Malaysia’s civil aviation chief has announced the current search for MH370 will end in June, as families of passengers held a commemorative ceremony ahead of the fourth anniversary of the plane’s disappearance.
Malaysia inked a “no cure, no fee” deal with Texas-based Ocean Infinity in January to resume the hunt for the plane, a year after the official search in the southern Indian Ocean by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off.
Ocean Infinity started the search on January 22 and has 90 search days to look for the plane.
Malaysia’s civil aviation chief Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said the 90-day term will spread over a few months because the search vessel has to refuel in Australia and bad weather could be a factor.
Mr Azharuddin said the search was going smoothly and was expected to end by mid-June.
“The whole world, including the next of kin, have hope to find the plane for closure,” he told reporters on Saturday at a remembrance event at a shopping mall in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
“For the aviation world, we want to know what exactly happened to the plane.”
Officials have said there was an 85 per cent chance of finding the debris in a new 25,000-square-kilometre search area identified by experts.
If the mission is successful within three months, payment will be made based on the size of the area searched. Malaysia says it will pay Ocean Infinity $US20 million for 5000 square kilometres of a successful search, $US30 million for 15,000 square kilometres, $US50 million for 25,000 square kilometres and $US70 million if the plane or flight recorders are found beyond the identified area.
The plane vanished on March 8, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board, including six Australians.
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 on Saturday and observed a minute’s silence during the three-hour event, less than a week before the official date of the plane’s disappearance. Most are split over whether the search will be fruitful.
The memorial event at an outdoor open space of a mall in Kuala Lumpur included shows by local performers and tributes by the next of kin from India, Malaysia and China.
The event also saw experts speak about air crash investigations, the psychological impact of the case and the importance of family support associations for the victims.
Since 2015 only two pieces of wreckage have been confirmed to be from the missing airliner, despite suspected debris found by Blaine Alan Gibson, a US private investigator who conducted his own search effort.
“I’m happy the search has been resumed,” Mr Blaine told dpa on Saturday.
“I hope the black box is found … otherwise I will continue my search.”
Grace Nathan, a lawyer in Malaysia whose mother was on the plane, thanked members of the media.
“Four years is not a short amount of time, so we appreciate your commitment to this cause,” Ms Nathan, who became emotional as she recalled the last conversation she had with her mother, said.