Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Wednesday that his country regrets having to end the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and will consider resuming the hunt for the plane if any new information emerges.
The final search effort, focused on the seabed in the distant Indian Ocean, ended Tuesday after more than three months. Malaysia had signed a “no cure, no fee” deal with U.S. technology company Ocean Infinity to resume the hunt in January, a year after the official search by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off, and nearly four years after the plane went missing.
Mahathir said Malaysia has come to a stage “where we cannot keep on searching for something we really cannot find.”
“If anybody has any information, we will consider resuming the search, but at the moment we have to put a stop to the search,” he told a news conference. “We regret very much and we understand the feelings of the relatives, but we cannot keep on searching for this 370 forever.”
The plane vanished with 239 people on board on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Confirmed debris that washed ashore in the western Indian Ocean helped narrow the search area where Ocean Infinity focused.
The company said Tuesday that the search covered more than 112,000 square kilometers (43,000 square miles) of ocean floor — an area more than four times larger than the zone targeted by experts as the most likely crash site — but failed to uncover any evidence in one of the world’s biggest aviation mysteries.
Ocean Infinity stood to be paid $70 million if it had found the wreckage or black boxes.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said later Wednesday that the international safety investigation team is expected to finalize and release its final report on the case by July.
Loke said the government remains “ever hopeful that we will be able to find the answers we seek and new information will come to light and that at some point in the future, the aircraft will be located.”
Voice370, a support group for next-of-kin, has said Malaysia’s new government had given the families no information about what would happen next. Its spokeswoman, Grace Nathan, has urged Malaysia not to give up, saying the fact that the current search failed to find any clue meant there was more reason to reinvestigate and re-evaluate the case.