Malaysia has announced the A$200 million hunt for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 will end within two weeks, despite pleas that authorities push on with the search of a vast expanse of the far southern Indian Ocean.
“We’re at the final lap within these two weeks,” transport minister Liow Tiong Lai told reporters, adding “we hope we can still find the plane.”
Mr Liow dampened hopes the search would be extended following a recommendation by investigators to search a new 25,000 kilometre area north of where it was first thought the plane crashed in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board.
He said the imminent completion of a search of a 120,000 square kilometre area would end the most expensive and extensive search for an aircraft in history, in the absence of any “credible clue” suggesting it be extended.
The Turnbull government has also said the plane’s exact location would need to be pinpointed before more resources are committed to scouring any new area.
Aviation experts say one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries is likely to never be solved unless the plane is found and its black box recorders recovered.
Parts of the missing aircraft have been found on the shores African nation Tanzania as well as the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion and Mauritius.
A slew of theories have been raised to try to explain how the plane veered thousands of kilometres off course during a night flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, including pilot hijacking or a catastrophic malfunction on board the Boeing 777.
Some of the more outrageous conspiracy theories include that it was shot down by the US military or hijacked by Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Mr Liow said a meeting of officials from Australia, Malaysia and China would be held to discuss the search after the release of a final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which has been leading the search mission.
Many of the passengers were Chinese.
The bureau said in a report last month that there was “a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft.”
“Given the elimination of this area, the experts identified an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres as the area with the highest probability of containing the wreckage of the aircraft,” the report said, adding experts “were in agreement on the need to search” the additional area.
But Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester said the “information in the ATSB report, however, does not give a specific location of the missing aircraft”.
Many relatives of victims have long been sceptical the two-year search was underway in the right place.
In a statement the international group of MH370 next-of-kin called on Malaysia, Australia and China to consider the next step before the current search ends.
“Extending the search to the new area defined by experts is an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety,” it said.
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