Malaysia’s government on Thursday officially declared the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which went missing in March, "an accident".
The official declaration by the country’s Department of Civil Aviation should clear the way for the families of the 239 passengers and crew on board to be paid compensation. The passengers and crew are now also officially presumed dead.
“Without in any way intending to diminish the feelings of the families, it is hoped that this declaration will enable the families to obtain the assistance they need, in particular through the compensation process,” Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the civil aviation department, said in the statement.
The search goes on
No trace of the plane, missing since March 8, has been found. But in the statement the government sought to assure “the families of the passengers and crew that the search for MH370 remains a priority.”
The chief coordinator of the Australian-led search operation said several months ago it may take until April to finish searching the area being targeted.
The flight departed Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing on March 8, 2014. For many months, search teams from nearly a dozen countries that included the United States, China and Australia have scoured the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean in search of the missing plane.
Search teams have combed nearly 1.8 million square miles of ocean and believe the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean.
“Based on the same data, we have concluded that the aircraft exhausted its fuel over a defined area of the southern Indian Ocean, and that the aircraft is located on the sea floor close to that defined area,” Abdul Rahman said in a statement.
In July, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was traveling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Ukraine. And another Malaysia-based plane, AirAsia 8501, crashed into the Java Sea in December with 162 people aboard.
Abdul Rahman stressed in his statement on Thursday that the declaration of the plane’s disappearance as an accident is “by no means the end.”
“We will forge ahead with the cooperation and assistance” from other countries, he said in his statement. “MH370, its passengers and its crew will always be remembered and honored.”
Calls to withdraw statement
Many Chinese families of passengers on MH370 demanded Friday that Malaysian officials retract their statement that all aboard died, saying that without hard evidence they don’t want to start compensation claims.
“We don’t accept it. As a matter of fact, we are demanding the statement to be retracted,” Zhang Qian, whose husband was on the plane, said on Friday.
The relatives’ continued refusal to accept the authorities’ conclusion is understandable because they are going through “ambiguous loss,” where there has been no body or wreckage to confirm death, said Theresa Rando, a clinical psychologist in Warwick, Rhodes Island, who has worked extensively in grief counseling.
“For any family member to make the move to presume death in the absence of confirmation is a huge step,” Rando explained in an email. “They need to have eliminated other possibilities; to do otherwise would be tantamount to prematurely abandoning their loved one.”
Earlier this week, in anticipation of the Malaysian statement, 110 members of a group 115 relatives of passengers voted during a mobile phone group chat to demand that Malaysia refrain from making any announcement.
Jiang Hui, mother a passenger aboard the flight, said the new announcement was based on no new facts. “We not only demand the Malaysian government retract the statement, but also issue an apology,” Jiang said. “That’s the wish of the majority of family members.”
Relatives were unmoved by the argument that the declaration paves the way for compensation claims.
“I feel like I am giving it all up if we start talking about compensation,” Zhang said. “We don’t need compensation, and we would be more than glad not to ask for a dime if my husband comes back to me.”
Additional reporting Associated Press