With less than 10,000 square kilometers left in the search area for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, hopes of finding the plane are fading.
Senior officials announced Friday that the international effort to locate MH370 will be suspended and rethought if the missing plane isn’t found in the remaining search area.
“This does not mean we have given up on looking for MH370,” Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said at a press conference Friday.
Malaysian, Chinese and Australian authorities said they want to see if there is other new information that could help them locate the missing aircraft.
“The decision came not lightly,” said Australia’s transport minister, Darren Chester. “But in the absence of new credible evidence it is not possible to continue searching. Every effort has been made. We have used the most high tech and the best people for this search.”
So far, they’ve scoured about 110,000 square feet in a remote part of the southern Indian Ocean, hunting for traces of the passenger jet and the 239 people it was carrying. The multi-million dollar effort consisted of several ships with special equipment scanning sections of the sea floor.
Liow said that cost was not a factor in the decision to suspend the hunt.
The current search is expected to end sometime between October and December, depending on weather and sea conditions, officials said.
When asked if they had been looking in the wrong area, Liow said: “We are looking in the right area based on the experts’ view. Based on that, we searched the area.”
Families of victims wonder what’s next
The prospect of a suspended search left several family members of the MH370 victims at a loss.
“It’s great that they said suspend instead of terminate, but in the meantime what are they going to do and how long is this going to be suspended for?” asked Grace Nathan, whose mother was on the plane. “What kind of information will they need to continue the search?”
Zhang Meiling, whose daughter and son-in-law were on board MH370, told CNN that she thought the officials were just making excuses for a job poorly done.
“It’s been two years and they couldn’t just find anything,” she said, sounding angry on the phone. “All I want is to have my family members back. Whoever is holding them now, please free them. We will never give up until they return home.”
The plane disappeared on March 8, 2014, on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. All those on board are presumed dead.
Despite assurances that the suspension does not mean a termination of the search, an email sent to families states that “despite the best efforts of all involved, the likelihood of finding the aircraft is fading.” The email was sent to the families after ministers from Australia, Malaysia and China convened on Friday.
Nathan wondered if the families would have to finance measures on their own.
“We hope they will continue the search along the African coastline and if they don’t, we might start raising money ourselves and seek help from the people who live in those areas to be on the lookout for debris and we can offer them a reward if they find any credible items,” said Nathan.
Several pieces of debris have been recovered — one off the coast of Reunion Island, which sits east of Madagascar, and other pieces in Mauritius, South Africa and Mozambique.
Four pieces of the debris have been determined to be “almost certainly from MH370,” according to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau. Those discoveries, however, haven’t brought much clarity to the mystery of where the plane may be.
“All debris found does not say where it came from,” Liow said. “It is based on the drift patterns. The debris cannot tell us where the plane is.”