JAKARTA — Nearly three years after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared over the Indian Ocean, Australia, China and Malaysia on Tuesday called off the underwater search, saying “no new information has been discovered” to solve what has become one of aviation’s greatest mysteries.
A statement by the Joint Agency Coordination Center in Australia, which has helped lead the $160-million effort, said the deep-sea search was suspended after failing to find a trace of the Boeing 777 in a 46,000-square-mile zone in remote waters west of Australia.
“Despite every effort using the best science available, cutting-edge technology, as well as modeling 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.
The news prompted anger from family members of the 239 passengers and crew members from 14 countries who were traveling aboard the aircraft when it disappeared on March 8, 2014. The plane left from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and was en route to Beijing.
A statement by Voice370, a group made up of family members of the missing, pleaded with the governments to reconsider, saying that “commercial planes cannot just be allowed to disappear without a trace.”
The group pointed to a December report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau that suggested the search was focusing on the wrong place.
A review of the plane’s likely trajectory as well as new information about ocean currents led experts to conclude that the aircraft might have crashed into the Indian Ocean north of the search zone, and that crews should have been hunting in a 15,000-square-mile zone to the north.
The Australian government rejected that recommendation, saying the findings were not precise enough to warrant moving the search. Australia, China and Malaysia, which have funded the search, said last year that the operation would be called off once all of the 46,000-mile zone had been investigated.
“It is obvious that the search should be to the north,” Ghislain Wattrelos, a 52-year-old Frenchman whose wife and two children were aboard the aircraft, said in an interview.
There have been few clues to the aircraft’s whereabouts over the last three years. Pieces of wreckage identified as belonging to the plane have been located on the eastern coast of Africa — in Tanzania, the island nation of Mauritius and the French island of Reunion.
Without a new source of funding, it seems unlikely the costly search will resume.
Still, the decision leaves Australia, China and Malaysia open to criticism after officials promised previously that the aircraft would be found.
In August 2015, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in an unusual late-night address that his government would “do everything within our means to find out the truth of what happened” to the aircraft. At the time, Razak faced criticism for using the crash investigation to deflect attention from a widening corruption scandal that threatened his government.
The head of the Australian transport board, Martin Dolan, said in July 2015 that the aircraft “will be found within the next year.”
“It feels like a betrayal as there have been repeated commitments to find out what happened,” said K.S. Narendran, 53, a business consultant from Chennai, India, whose wife, Chandrika Sharma, was aboard the flight.
The hunt took search vessels from Australia, China, the United States and other countries into some of the stormiest, loneliest waters on Earth, rocked by 30-foot waves 1,000 miles off Australia’s west coast.
Tony Abbott, Australia’s prime minister at the time of the disappearance, called it “as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be.”
Blaine Gibson, an American lawyer and self-described adventurer, embarked on a self-funded quest to comb East African coastlines for wreckage, turning up several pieces of debris linked to the plane. Gibson has accused officials of being slow to respond to his discoveries.
“He has done significant service to the families and the public, and it is unfortunate that this has been a solo effort, not complemented by the governments,” Narendran said.
The plane’s flight path was due to take it north over the Gulf of Thailand and Vietnam, but about an hour after takeoff, it banked sharply west, back toward Malaysia and out across the Indian Ocean. Before changing course, one of the pilots told air traffic controllers, “Good night Malaysia three seven zero,” and after that the plane’s communications systems were deactivated.
Without locating the flight-data recorders in the plane’s wreckage, investigators have not been able to rule out any potential cause of the crash, including a mechanical failure, fire in the cockpit, pilot error or terrorism.
Wattrelos and some other family members of the missing accuse the governments involved of withholding information.
“We just want to know what happened,” he said.
Special correspondent Roughneen reported from Jakarta and staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.Show