A private search for Flight MH370 will end in the coming days, an exploration firm said Tuesday, some four years after the plane disappeared in 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 it was found in a 120,000-square kilometre (46,000-square mile) Indian Ocean search zone and the Australian-led hunt, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year.
After pressure from families, the Malaysian government struck a deal with US exploration firm Ocean Infinity to restart the search in January on condition it would only be paid if the Boeing 777 or its black boxes were found.
The firm stood to make up to $70 million if successful but found no sign of the airliner despite scouring the seabed with some of the world’s most high-tech search equipment.
The hunt was officially meant to end in late April but was extended. However, the new Malaysian government of Mahathir Mohamad, which came to power after a shock election win this month, announced last week the search was set to end.
Texas-based Ocean Infinity said in a statement Tuesday that “its current search for the wreckage of… Flight MH370 is shortly coming to an end”.
A spokesman added the hunt would end in the coming days, without giving a precise date.
Ocean Infinity chief executive Oliver Plunkett said the failure to find the wreckage was “extremely disappointing” but he hoped that his company would be able to “again offer our services in the search for MH370 in future”.
Malaysia’s new government has not indicated that it wants to revive the search but has pledged to be more open about the mystery. Transport Minister Anthony Loke said Monday that a full report into MH370’s disappearance would be published soon.
“There will not be any edits, nothing will be hidden,” he told reporters.
Ocean Infinity said it had scoured over 112,000 square kilometres of seabed, including 25,000 square kilometres north of the original search zone which scientists later identified as the most likely crash site.
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, able to operate at depths up to 6,000 metres (20,000 feet).
Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.
The jet’s disappearance remains one of the most enduring aviation mysteries of all time and has spawned a host of theories, with some blaming a hijacking or even a terror plot.