Malaysian authorities on Thursday officially declared the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 “an accident,” stating that all 239 people on board are now presumed dead, according to a statement from Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation (DCA). The Boeing 777 went missing on March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Malaysia's civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said that the declaration was made to clear compensation claims for the passengers' next-of-kin, and that the search for the plane "remains a priority." Authorities also concluded, based on analysis of radar data and the satellite communication (SATCOM) system, that Flight MH370 had crashed in the southern Indian Ocean. The data also concluded that the jet exhausted its fuel along the seventh arc, which has been previously described as “a thin but long line that includes all the possible points where the last known communication between the aircraft and the communication satellite could have taken place.”

Azharuddin said that Malaysia, China and Australia had spared no expense and resources in their efforts to search for the plane. The search operation had resumed in October after a four-month break and currently involves four vessels scouring the sea floor. However, no concrete clues about the plane's whereabouts have been uncovered by the search operation, which has now become the most expensive in aviation history.

"At this juncture, there is no evidence to substantiate any speculations as to the cause of the accident," Azharuddin said, adding that an interim report about the progress of the investigation is expected to be released in March.

“Without in any way intending to diminish the feelings of the families, it is hoped that this declaration will enable the families to obtain the assistance they need, in particular through the compensation process,” DCA said, in a statement.