Malaysia Flight 370's fate: deep ocean

PEARCE AIR FORCE BASE, Australia — A British satellite company has solved one crucial aspect of the mystery surrounding the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared on March 8, using a complex mathematical process to determine that it ended its journey in the middle of the southern Indian Ocean.

Guided by the Doppler effect, a principle of physics, the company, Inmarsat, analyzed tiny shifts in the frequency of the plane's signals to infer the plane's flight path and likely final location. The method had never before been used to investigate an air disaster, officials said.

The first definitive news of the fate of the Boeing 777 jet brought heartbreak to the families of those on board as Malaysia's prime minister, Najib Razak, announced on Monday that no one is believed to have survived.

"This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites," a somber Najib said. "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."

Najib appeared eager to bring some finality to the families of the passengers, who had complained for more than two weeks about the incomplete and sometimes contradictory information they were getting. Two-thirds of the plane's passengers were Chinese citizens, and the flight was bound for Beijing when it took off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, after midnight on March 8.

But many furious Chinese relatives and friends of passengers refused to believe it, wailing with anguish and screaming that the Malaysians were lying.

"The Malaysian government is not telling the truth," said one woman among the relatives of passengers who gathered at the Lido Hotel in Beijing to wait for news of the flight. "All governments are corrupt. The Malaysian government is hiding something."

The announcement did little to solve the deeper mystery of the plane's disappearance, shedding no light on why someone with detailed knowledge of the plane's navigation and flight systems diverted it radically from its course. Investigators said they have looked into the background of the 239 people on board, including the two pilots and the crew, and have so far found no answers to that central question.

Some of the relatives who gathered to listen to Najib convulsed in grief at the news, with shrieks and uncontrolled sobs. Others collapsed into the arms of loved ones.

"My son! My son!" cried a woman in a group of about 50 gathered at a hotel near Beijing's airport, before falling to her knees. Minutes later, medical teams carried one elderly man out of the conference room on a stretcher, his face covered by a jacket.

In Kuala Lumpur, screams came from inside the Hotel Bangi Putrajaya, where some of the families have been given rooms.

Sarah Bajc, the girlfriend of an American passenger, Texas-native Philip Wood, said that the announcement based only on data, without any recovered wreckage put resolution beyond reach.

"I need closure to be certain but cannot keep on with public efforts against all odds. I STILL feel his presence, so perhaps it was his soul all along," she wrote in an email. "Now Philip's family and I will need some time for private grief."

Li Chengpeng, a popular Chinese social critic, gave voice to the deep skepticism held by many Chinese of the official announcement. He posted a message for the 7 million followers of his microblog, calling Najib's news conference staged theater. "Just now, they were not actually publicizing the truth but were merely giving a show of publicizing the truth," he wrote. "It looks like there are traces of rehearsal. Politicians are shameless! Keep investigating!"

The Malaysian prime minister based his announcement on a new analysis of satellite signal data that ruled out any chance that the plane had flown north, toward land, from its last known position on March 8. It had to have flown south, the analysis found, and by the time of the last recorded signal, it would have been nearly out of fuel over a rough, deep ocean, more than a thousand miles from anywhere it could have landed safely.

The search focused more tightly on that area on Monday after an Australian military search plane spotted several floating objects that could be debris from the plane, and ships raced to investigate.

The floating objects were spotted Monday about 1,500 miles southwest of Perth, Australia, by the crew of a P-3 Orion surveillance plane from the Royal Australian Air Force. An Australian naval survey ship, the Success, was directed to try to find and recover the objects, the Australian authorities said. A Chinese military aircraft also reported a possible sighting of floating objects in the search area, but that sighting was at a different location and was much more tentative.

Search flights were called off today because of bad weather.

The search for the aircraft's fuselage, and other bulky parts of the jet that probably sank to the bottom of the ocean, is likely to be focused within a limited distance from the suspected flight path. But the search for floating debris is likely to be widespread.

Finding the plane's flight recorders, or black boxes, will be crucial to determining what may have caused the plane's disappearance. The devices are designed to transmit signals to help searchers locate them, but searchers have only about two weeks left to find them before the devices' batteries run out.

The U.S. Pacific Command said Monday that it would move a Towed Pinger Locator System, capable of locating a black box to a depth of 20,000 feet, into the region. "This movement is simply a prudent effort to pre-position equipment and trained personnel closer to the search area, so that if debris is found, we will be able to respond as quickly as possible, since the battery life of the black box's pinger is limited," Cmdr. Chris Budde, a 7th Fleet operations officer, said in an emailed statement.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

Malaysia Flight 370's fate: deep ocean 03/24/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 12:41am]

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