The search for flight MH370 will end more than four years after the plane disappeared, triggering one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.
Anthony Loke, part of Malaysia’s new government that came to power following May 9 elections, said on Tuesday the hunt was officially meant to finish in April but had been extended.
“The search will continue until May 29,” he told reporters.
Hopes fade for flight MH370
The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished in March 2014 with 239 people on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
The airliner wasn’t found during a 120,000-square kilometre sea search zone and the Australian-led hunt, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year.
After pressure from family members, the former Malaysian government struck a deal with US exploration firm Ocean Infinity to restart the search in January on the condition it would only be paid if the Boeing 777 or its black boxes were found.
The company stood to make up to $70m if successful, but it did not find any sign of the plane despite scouring the seabed with some of the world’s most hi-tech search equipment.
Ocean Infinity Chief Executive Oliver Plunkett said he was pleased Malaysia had made finding the aircraft a priority.
“I would firstly like to extend the thoughts of everyone at Ocean Infinity to the families of those who have lost loved ones on MH370. Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected,” Plunkett said in a statement.
“It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim.”
The new hunt was in an area of about 25,000-square kilometres in the southern Indian Ocean, north of the former search area.
The ship operated by the company used eight autonomous drones equipped with sonars and cameras that scoured the waters for wreckage in depths up to 6,000 metres.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said earlier the contract with Ocean Infinity was being reviewed, as his administration seeks to cut costs after accusing the allegedly corrupt former regime of leaving the public finances in bad shape.
‘Important for many reasons’
Grace Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer whose mother Anne Daisy was on the missing plane, said the news wasn’t a surprise but added the government should leave the “no find, no fee” offer on the table in case a company wants to take on the search in the future.
“We can’t tell [the government] what to do but for me and the families… finding the plane is important for many reasons,” she told AFP news agency.
Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.
The jet’s disappearance stands as one of the most enduring aviation mysteries of all time and has spawned a host of theories.
Earlier this week, Australian investigators defended their findings that the plane was out of control when it plunged into the ocean, after a theory that a rogue pilot deliberately crashed the airliner was revived in a book by a Canadian air crash investigator.