Malaysia's government has released a statement formally declaring the crash of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident and its passengers "presumed dead", clearing the way for families to finally seek compensation payments.
Ten months after the Beijing-bound flight disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur - in what remains one of history's great aviation mysteries - the statement will finally pave the way for Malaysia Airlines to make insurance claims.
"It is therefore, with the heaviest heart and deepest sorrow that, on behalf of the government of Malaysia, we officially declare Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 an accident . . . and that all 239 of the passengers and crew on board MH370 are presumed to have lost their lives," civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said in a televised announcement.
Malaysia Airlines was ready to proceed immediately with the compensation process to the next-of-kin of the passengers on the flight, he said.
However, it comes as a heavy emotional blow to relatives who have lived in torment for 10 months without knowing the fate of their loved ones.
The Boeing 777 aircraft disappeared on March 8 last year, carrying 239 passengers and crew, shortly after taking off from the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, bound for Beijing.
Authorities had originally planned to make the announcement in a hastily scheduled afternoon news conference, but abruptly cancelled the briefing after distraught next-of-kin rushed to the venue. The Malaysian government's handling of the crisis has been severely criticised by suspicious relatives of the 239 missing passengers and crew.
Several next-of-kin, some holding placards calling for the return of their family members, arrived at the briefing location in the headquarters of the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), furious about not being briefed before the news conference.
"The most frustrating thing is that they (were planning) an announcement to the world first, then only to the next of kin," said Wesley Walter, whose brother-in-law was on the flight.
"Why are the next of kin being treated this way?"
The DCA later said it was "not appropriate" to make the announcement in the presence of next-of-kin, but would not divulge the nature of the information.
Despite an ongoing Australian-led search of the supposed crash region - the most expensive search and rescue operation in history - no trace of the plane has yet been found.
International investigators are looking into why the Boeing jet veered thousands of miles off course from its scheduled route before eventually plunging into the Indian Ocean.
However, Malaysia is also conducting a criminal investigation.
"Both investigations are limited by the lack of physical evidence at this time, particularly the flight recorders," said Mr Azharuddin.
Some relatives bitterly accuse the Malaysian government and its flag carrier of a chaotic and bungled response to the plane's initial diversion, which allowed the jet to disappear, and a subsequent cover-up - charges that are strenuously denied. (© Daily Telegraph, London)