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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Australia, Malaysia, China halt MH370 undersea search

The deep ocean hunt for missing passenger jet MH370 has been suspended after nearly three years without result, the Australian, Malaysian and Chinese governments said Tuesday.

The Malaysia Airlines aircraft disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, carrying 239 people in what has become one of aviation's great mysteries.

The plane "has not been located" in the 120,000 square kilometre (46,000 square mile) search area of the southern Indian Ocean, a statement from the three nations said.

"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," the statement added.

"Accordingly, the underwater search for MH370 has been suspended."

The governments said the suspension, which was flagged by Malaysia earlier this month, was not "taken lightly nor without sadness" but that "to date no new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft".

"We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located."

Investigators have so far confirmed that three pieces of debris washed up and recovered on western Indian Ocean shorelines came from MH370.

Other items recovered mostly on western Indian Ocean shorelines have been identified as likely, though not definitely, from MH370.

New analysis by Australian and international experts released in December concluded MH370 was not in the search zone -- a long stretch of water within the so-called seventh arc where the plane was calculated to have emitted a final satellite "handshake" -- and might be further north.

They identified an area of approximately 25,000 square kilometres with the highest probability of containing wreckage, but Australia and Malaysia said the report did not constitute a strong enough lead to extend the search.

- MH370 relatives 'dismayed' -

Next-of-kin association Voice370 said it was "dismayed" with the suspension and called on authorities to extend the hunt, which has cost upwards of Aus$180 million (US$135 million).

"In our view, extending the search to the new area defined by the experts is an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interest of aviation safety," Voice370 said in a statement.

"Commercial planes cannot just be allowed to disappear without a trace."

Many next-of-kin have repeatedly complained about the lack of a coordinated search in the western Indian Ocean and along the African coast, and late last year, some relatives travelled to Madagascar to comb beaches for clues about the lost plane.

Analysis of one piece of debris found off Tanzania -- the right outboard flap -- found it was retracted, suggesting the plane was not configured for landing before it crashed into the ocean.

The finding published in November had cast doubt on theories that a pilot had been flying the plane when it landed in the sea.

But the lack of a final resting place for MH370 has spawned numerous ideas, including that it was a hijacking or terror plot.

The jet's captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah also came under scrutiny, but a French background check of the passengers and crew did not uncover anything suspicious, sources told AFP in early January.

The search for MH370 was on an unprecedented scale and in one of the world's remotest locations, where winds tear up north from Antarctica whipping up mountainous seas.

A. Amirtham, 62, whose only son S. Puspanathan was on board MH370, spoke of the pain she and her husband G. Subramaniam have endured over the years.

"Deep down in my heart, I believe he is alive," she told AFP in Kuala Lumpur.

"How can they stop the search when they have not found the plane? I am sad and confused because I just do not know if my son is dead or alive."

By Glenda Kwek

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