Wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 might never be found after suspension of underwater search
The search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has come to an end with passengers’ families being informed that the effort to find the plane has been suspended.
Next of kin were told in an emailed statement on Tuesday that Australian authorities’ underwater search of 120,000 sq km in the southern Indian ocean had concluded without success.
The search had been ongoing for more than two years.
The MH370 Tripartite Joint Communiqué seen by the Guardian was co-signed by the transport ministers of Malaysia, China and Australia, representing the three countries involved in the search. A next of kin told the Guardian it was due to be made public at 2pm Malaysia time.
“Today the last search vessel has left the underwater search area. Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has not been located in the 120,000 square-kilometre underwater search area in the southern Indian Ocean,” it read.
“Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting edge technology, as well as modelling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft.
“The decision to suspend the underwater search has not been taken lightly nor without sadness.”
Flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014, vanishing from radar shortly after take-off from Kuala Lumpar en route to Beijing. The plane is believed to have crashed in the Indian Ocean, claiming the lives of all 239 crew and passengers on board.
The announcement has come six weeks out from the third anniversary of the plane’s disappearance, with the underwater search effort led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau in the so-called “seventh arc” since October 2014 concluding without success.
At a tripartite meeting in July 2016, the three transport ministers had acknowledged the “diminishing” likelihood of finding the plane . If the full 120,000 sq km area was searched without success, the effort was to “not end, but be suspended” indefinitely, they said – reiterating the earlier resolution made in April 2015.
In December, the ATSB said they had a “high degree of confidence” that the wreck would not be found in the tranche of Indian ocean originally pinpointed, instead highlighting a new area of approximately 25,000 sq km – between latitudes 33 degrees south and 36 degrees south – as “the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft”.
The flight was carrying 152 Chinese nationals and 50 from Malaysia, as well as passengers from Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and the United States.
A series of “pings” from what was believed to be one of the black boxes from the plane initially narrowed the search zone to a smaller region of the Indian Ocean. Australia’s then prime minister Tony Abbott and Malaysian transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein both suggested the plane was close to discovery weeks after the crash .
But the hunt for the plane quickly became one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries after a lengthy aerial search yielded no results.
Following the exhaustive aerial survey, the search for the missing plane had a fourth-month hiatus while experts mapped the part of the ocean where the plane was believed to have crashed.
In October 2014 the Australian Transport Safety Bureau began a new phase for the search for MH370, an underwater search effort of 120,000 sq km of the Indian ocean floor.
The search has been a multimillion-dollar effort on the parts of Australia, Malaysia and China. The operation is believed to have cost around AU$180m, paid for by Australia and Malaysia. China donated AU$20m in funding and equipment.
Progress was frustrated by difficulties in reaching the search zone and the largely uncharted part of the Indian Ocean it was believed to have crashed in. The final 20,000 sq km in particular were delayed by poor weather conditions throughout 2016.
But investigators remained optimistic, with Martin Dolan, the head of the ATSB, expressing confidence in March 2016, the two-year anniversary of its disappearance, that the plane would be found within that 120,000 sq km area.
In July 2015 authorities had a breakthrough in the search, when they found debris on the island of Réunion that was later confirmed to be a flaperon from the flight .
Several more pieces of debris were confirmed to have come from MH370, including a wing flap found on an island off the coast of Tanzania in June and sent to Canberra for analysis that was found to be from a Boeing 777 .
Investigators say the failure to find the wreckage does not mean all search efforts will end. But those seeking answers for the disappearance of the plane – and those on board – now face the prospect that the fate of MH370 might never be known.