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The hunt for Flight MH370 may resume if new evidence comes to light, Malaysia's prime minister said Wednesday, as a private search for the plane draws to a close.
The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished in March 2014 with 239 people - mostly from China - on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
US exploration firm Ocean Infinity was contracted for a three-month search for the Boeing 777 on a "no find, no fee basis", which is set to end in the coming days after finding no sign of the wreckage.
The private search came after an Australian-led hunt, which covered a vast area of the southern Indian Ocean and was the most expensive in aviation history, was suspended last year.
Mahathir Mohamad, who became Malaysia's premier for a second time after a shock election victory, indicated the government had no plans at the moment to resume the hunt.
"We have come to a stage where we cannot keep searching for something we cannot find," he told a press conference.
"We understand the feelings of the relatives, but we cannot allow the search to go on forever."
But he added: "If we find any new information, we may resume the search."
Ocean Infinity had stood to make up to $70 million if it found the jet or its black boxes.
The private US firm scoured over 112,000 square kilometres (43,000 square miles) of seabed.
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.
Australia holds hope MH370 will be found as last search ends
Australia said Tuesday that it was holding out hope that Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 would one day be found, as the last search of the seabed in the remote Indian Ocean where the plane was believed to have been lost was scheduled to end.
Malaysia said last week that the search by Texas-based company Ocean Infinity would end on Tuesday after two extensions of the original 90-day time limit.
Australian Transport Minister Michael McCormack said the four-year search had been the largest in aviation history and tested the limits of technology and the capacity of experts and people at sea.
“Our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the 239 people on board MH370,” McCormack’s office said in a statement. “We will always remain hopeful that one day the aircraft will be located.”
Malaysia signed a “no cure, no fee” deal with Ocean Infinity in January to resume the hunt for the plane, a year after the official search in the southern Indian Ocean by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off. No other search is scheduled.
Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in 2016 that an official search would only resume if the three countries had credible evidence that identified a specific location for the wreckage.
Malaysia said last week that an Ocean Infinity ship Seabed Contractor operating underwater sonar drones had searched more than 96,000 square kilometers (37,000 square miles) of sea. The search area deemed by experts to be the most likely crash site was only 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles), roughly the size of Vermont.
Ocean Infinity did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The Boeing 777 vanished on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. The original search focused on the South China Sea before analysis revealed that the plane had made an unexpected turn west and then south.
Australia coordinated an official search on Malaysia’s behalf that scoured 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) and cost 200 million Australian dollars ($150 million) before it ended last year.
Danica Weeks, an Australian resident who lost her husband on Flight 370, urged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to call on Malaysia’s new government to be more transparent about what they knew about the mysterious disappearance.
“There’ve been so many theories and rumors and … we don’t know what is true and what isn’t,” Weeks told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“I want Julie Bishop to say to the Malaysian counterparts now: What do you have? Where is the investigation at?” she added.
The director of the official seabed hunt that ended last year, Peter Foley, told an Australian Senate committee hearing last week that he still hoped that Ocean Infinity would be successful.
“If they’re not, of course, that would be a great sadness for all of us,” Foley said.
Jiang Hui of China, whose mother was on board the plane, said in March that he was grateful for Ocean Infinity’s courage to mount the search. But he said he hoped it would not be the end if the mission failed and proposed that a public fund be set up to continue the search.
“Without a search, there will be no truth,” Jiang said.
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