Hope has turned to anger for the families of those on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 after the search for the missing aircraft was officially called off.
The plane carrying 239 passengers and crew, including six Australians, disappeared nearly three years ago – on March 8, 2014 – while travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing.
Transport ministers from the Australian, Malaysian and Chinese governments on Tuesday suspended the underwater search of 120,000 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean floor until there is any new credible evidence.
Perth woman Danica Weeks, whose husband Paul was on the flight, is angry at the decision, and particularly with the Malaysian government.
“I’m still processing it, it’s unacceptable, it’s just disgusting really,” Ms Weeks, who has two young sons, told AAP.
Ending the search also ended hope for families of the passengers that they would find out what happened.
“It is their plane, their responsibility, they’re the ones that promised they would bring them home and now they are just giving up,” she said.
“We want answers, we want to know where our loved ones are, how they ended up there.
“It is a commercial airplane, it’s not just about us, it’s about everybody that flies. We need answers, Boeing needs answers, the Malaysian government needs answers, Malaysia Airlines, the whole lot need to know what happened.”
In July last year authorities warned the hunt would be suspended if the latest search did not yield any results.
In a joint statement, the Australian, Malaysian and Chinese governments said the decision to abandon the search was not taken lightly.
“Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting-edge technology, as well as modelling and advice from highly skilled professionals who are the best in their field, unfortunately, the search has not been able to locate the aircraft,” the statement said.
“Whilst combined scientific studies have continued to refine areas of probability, to date no new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft.”
Other relatives have expressed their disappointment and anger, including Jennifer Chong, whose husband Cong Ling Tan was a passenger and who is suing the airline, and KS Narendran, whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on board.
‘They are extremely close to finding it’
Ms Weeks and other families questioned why the search was being called off when the Australian Transport Safety Bureau released findings by experts on December 20 calling for a new area of 25,000 square kilometres to be searched in the southern Indian Ocean.
Also on Tuesday, Australian aviation expert Geoffrey Thomas launched a scathing attack on Malaysian authorities, claiming they had no interest in finding the plane.
“The tragedy here is they are extremely close to finding it because of the new evidence of refinement of the flight path of the aircraft because of the debris in the western Indian Ocean,” the West Australian’s aviation editor told Sky News.
“With that debris being found the CSIRO’s done some amazing work on reverse strip modelling and identified a new area of 25,000 square kilometres just adjacent to the 120,000 they’ve been searching for the last two and a half years.
“This is an international team of experts that have said, ‘this is where it is’, yet the Malaysians are walking away from this.
“Malaysia doesn’t want to find this aeroplane, they just hope this whole thing will just go away.”
Authorities thank search teams
The three governments’ representatives said they had been overwhelmed by the commitment and dedication of those involved in the search.
“Their tireless work has continued to improve our knowledge of the search area and has been critical in our efforts to locate the aircraft,” the statement said.
“We would like to reiterate our utmost appreciation to the many nations that have provided expertise and assistance since the early days of this unfortunate tragedy.”
Earlier this month, Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai rejected calls from relatives of passengers on board the MH370 to extend the search.
Australian authorities also rejected calls to extend the search, claiming there was a lack of credible evidence.
A total of 33 pieces of wreckage suspected to be from the plane have been found, including parts of wings and a tail, on the shores of Mauritius, the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, Mozambique, Tanzania and South Africa.
The three representatives, including Australian Transport Minister Darren Chester, said the announcement was an important development for the families of passengers and crew.
“We again take this opportunity to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives and acknowledge the enormous loss felt by their loved ones,” they said.
“We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future the aircraft will be located.”
In December, an Australian government report found authorities had likely been looking in the wrong section of ocean.
“There is a high degree of confidence that the previously identified underwater area searched to date does not contain the missing aircraft,” the Australian Transport Safety Bureau report said.
At the time, Mr Chester said he was still hopeful authorities would find the plane in the search area.
A report released by the ATSB a month earlier found it was unlikely the Boeing 777 was in a controlled descent when it crashed into the ocean.
Its disappearance is one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
– Brandon Cohen, with AAP/ABC