KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia Airlines on Monday told relatives of the 239 people on board the missing passenger jet that the plane went down in the Indian Ocean with no survivors.
Tears and cries of inconsolable pain and loss echoed from a Beijing hotel ballroom as the relatives of the passengers learned the news.
Some clung on to other family members for crumbs of comfort as they left the room where they were told the Malaysia Airlines flight had ended, incontestably, in the remote southern Indian Ocean.
Paramedics carrying stretchers rushed into the ballroom at the Lido hotel in Beijing, where relatives of many of the 153 Chinese passengers on board the aircraft had been waiting for more than two weeks.
Even the possibility of a hijack had meant there was still a chance their loved ones were still alive. After the announcement, they realised there was no hope for survival. There was no hope at all.
Some burst out the room crying uncontrollably, being held by other family members, while others wiped tears from their eyes as left the briefing. Others simply covered their heads, hiding their emotions. Inside, the wails of the bereaved echoed.
Relatives at the hotel appeared in no mood to speak, one who talked to AFP by telephone said: "We know we have no hope left now."
Malaysia Airlines however told relatives the search for the jet would continue.
"Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume that MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean," the airline said in a statement to the families, citing new analysis of satellite data.
"On behalf of all of us at Malaysia Airlines and all Malaysians, our prayers go out to all the loved ones (of those on board) at this enormously painful time," the statement continued. "We know there are no words that we or anyone else can say which can ease your pain. We will continue to provide assistance and support to you."
The airline vowed in its statement that the ongoing search for the plane and an intensive investigation into its fate "will continue, as we seek answers to the questions which remain".
The statement echoed the words of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who -- also citing satellite data -- told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur late Monday: "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."
MH370 vanished without warning on March 8 while flying over the South China Sea en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.
Malaysia believes the plane was deliberately diverted by someone on board. But the absence of firm evidence has fuelled intense speculation and conspiracy theories, and tormented the families of the missing for 16 days. The search swung deep into the Indian Ocean last week after initial satellite images depicted large floating objects there, and further sightings of possible debris in the area energised the massive, multinational operation. French investigators said Monday it was too soon to consider launching undersea searches for the wreckage of the Malaysia Airlines jet that officials said went down in the Indian Ocean.
France's BEA accident investigation service, which had sent three investigators to Kuala Lumpur, said the "vast area (involved) does not, at present, make it feasible to conduct undersea searches."
"An undersea phase to localise the aeroplane from flight MH370 could be launched only if the operations under way today enable a more limited search area to be defined than the current search areas," the BEA said in a statement.
It said its investigators, who had returned from Kuala Lumpur at the weekend, had discussed possible techniques for undersea searches with Malaysian authorities.
In particular they discussed "their experience... acquired during the search between 2009 and 2011 for the wreckage of Rio-Paris flight AF447," it said.
It took 23 months for BEA investigators to find the wreckage of the Air France flight after it went down in the Atlantic in 2009.