Authorities have called off the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, a Boeing 777 that crashed almost three years ago with 239 people on board. Although around $150 million has been spent attempting to locate the wreckage, very little other than light debris has ever been found. As a result, many questions remain about what caused the plane to go down in the Indian Ocean.
Malaysia Airlines Crashed With No Distress Call
On March 8, 2014, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing crashed without sending out a distress call, taking 239 lives with it. Officials from Malaysia, China and Australia used information from the Boeing 777's electronics to attempt to pinpoint a location of the wreckage, but found very little from the plane. As a result, investigators still do not know what caused the plane to go down.
Typically, officials look to data and voice recorders to determine whether pilot error, mechanical failure or terrorist attack caused a plane crash, but with no access to that information, there is no way to tell if there was a problem with the Boeing 777 involved in the plane crash. Reports indicate that when the plane crashed it plummeted at up to 25,000 feet per minute.
New information obtained by investigators in the past two months suggested they had been looking at the wrong spot in the Indian Ocean, and the focus shifted to a different spot approximately the size of Vermont, but having found nothing so far, officials suspended the operation.
"They're going to be haunted by what might or might not be in that zone," said David Gallo, who helped in the search for Air France Flight 447. "This should really drive them crazy."
According to reports, the transponder and automated maintenance system stopped sending signals shortly after the plane took off. But military radar suggested the plane flew well over the Indian Ocean and made a sharp turn west, then south before it crashed.
Difficulty Searching the Ocean Floor
Experts say that searching the ocean floor is incredibly difficult because of the terrain and because of terrible weather that causes waves up to five stories high.
"You're actually mounting an expedition into an unknown world, where the mountains are taller, the valleys are deeper and wider," Gallo said. "There are volcanoes and earthquakes. It's almost like going to Mars, to look for a plane. You're mounting an expedition to an unknown world."
On Tuesday, January 17, 2017, officials announced the last search vessel had left the area and no further search would be undertaken without additional credible information.
"Unfortunately, we are unable to find the plane MH370," Liow Tiong Lai, Malaysian transport minister, said. "We need to suspend the search until further credible evidence."
Hope of finding the plane was reignited about a year-and-a-half after the crash, when a wing flap was discovered near Madagascar, and around 20 objects that were believed to be from the wreckage have also been found, but officials were still unable to pinpoint the location of the wreckage. In all, an area of around 46,000 square miles was searched. Despite spending between $135 million and $160 million on the search, the plane crash remains a mystery.
Some critics point out that the search has been mired in chaos, with allegations raised that the Malaysian government was too reluctant to share its information on the plane crash with other experts.
Still, the search operation has been called the most complex and expensive aviation search in history. During the search, ships dragged sonar equipment through the ocean, and used unmanned submarines. In the process, they found shipwrecks, but nothing from the plane.
Victims' Families and Boeing Respond to the Suspension
Families of the victims of the plane crash spoke out against the suspension of the search.
Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 victims' relatives plead for search to continue https://t.co/F8Ukfnn6oM-- Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) January 17, 2017
"It's just not an acceptable situation," said Grace Subathirai Nathan, daughter of one of the victims. "How can they allow something like this to happen and just leave it unresolved?"
A support group for people who lost loved ones aboard MH370 also argued against the decision to suspend the search, calling the move "irresponsible" and arguing that the search should continue until the wreckage is found.
A spokesperson for Boeing said the company has been committed to the search and investigation.
"We accept the conclusion of government authorities leading the investigation and search that, in the absence of credible new information that leads to identification of a specific location of the aircraft, there will be no further expansion of the search area," said Boeing spokesperson Doug Alder.
What Happens Next?
Although the search is suspended, the three governments involved said they would reopen the search if new credible information came to light. Scientists have said they believe they now know the most likely location of the wreckage.
A similar situation happened during the search for Air France 447, which crashed into the Atlantic Ocean in 2009. That plane had been traveling from Rio De Janeiro to Paris. Authorities involved in that search set a deadline and suspended the search. A year later, Gallo and his team convinced officials to allow the search to continue. It took only around a week for the plane to be found.
While the search for MH370 might not continue in the ocean, scientists may be able to continue running tests to simulate the plane's journey and the aftermath in the hope of finding credible evidence that would allow the search to reopen.