By Keith Laing - 05/01/14 04:09 PM EDT
Malaysia Airlines is recommending that families of passengers on board its missing Flight 370 return to their homes as hope vanishes of locating the missing plane.
The airline said Thursday that it was not giving up completely on the nearly eight-week search for the missing airplane, but the company is closing its family assistance centers for relatives of the passengers.
"While Malaysia Airlines is committed to continuing its support to the families during the whole process, we are adjusting the mode of services and support," Malaysia Airlines Group Chief Executive Officer Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said Thursday.
The search for the missing flight has lasted 55 days. The plane was last detected by air traffic controllers about an hour into its flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8.
Officials from multiple nations have conducted a prolonged search for the plane, focusing first on the Gulf of Thailand and later on the southern Indian Ocean.
Satellite images of potential debris in the water that officials believed could have been related to the missing plane raised officials' hopes — falsely, thus far — of finding the aircraft's remnants.
The plane was carrying 239 passengers and crew members at the time of its disappearance.
The company had been operating family assistance centers at airports that were expected to be the final destinations of the passengers who were on the flight.
However, Ahmad Jauhari said Thursday that it was time to "face the hard reality that there is still no trace of the aircraft, and the fate of the missing passengers and crew remains unknown till this day.
"Malaysia Airlines is acutely conscious of, and deeply sympathetic to, the continuing unimaginable anguish, distress and hardship suffered by those with loved ones on board the flight," he said. "We share the same very feelings and have been doing whatever we can to ease the pain of the families and to provide comfort for them."
Ahmad Jauhari said the company will "keep in close touch with the families on news updates through telephone calls, messages, the Internet, and face-to-face meetings."
He added that relatives would also likely be receiving compensations for the loss of their loved ones as well.
"Malaysia Airlines will make advanced compensation payments soonest possible to the nominated next-of-kin who are entitled to claim compensation, in order to meet their immediate economic needs," the airline leader said.
"Such advanced payments will not affect the rights of the next-of-kin to claim compensation according to the law at a later stage, and will be calculated as part of the final compensation," he continued. "Immediately after the next-of-kin have returned home, our representatives will be in touch with them at the earliest opportunity to initiate the advanced compensation payment process."