A last-ditch search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is expected to end in June, the Southeast Asian nation said on Saturday, as grieving families marked the fourth anniversary of one of biggest aviation mysteries of all time.
Flight MH370, carrying 239 people, disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014. Investigators called off the underwater search last year after no trace of the wreckage was found in a 46,000 square mile area in the Indian Ocean.
In their latest effort, Malaysia agreed to pay Ocean Infinity of Houston up to $70 million if it finds the plane within 90 days. The countdown doesn’t include refueling stops or days lost to bad weather.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said the firm’s search is going smoothly and is expected to end by mid-June.
“The whole world, including the next of kin, have (new) hope to find the plane for closure,” he told reporters at a remembrance event at a shopping mall near Kuala Lumpur. “For the aviation world, we want to know what exactly happened to the plane.”
Officials have said there was an 85 percent chance of finding the debris in a new 9,650-square-mile search area — roughly the size of Vermont — identified by experts.
The plane was on a routine flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board when it disappeared.
The official search was extremely difficult because no transmissions were received from the aircraft after its first 38 minutes of flight. Systems designed to automatically transmit the flight’s position failed to work after this point, according to a final report issued in January 2017 by the Australian Transport Safety Board.
Family members lit candles on a stage Saturday and observed a moment of silence during the three-hour event. Most are split over whether the search will be fruitful.
“It doesn’t renew (any hope) because I also have to be realistic. It has been four years,” said Intan Maizura Othman, whose husband was a flight attendant on the plane. She was pregnant when the plane disappeared and attended the event with her now 4-year-old son.
Jiang Hui, of China, whose mother was on board the plane, said that he was grateful for Ocean Infinity’s courage to mount the search, but that he hopes it will not be the end if the mission fails. He proposed for a public fund to be set up to continue the search.
“Without a search, there will be no truth,” Jiang said.
Investigators disagree on whether the aircraft suffered a mechanical failure or whether it was deliberately diverted over the southern Indian Ocean, Reuters reported Saturday.
Debris has been collected from Indian Ocean islands and Africa’s east coast and at least three pieces have been confirmed as coming from the missing plane, according to the news agency.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.