Authorities have agreed to continue the underwater search for MH370 for another year and double the size of the hunt if the plane is not found within weeks in the current zone in the Indian Ocean.
Pledging to bring "peace to the families", ministers from Malaysia, Australia and China held a meeting in Malaysia and agreed to continue the operation in a new zone covering another 23,000 square miles.
Four ships are currently scouring an area of the same size and have searched more than 60pc of it; they are due to finish the zone in May. The search has already cost more than £60m, paid largely by Malaysia and Australia.
"Should the aircraft not be found within the current search area, ministers agreed to extend the search by an additional 60,000 square kilometres to bring the search area to 120,000 square kilometres and thereby cover the entire highest probability area identified by expert analysis," the search authority said in a statement.
"Ministers recognise the additional search area may take up to a year to complete given the adverse weather conditions in the forthcoming winter months."
The authority said it will then have covered "all high probability search areas" but did not indicate what it may do if the plane is not discovered.
No trace of the Boeing 777 has been found since it disappeared while carrying 239 passengers from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March last year.
Experts believe the Malaysia Airlines plane continued flying for more than seven hours after it disappeared from radars before landing in the Indian Ocean off the coast of western Australia.
At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, ministers from the three countries overseeing the search said they would ensure recovery arrangements were in place in case the plane is found.
"Ministers remain committed to bring closure and some peace to the families and loved ones of those on board," the ministers said.
The search authority said in an update this week that the current zone will be finished in May, "assuming no significant delays with vessels, equipment or from the weather".
The reaction to yesterday's announcement was mixed among the Chinese relatives of MH370 passengers. "I think it is good news that they will continue to search, but the search needs to be transparent and they must let us supervise it," said Jiang Hu, whose mother was on the flight.
However, many relatives remain convinced that they have not been told the full truth about what happened and believe the search is happening in the wrong area. "There isn't any direct evidence to prove the plane is there," said Jack Song, whose sister was on the plane.
"Without investigation, searching is blind," Mr Jiang agreed. "At this point, I think their search is blind and will be in vain," she said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)