By John Grafilo, dpa (TNS)
KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia on Thursday officially declared dead the 239 people aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March, allowing the bereaved to claim compensation.
After 327 days and based on all available data, it was highly unlikely anyone had survived, said Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, chief of Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation.
“All 239 of the passengers and crew on board MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives,” he said in a televised statement.
“It is hoped that this declaration will enable the families to obtain the assistance they need, in particular through the compensation process,” he said.
The airliner disappeared an hour after taking off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on March 8.
Azharuddin assured the families that the search for the missing MH370 would remain a priority, “with the continuing cooperation and assistance of the governments of China and Australia,” he added.
Search operations have focused on the southern Indian Ocean, where data showed the jetliner was likely to have crashed.
Thursday’s announcement drew angry reactions from relatives and loved ones in China, where most of the passengers were from, and where many have resisted declaring the missing dead before finding the wreckage.
“I hope those bastards die horrible deaths,” a man calling himself Zhang Jianyi wrote on an online forum with journalists in reaction to the move by Malaysian authorities.
“Such an announcement without any evidence — this shows lack of principles,” wrote another, calling herself Yingying.
Before the announcement, around two dozen people demonstrated outside the Malaysian embassy in Beijing, calling for the search not to be stopped.
“The search is not over and they have not gotten enough evidence to conclude the aircraft is lost!” said Zhang Yuxi, father of one of the passengers.
“It would be disrespectful to life and disrespectful to the Chinese people” to call off the search before finding any wreckage, he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry put out a statement to “assure the families of all the Chinese passengers that they are always on the mind of the Party and the government, who will be with them through these trying times.”
China also called on Malaysia to fulfill all its obligations to the victims and those left behind.
The statement called on Malaysia to “fulfill its obligation of compensation, protect the lawful rights and interests of the families and provide them with support and assistance.”
“We also call on the Malaysian side to remain fully committed to the search and investigation efforts and keep the families updated on the latest progress,” it added.
Malaysian authorities faced criticism in the early days of the search for delayed or unclear information releases.
China also vowed to continue working with Malaysia and Australia in the search for the missing jetliner.
Earlier in the day, Malaysia’s Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) called off a planned press conference after a large crowd of relatives and press rushed to the briefing area at the federal government centre in Putrajaya.
Some relatives brought pictures of their missing loved ones, others brought their children with them and waited for over two hours in vain for the press conference.
Several relatives took to the social networking site Facebook and Twitter to expressed their disgust over the government declaration.
“It’s cold and cruel,” Intan Maizura Othaman, whose husband was one of the flight crew, posted on Twitter. “Prime Minister Najib Razak, thank you sir for declaring my husband’s death to the world and not to us, family.”
“I can accept the fact that they won’t come back,” tweeted Maira Elizabeth Nari, whose father, Andrew, was the plane’s chief steward. “But justice is a must for the families of MH370.”
AFP Photo/Manan Vatsyayana