Malaysia’s prime minister has announced that missing flight MH370 crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.
Najib Razak said this was the conclusion of fresh analysis of satellite data tracking the flight.
Malaysia Airlines had told the families of the 239 people on board, he said. .
There were 227 passengers on flight MH370, many of them Chinese.
Relatives of those on board who watched the announcement at a Beijing hotel wept with grief, and some were taken away on stretchers by medical teams.
China has demanded that the Malaysian authorities make available the evidence on which they based their announcement about the jet’s fate.
And some relatives of Chinese passengers expressed scepticism about their conclusion, as the plane has not been found yet.
Flight MH370 disappeared after taking off on 8 March from Kuala Lumpur.
A big international search operation has been taking place in the southern Indian Ocean, along the southern arc or corridor of the plane’s possible route, more than 1,500 miles (2,500km) off the south-west coast of Australia.
However, the search had to be suspended on Tuesday due to bad weather, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (Amsa) said.
The news that the Malaysian authorities had now given up hope of finding anyone alive was met by the families with a mixture of deep anguish and some anger, at the hotel where many are staying.
As they emerged in front of the world’s media some people collapsed.
One woman, falling on the floor, said that her only son, her daughter-in-law and only grandson were on the flight, and that her family had been destroyed.
A number were taken from the room on stretchers.
It is more than likely that the families’ mistrust and suspicion about the message they have been given will linger. Many of the relatives here will want to see pieces of wreckage.
One woman said after the briefing: “If my daughter is alive, I want to meet her. If my daughter is dead, I want to see her body.”
In the past day, both Australian and Chinese air force crews have reported spotting debris.
The unidentified objects have been seen in separate parts of the vast search area, in some of the world’s most treacherous and remote waters.
The announcement by Prime Minister Najib Razak came at a late-night news conference in Kuala Lumpur.
It was based on new analysis by British satellite firm Inmarsat, which provided satellite data, and the UK’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB).
The firms “have concluded that MH370 flew along the southern corridor, and that its last position was in the middle of the Indian Ocean, west of Perth,” Mr Najib said.
“This is a remote location, far from any possible landing sites. 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.”
Mr Najib appealed to the media to respect the privacy of the families of the passengers and crew, saying the wait for information had been heartbreaking and this latest news harder still.
Malaysia Airlines later said it informed the majority of the families in advance of the prime minister’s statement in person and by telephone, and that text messages “were used only as an additional means of communicating with the families”.
“It is with deep sadness and regret that I must inform you that, according to this new data, flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean ”
The text messages read: “Malaysia Airlines deeply regrets that we have to assume beyond any reasonable doubt that MH370 has been lost and that none of those on board survived… we must now accept all evidence suggests the plane went down in the Southern Indian Ocean.”
Inmarsat had already revealed that it did indeed receive signals – automated “pings” – from the plane over its satellite network after the aircraft ceased radio and radar contact.
It was gathered that flight MH370 continued to ping for at least five hours after the aircraft left Malaysian airspace – which indicated the plane was intact and powered.
And initial analysis showed the location of the final “ping” was probably along one of two vast arcs running north and south.
On Monday, the Malaysian prime minister said Inmarsat had been able to shed further light on the plane’s flight path by performing further calculations on the MH370 data “using a type of analysis never before used in an investigation of this sort”.
According to Inmarsat, this involved a totally new way of modelling, which was why it took time.
The company stated the new calculation involved crunching far more data and that engineers spent all weekend looking back at previous Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 flights.
They compared the satellite data from those flights with flight MH370 and were able to work out that it went south.
As far as the engineers could tell, the plane was flying at a cruising height above 30,000ft, but its final position could not be pinpointed more clearly.
Inmarsat gave the AAIB the new data on Sunday, it said, which had to be checked before it could be made public.