The search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will end next week with the new Malaysian government calling time on the extended search by a US contractor due to budgetary constraints.
After the three-year search coordinated by Australian authorities ended last year without success, the former Malaysian government engaged US-based private contractor Ocean Infinity to continue the hunt for the plane, which disappeared on March 8, 2014 after leaving Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing with 239 people aboard.
While the US company took on the job on a no-find, no-fee basis, the longer the search continued the higher the cost – up to a potential $A93 million to Malaysia if the plane was found by mid-June.
Just 48 hours into his new role as Malaysia’s Transport Minister, Anthony Loke Siew Fook said on Wednesday that the government had agreed to extend the search until May 29.
Malaysia engaged the company’s search ship Seabed Constructor for a 90-day investigation of the 25,000 square kilometres “priority area” of Indian Ocean floor that Australia’s peak science body, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) determined last year had the “highest likelihood” of being the plane’s final resting place.
The previous $200 million search scanned more than 120,000km² of the ocean floor without success, ending in January 2017.
Three weeks ago, as the Seabed Constructor headed to Perth, Australia, to refuel and change crew, Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said that despite searching nearly 80,000 km² of ocean floor since January, no trace of the plane had been found.
“Whilst it’s disappointing there has been no sign of MH370 in the Australian Transport Safety Bureau search area and further north, there is still some search time remaining,” he said.
“Everyone at Ocean Infinity remains absolutely determined for the remainder of the search.”
The last report from Malaysian authorities on May 15 said the Seabed Constructor returned to site 3 of the search area on May 7 and had searched an additional 6,000km² of ocean floor.
The search was due to end in the next few weeks as the weather worsens in the southern Indian Ocean.
But Malaysia’s new Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is believing to be dealing with a government debt problem of up to 1 trillion ringgit ($250 billion) and looking to cut costs.
The transport minister said there would be no further extensions of the search for MH370, giving the Seabed Constructor just five more days to find the plane.
The release of a final report into the investigation of the plane’s disappearance will be released after the search ends.
Meanwhile, Australian authorities have rejected a theory by a Canadian air crash safety investigator, Larry Vance, that the pilot deliberately crashed the plane in a murder-suicide.
Lance wrote a book on MH370 and appeared on Australia’s version of “60 Minutes” to air his theory that the pilot flew the plane to where it would vanish, taking it down in a “controlled ditching.”
But Peter Foley, the MH370 search director at the Australian Transport Safety Bureau told a parliamentary committee this week the theory was implausible and debris from the plane suggested a high impact crash.
“If it was being controlled at the end, it wasn’t very successfully being controlled,” Mr Foley said. “The flaps weren’t deployed.”
The Australian investigation concluded the plane most likely crashed when it ran out of fuel.
Just where, taking the lives of 239 people from 14 countries, including six Australians, will remain a mystery for many years to come.