so, that it is also possible that what is left of the plane may never be found.
In Beijing, family members who have followed every twist and turn in the search shrieked and sobbed uncontrollably when they heard the news. One woman collapsed and fell on her knees, crying “My son! My son!”
Dressed in a black suit, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak somberly announced the news in an unexpected late night statement to reporters in Kuala Lumpur. The information, he said, was based on a study of data from a satellite that had received the final known signals from the plane as it tracked southward.