Malaysia's Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday officially declared the crash of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 an accident, fulfilling a legal obligation that will allow efforts to proceed with compensation claims.
Malaysia civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that the search for the Malaysia Airlines jet that disappeared on March 8, 2014, on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, "remains a priority."
"It is therefore with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that we officially declare Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 an accident," he said in a pre-recorded message broadcast on Malaysian television, adding that all 239 passengers and crew on board are presumed to have lost their lives.
Azharuddin said that Malaysia, China and Australia had spared no expense and resources in their search for the plane, presumed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean off the coast of western Australia. The hunt resumed in October after a four-month hiatus with more sophisticated sonar equipment.
Azharuddin said the searchers pursued every credible lead and reviewed all available data that tracked the plane to a remote corner of the southern Indian Ocean, but were still unable to locate it.
He said that Chapter 1 of Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, commonly referred to as the "Chicago Convention," states that the definition of the term "accident" includes "the aircraft is missing."
"It also states that 'an aircraft is considered to be missing when the official search has been terminated and the wreckage has not been located.'"
Azharuddin said the investigation by the safety team and Malaysian police were ongoing, but both were limited by the lack of physical evidence at this time, particularly the flight recorders.
"At this juncture, there is no evidence to substantiate any speculations as to the cause of the accident," he said, adding that an interim report detailing the progress of the safety investigation will be released soon.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told reporters Malaysia should settle claims with the families.
"We hope the Malaysian side honors its promises and fully investigates the incident, settling claims and making peace with the families, especially continuing to make all efforts to find the missing plane and its passengers," Li said.