On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from civilian radar en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers aboard. No distress call was recorded. And now, after nearly three years, a futile and frustrating search has seemingly ended.
The Joint Agency Coordination Center in Australia, which led the hunt for the missing Boeing 777, said in a statement issued on Tuesday that it had officially suspended the search. Around US$150 million has been spent so far to comb through a 46,000 square mile (120,000 square kilometer) area west of Australia.
In the statement, the agency said, “Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting-edge technology, as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft. Accordingly, the underwater search for MH370 has been suspended.” The statement, a joint communiqué between the transport ministers of Australia, Malaysia and China, added, “The decision to suspend the underwater search has not been taken lightly nor without sadness.”
The investigation was controversial to begin with, as the Malaysian government released contradictory information in the first few days after the disappearance. Its reluctance to share information with foreign experts early on was highly criticized. After several false signals, Australia took charge, and the search moved around 1,100 miles west of Australia.
In July 2015, a wing flap was found on Reunion Island, east of Madagascar, confirming that the plane had crashed in the Indian Ocean. Since then, more than 20 objects linked to the plane have been found on Indian Ocean beaches.
Another twist came in December 2016, when Australia's Transport Safety Bureau said it may have been looking in the wrong place the entire time. It recommended moving the search more than 200 miles north. This was after it took another look at modeling of ocean currents and satellite data.
The Australian government, though, seems to have run out of patience, or funds, as it rejected the bureau's recommendation. It argued the analysis wasn’t precise enough to justify extending the search. The joint statement released on Tuesday also said, “Whilst combined scientific studies have continued to refine areas of probability, to date no new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft.”
Reactions from those affected are not surprising. Voice 370, a support group for relatives of the missing Chinese passengers, said moving the search to the newly identified area was “an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety.”
Jiang Hui, a 42-year-old whose mother was onboard the ill-fated flight, said he was “very disappointed, sad and angry,” adding that, “It's just that that each government just doesn't want to contribute more money.” Grace Nathan, whose mother was onboard the flight when it disappeared said, “It continues to be frustrating and we just hope they will continue to search... They've already searched 120,000 square kilometers. What is another 25,000?”
Danica Weeks, whose husband went missing with the plane, was also clearly frustrated with the decision to suspend the search. She said, “I'm still processing it, it's unacceptable, it's just disgusting really. It is their plane, their responsibility, they're the ones that promised they would bring them home and now they are just giving up.” She added that her battle is far from over, saying, “We will keep fighting, if Malaysia thinks it's just going to disappear on them then they have got another thing coming ... I'm not going to leave him out there or wherever he is, we're not going to leave our loved ones out there.”
On Wednesday, Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester said he did not “rule out a future underwater search by any stretch.” He added that while cost was not a determining factor in halting the search, restarting it would require “credible new information which leads to a specific location.”
The possibility of a private donor offering to finance a new search exists, and Malaysia might consider allocating more funds. However, since no one has stepped up yet, there is a chance that this aviation mystery may remain unsolved.