MH370 search called off after three largely fruitless years

After three years, the Joint Agency Co-ordination Centre in Australia has called off the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

In December the search team dwindled to just one ship after a Chinese vessel pulled out and headed home to Shanghai. 

Dutch survey ship Fugro Equator was left to finish the search of a desolate stretch of the Indian Ocean on its own, a task it has now completed albeit without finding a single trace of the plane.

The centre said on Tuesday that the search had officially been suspended after crews finished their fruitless sweep of the 46,000-square mile search zone west of Australia.

The end of the hunt raises the prospect that the world’s greatest aviation mystery may never be solved.

For the families of the 239 people on board, the suspension of the search is particularly bitter following a recent acknowledgement by officials that they had been looking for the plane in the wrong place. 

The centre helped to lead the £133m hunt for the Boeing 777 in remote waters west of Australia.

“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,” it said.

“Accordingly, the underwater search for MH370 has been suspended.”

Officials investigating the plane’s disappearance have recommended that search crews head north to a new area identified in a recent analysis as a possible crash site, but the Australian government has already rejected that idea.

Last year Australia, Malaysia and China - which have each helped fund the search - agreed that the hunt would be suspended once the search zone was exhausted unless new evidence emerged pinpointing the plane’s specific location.

Since no technology currently exists that can tell investigators exactly where the plane is, that effectively means the most expensive, complex search in aviation history is over.

There is the possibility that a private donor could offer to bankroll a new search, or that Malaysia will provide fresh funds, but no-one has stepped up yet.

In December, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau announced that a review of the data used to estimate where the plane crashed, coupled with new information on ocean currents, strongly suggested the plane hit the water in an area directly north of the search zone.

But Australia’s government rejected a recommendation from the bureau that crews be allowed to search the new area to the north, saying the results of the experts’ analysis were not precise enough to justify continuing the hunt.

The three countries’ transport ministers reiterated that view on Tuesday, noting: “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.”

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