A woman writes a message of hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on a banner at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Picture: REUTERS
A woman writes a message of hope for the passengers of the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 on a banner at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. Picture: REUTERS

Kuala Lumpur — The search for flight MH370 will end next week, Malaysia’s transport minister said on Wednesday, more than four years after the plane disappeared and triggered one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.

The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished in March 2014 with 239 people — mostly from China — on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000km² 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 on the condition it would only be paid if the jet or its black boxes were found. The firm, which deployed hi-tech underwater drones in its hunt, stood to make up to $70m if successful.

Malaysia’s transport minister Anthony Loke, part of the new government that came to power following the May 9 elections, said the hunt was officially meant to finish in April but had been extended, and would come an end next week. "The search will continue until May 29," he told reporters.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had said earlier that the contract with Ocean Infinity was being reviewed.

Grace Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on the plane, said the news was not a surprise but said the government should leave the "no find, no fee" offer on the table in case a company wants to take on the search in 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.

The new hunt started in late January in an area of about 25,000km² in the southern Indian Ocean, north of the former search area. The ship conducting the hunt, Seabed Constructor, was a Norwegian research vessel carrying 65 crew, including two members of the Malaysian navy as the government’s representatives.

It used eight autonomous drones, equipped with sonars and cameras, that scoured the waters for wreckage and can operate in depths up to 6,000m. However, it did not find any sign of the jet.

Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a 2m wing part known as a flaperon.

AFP

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