Malaysia Airlines on Monday told relatives of the 239 people on board a missing passenger jet that "we have to assume" the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, but vowed 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.
It has not yet been confirmed that the debris spotted in the area is from MH370, and officials have voiced caution. It is also still unclear why the plane ended up so far off course over the southern Indian Ocean.