KUALA LUMPUR: A private hunt for Flight MH370 will end in the coming days, a search firm said today, about four years after the plane's disappearance sparked one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.
The Malaysia Airlines jet vanished in March 2014 with 239 people -- mostly from China -- on board, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. No sign of the plane was found in a 120,000-sq km sea search zone and the Australian-led hunt, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year.
After pressure from families, the former Malaysian government struck a deal with US exploration firm Ocean Infinity to restart the search in January on the condition it would only be paid if the Boeing 777 or its black boxes were found.
The firm stood to make up to USD 70 million if successful but did not find any sign of the airliner despite scouring the seabed with some of the world's most high-tech search equipment. The hunt was officially meant to end late April but was extended. However, the new government of Mahathir Mohamad, which came to power after a shock election win this month, announced last week the search was set to end.
Texas-based Ocean Infinity said in a statement today that "its current search for the wreckage of. Flight MH370 is shortly coming to an end".
A spokesman added the hunt would end in the coming days, without giving a precise date.
The new hunt was in an area of about 25,000 sq km in the southern Indian Ocean, north of the previous search zone.
The ship conducting the hunt, Seabed Constructor, was a Norwegian research vessel carrying 65 crew, including two members of the Malaysian navy as the government's representatives.
It scoured the waters for wreckage using eight autonomous drones equipped with sonars and cameras, and able to operate at depths up to 6,000 metres (20,000 feet).
Only three confirmed fragments of MH370 have been found, all of them on western Indian Ocean shores, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.
The jet's disappearance stands as one of the most enduring aviation mysteries of all time and has spawned a host of theories, with some blaming a hijacking or even a terror plot.