Two months into a new MH370 search operation conducted by a US company, a Malaysian official has given new hope to families of passengers by announcing that the search is going smoothly and will likely end in June.
The Texas-based exploration firm Ocean Infinity began its search for the missing plane on 22 January, a year after the Malaysian, Australian and Chinese governments called off their official search in the southern Indian Ocean.
Operating on a “no find, no fee” basis, Ocean Infinity has 90 days to look for the plane in a 25,000 square kilometre search area. Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said on the weekend, however, that only days spent actively searching would be included in the agreed 90-day search period, and that the mission would therefore likely extend beyond the initial 90-day period.
“The whole world, including the next of kin, have [new] hope to find the plane for closure,” Azharuddin told reporters on the weekend at an event in Kuala Lumpur to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance. “For the aviation world, we want to know what exactly happened to the plane.”
Should Ocean Infinity be successful in its mission, it will be paid according to the size of the search area. Malaysia has said it will pay $20m for 5,000 square kilometres searched, $30m for 15,000 square kilometres, $50m for 25,000 square kilometres, and $70m if the plane or flight recorders are found beyond the designated search area.
But while Azharuddin has said that it is too early to say that the latest search will fail to recover the missing plane, experts remain doubtful about the mission’s chances of success.
Leading international air crash investigator Larry Vance told The Australian that the operation would continue to come up empty because it was based on the same theories underpinning the Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s failed underwater search operation, which lasted for 1,046 days and cost $157m.
Vance and many senior air pilots believe that MH370 pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah hijacked his own aircraft and flew it until it ran out of fuel and crashed.
The plane disappeared on 8 March 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The majority of its 239 passengers were Chinese citizens returning home.
Jiang Hui of China, whose mother was on board the plane, told Associated Press that he was grateful for Ocean Infinity’s efforts and that he hoped the search would continue even if the latest mission ended in failure.
“Without a search, there will be no truth,” he said.