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Saturday 24 February 2018

Relatives angry after search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 ends

Relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, comfort each other before a meeting with officials in Beijing (AP/Ng Han Guan)
Relatives of passengers on board the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, comfort each other before a meeting with officials in Beijing (AP/Ng Han Guan)

Relatives of the Chinese citizens aboard doomed Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 say the authorities who ended the search for the plane are deceiving them.

Their angry comments came as Australia defended th e decision to call off the hunt, and insisted that the enormous cost had nothing to do with the decision.

Dozens of relatives gathered in Beijing on Wednesday, one day after Australia, China and Malaysia called an end to a nearly three-year search for the plane. Nearly two-thirds of the 239 people on board were Chinese.

Zhang Meiling, whose 37-year-old daughter was on board, told reporters that the authorities have "cheated us for the past three years".

Another relative, Dai Shuqing, said the authorities were "wasting time" and owed them an explanation for why they failed to find the plane or the victims.

Several of the attendees were crying, and shouting could be heard from outside the meeting.

The sister of the Flight 370 pilot has criticised the authorities for ending the search despite earlier being confident the plane was in the area.

Sakinab Shah said the unresolved mystery meant that her brother, senior pilot Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, will not be free of the accusations that he turned rogue and crashed the plane deliberately.

"How can they end the search like that? There will be finger-pointing again," she said.

"They just don't give a damn about people's feelings. They were so cocksure it was there but after three years and so much money and manpower poured in, what came out of it? How do they answer that?"

Australia's transport minister Darren Chester said experts will continue analysing data and scrutinising debris washing ashore from the plane in a bid to narrow down where it crashed in the southern Indian Ocean.

But he declined to specify what kind of breakthrough would convince officials to resume the search for the missing airliner.

"When we get some information or data or a breakthrough that leads us to a specific location, the experts will know it when they see it," he said.

The sonar seabed search ended on Tuesday, possibly forever - not because investigators have run out of leads, but because the countries involved in the expensive and vast deep-sea hunt have shown no appetite for opening another big phase.

Late last year, as ships with high-tech search equipment covered the last strips of the 46,000-square mile search zone west of Australia, experts concluded they had been looking in the wrong place and should have been searching a smaller area immediately to the north.

But by then, £130 million had already been spent by Malaysia, Australia and China, who had previously agreed not to search elsewhere without pinpoint evidence of the plane's location.

Since no technology currently exists that can tell investigators exactly where the plane is, that means the most expensive, complex search in aviation history is over, barring a change of heart from the three countries.

Mr Chester defended the decision to call off the hunt without checking the new area to the north: "No-one is coming to me as minister and saying, 'We know where MH370 is'."

And he insisted the enormous cost had nothing to do with pulling the plug.

"It is a costly exercise, but it hasn't been the factor which led to the decision to suspend the search," he said.

"We don't want to provide false hope to the families and friends. We need to have credible new evidence leading to a specific location before we would be reasonably considering future search efforts."

Mr Chester said he had not given up hope that the plane may one day be found.

"It's an extraordinary aviation mystery as it stands today," he said.

"I'm hopeful that we have a breakthrough in the future. We need to prepare ourselves for the sad and tragic reality that in this foreseeable future, we may not find MH370."

There is the possibility that a private donor could offer to bankroll a new search. But no-one has stepped up yet, raising the bleak possibility that the world's greatest aviation mystery may never be solved.


Press Association

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