Search for missing Malaysian plane suspended, families cry foul

Last Updated 17 January 2017, 10:54 IST

The arduous underwater search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was suspended today, nearly three years after the plane vanished mysteriously over the Indian Ocean with 239 people, including five Indians, angering the grieving families who termed the move "irresponsible."

"Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting edge technology, as well as modeling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft," according to a joint statement issued by Chinese, Australian and Malaysian officials.

The three countries had been leading the massive underwater search for Flight MH370, which disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

"Accordingly, the underwater search for MH370 has been suspended. The decision to suspend the underwater search has not been taken lightly nor without sadness," the statement said.

The Boeing 777-200's disappearance remains one of the greatest aviation mysteries in modern history. Searchers spent millions of dollars scouring tens of thousands of square miles, but so far have yielded little new information about the plane's final moments.

In July last year, Australia, China and Malaysia agreed that if the aircraft was not located by the time 120,000 square kilometres had been covered, the search would be suspended.

There were 14 nationalities represented in the 227 passengers and 12 crew travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The majority - 153 people - were Chinese. There were five Indians and one Indian-origin Canadian on board.

The five Indians, including three from one family, were identified as Chetna Kolekar, 55, Swanand Kolekar, 23, Vinod Kolekar, 59, Chandrika Sharma, 51, and Kranti Shirsatha, 44. An Indo-Canadian, Muktesh Mukherjee, 42, was also on board.

So far only seven of the 20 pieces of recovered debris have been identified as definitely or highly likely to be from the Boeing 777. A report in November 2016 said the plane probably made a "high and increasing rate of descent" into the Indian Ocean.

But today's joint statement said "no new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft" despite numerous studies, but the three countries remained hopeful this would happen in the future.

Reacting to the development, K S Narendran, who lost his wife of 25 years, Chandrika Sharma, said he was "perplexed and disappointed."

Voice370, a family support group, said the search must continue and be extended to include an area of some 25,000 sq km north of the current one, recommended by a report released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau last December. It was "an inescapable duty owed to the flying public in the interests of aviation safety".

"Stopping at this stage is nothing short of irresponsible, and betrays a shocking lack of faith in the data, tools and recommendations of an array of official experts assembled by the authorities themselves," the statement said.

According to what is known, Flight MH370 departed Kuala Lumpur International Airport for Beijing at 12:41 a.m. local time on March 8, 2014. It was heading north but after its last message of "Good night Malaysian Three Seven Zero," it changed course toward the west, according to a Malaysian military radar. From there, investigators believe it turned south around the edge of Indonesia and across the vast Indian Ocean.

Investigators confirmed in July that MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had tracked a route deep into the Indian Ocean on his home flight simulator, very similar to the one officials believe the missing plane took.

Based on some of the wreckage that's been found, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau determined the wing flaps had been stowed when MH370 crashed.

The report suggested the plane had been out of control, spiraling downward at a rate of almost 300 miles per hour at its last satellite transmission.

These findings suggested "two early hypotheses," according to CNN aviation analyst Mary Schiavo; either that a fire on board the plane incapacitated everyone through smoke or fumes, or that a rapid decompression, perhaps because of a breach in a window, led to their deaths hours before the plane ran out of fuel and spiraled downward. 

(Published 17 January 2017, 07:03 IST)

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