SINGAPORE: Some of the still grieving family members of the 239 people on the missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, including Indians, have urged the new Malaysian government to renew the search for the plane after the latest, privately funded search ended today.
The Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared on March 23, 2014 while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, in what has become one of the world's biggest aviation mysteries.
The initial search, carried out by Malaysia, China, and Australia, was called off in January last year after failing to find any trace of the Boeing 777 aircraft within a 710,000- plus square kilometre area of the Indian Ocean.
Malaysia had agreed to a request by the US company operating the search, Ocean Infinity, to extend the hunt until May 29. It was given 90 days to find MH370 on a "no-find, no-fee" basis. The Texas-based company also failed to find anything from the Indian Ocean floor and the Malaysian government had indicated that it has no plans to begin any new searches.
"Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected. It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim," Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said in a statement. He also acknowledged that the outcome of the search so far was "extremely disappointing".
"We sincerely hope that we will be able to again offer our services in the search for MH370 in future," Plunkett said in the statement.
But family members of those on board the ill-fated plane said the search would cost the Malaysian Government very little money, if only they "stepped up to the plate". K S Narendran, whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on MH370, said, "I am barely able to contain my deep sense of betrayal.
"It is barely possible to conceal anger at a decision taken without the courtesy of a meeting and consultation with affected families," he was quoted as saying by the Guardian newspaper.
Grace Nathan, whose mother Anne Daisy was on MH370, said the government had broken an election promise and failed to give a clear reason why the search should be abandoned. Nathan, now a corporate and human rights lawyer, said the "no-find, no-fee" condition meant Malaysia was not spending any money unless the plane was found. She said Ocean Infinity had already offered to continue the search next year under the same conditions.
"Are they now cutting off offers from private companies who are willing to conduct the search at their own expense, and only be paid if the plane is found? They've already put the money aside. My question is why can't they keep that money there?
"People say that it's expensive, but the search up to now has not cost more than a brand new Boeing. If Malaysia thinks the money has to be utilised somewhere else, they need to step up to the plate and ask if other countries are willing to contribute."
The flight was carrying 152 Chinese nationals, 50 Malaysian nationals and five passengers from India. There were also passengers from Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Iran, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and the US when it vanished over the Indian Ocean.
Malaysian military radar and satellite data suggested the plane suddenly turned around and flew south towards the Indian Ocean, crashing and claiming the lives of all 239 crew and passengers on board. Nathan and Narendran said China and India should contribute to a new search for the plane.
"This is an incident that if unresolved, could happen again," Nathan said.
The search is estimated to have cost some USD 151 million, according to Australia's minister for infrastructure and transport, Darren Chester.
Most of the funds were provided by the Malaysian government. It has been the most expensive search for a missing plane in history.
The only physical sign of the plane has been debris that washed up in eastern Africa and nearby islands, far from where experts believed the flight disappeared. A wing fragment and part of the plane's flaperon are among the remnants that have turned up. Several theories on what might have happened to the flight have been put forward, including pilot suicide.
Australian investigators who led the joint search for the flight over four years dismissed that theory and have defended their belief that the plane's disappearance was due to an accident, CNN reported. Two senior officials from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau told a recent parliamentary hearing that the plane had likely crashed into the Indian Ocean after running out of fuel.