Family members of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines MH370 cry in the Lido hotel in Beijing on Monday after watching a television broadcast of Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's news conference in Kuala Lumpur. Photo by Kim Kyung-Hoon, Reuters
BEIJING (UPDATED) - Cries of pain and loss echoed from a Beijing hotel on Monday as the relatives of missing flight MH370 learned their loved ones were dead, ending an agonising 17-day ordeal.
Paramedics carrying stretchers dashed into the ballroom at the Lido hotel to treat distraught family members who have been gathered there since the Malaysia Airlines jet vanished.
Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak confirmed their gravest fears, announcing that the aircraft went down in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean with 239 people on board -- two thirds of them Chinese.
Even the possibility of a hijack, however remote, had meant there was still a chance their loved ones were alive. But after the announcement, there was no hope at all.
Some burst out of the room crying uncontrollably, while others had to be supported by family members.
One woman was rushed out on a stretcher, her body shaking and her eyes glazed and full of tears.
"We know we have no hope left now," one bereaved relative told AFP by telephone.
Most were too distressed to talk. A few simply covered their heads, hiding their emotions as they ran a gauntlet of journalists.
Grief was closely followed by anger for some, with one sobbing woman leaving the room shouting "murderers, murderers".
Some relatives lost control as they departed, with one man throwing punches and kicks at the media crowd, as a male family member was being taken out on a stretcher.
Others lashed out at cameramen who were filming too close.
Security guards and police stood guard in and outside the room.
Inside the room, heavy clouds of tobacco smoke hung overhead, with almost every man drawing heavily on cigarettes.
Many faces were pale with shock, and most people stared into space, almost oblivious to other relatives around them.
Candle after candle was posted on China's hugely popular weibo microblog sites, in electronic tributes to the dead.
"I just can't believe it nor accept it, after having searched so many days, and waited so many days, only to finally receive news of the crash!" wrote one user.
"It's impossible to imagine how these desperate families could handle it."
Some Chinese have embraced far-fetched conspiracy theories in the period since the plane disappeared, and there were those who refused to believe the plane had gone down.
One woman at the Lido hotel approached reporters, wailing, saying she believed her daughter was being "hidden" and had not died.
Malaysia Airlines to keep searching for jet
This, as 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 fueled 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 energized 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.