Over an extraordinary 17 days and nights, until the moment Malaysia's prime minister stepped to a lectern to deliver investigators' sobering new findings, the fate of vanished Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 hung on morbid conjecture and fragile hope.
Many previous tragedies have transfixed us by revealing their power in cruel detail. But the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines' Beijing-bound Boeing 777 without warning or explanation captivated imaginations around the world in no small part because of the near vacuum of firm information or solid leads.
Nothing solid, that is, until late Monday night, when Prime Minister Najib Razak announced that an analysis of the plane's last-known signals to a satellite showed that it went down somewhere in the desolate waters of the southern Indian Ocean - and that all on board perished.
It was a turning point of sorts in one of the most perplexing mysteries of modern times. Najib's statement offered some resolution - the Malaysia Airlines plane has surely crashed - but little else. No one has found the plane, or the passengers, or the answer to why all this happened in the first place. And solving those riddles involves a search that looms dauntingly across a vast expanse of unforgiving ocean at the bottom of the earth.
The puzzle of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 has been complicated by a frustrating lack of hard facts since it vanished on a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8. Who could say what might have happened in the cockpit or the cabin - or who or what was responsible? Who knew where the plane had gone - up or down, north or south - or what had become of its 239 passengers and crew?
Hungry for answers, officials and investigators, relatives and reporters focused their questions fruitlessly on the two Iranian passengers who boarded the Malaysia Airlines plane with stolen passports; then on the oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand; then on the rumors that a Uighur passenger might have harbored anti-Chinese motives; then on the pilot's home flight simulator.
The reluctance of Malaysian officials to reveal what they knew and sometimes to offer conflicting information only seemed to feed the doubts, even after many of the nefarious scenarios suggested early on were dismissed. And with limited evidence and not even a bit of confirmed wreckage,