Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Suspended search for MH370 can restart with new evidence: Australian gov't

The Australian government has not ruled out a future underwater search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 so long as "credible new evidence" arises, Australia's Transport Minister Darren Chester said on Wednesday.

Following Tuesday night's joint statement from China, Australia and Malaysia that the "largest search in aviation history" had been suspended following the completion of the official 120,000 square-kilometer search, Chester said Australia had not ruled out recommencing the hunt if new evidence can point to the location of the missing Boeing 777 aircraft.

"I don't rule out a future underwater search by any means, but it's a question of if we have credible new information," Chester said in a press conference on Wednesday.

"It would be a matter for the Malaysian government certainly, but given the close relationship we have, I suspect some further conversation would occur between Australia, Malaysia and China at that time.

"I don't rule it out, but what I'm saying today is the search in the 120,000 square-kilometer search area has been completed."

Chester said any "credible new information" would need to be "information or data that leads to a specific location" of the aircraft.

"The experts will know it when they see it," he told the press on Wednesday.

The minister added that information published last month which pointed to a new search zone was only "in the order of another potential search area" and was no certainty to be the resting place of the plane.

Instead, Chester described it as "the next best" patch of ocean.

"No one is coming to me as minister and saying 'we know where MH370 is,' the new information is saying that 'if we were to going to extend the search, this is where we would target next'," Chester said.

"The (original) zone was defined on the limited data available but has been reference checked with the drift analysis with debris which has been found."

The minister was also forced to defend the decision to suspend the search, but denied the ongoing cost of the investigation, almost 150 million US dollars, was the main reason.

"The cost hasn't been the deciding factor in the tripartite decision to suspend the search," Chester told the press.

"There's no question it's been a very costly exercise. It's costly but wasn't the deciding factor in the decision to suspend the search."

Meanwhile the Australian Transport Safety Bureau's (ATSB) Chief Commissioner, Greg Hood told the press it was disappointing not to come away with some "closure" for the families and loved ones of the 239 missing passengers and crew.

However despite the completion of the underwater search, Hood said, the ATSB would continue to undertake land-based "residual" research into the location of the missing jetliner.

"Although the underwater search is suspended, some residual search-related activity is continuing, including debris, drift analysis and further detailed analysis of satellite imagery. This activity is anticipated by the end of February 2017," Hood told the press.

"The ATSB will continue to support any further requests by Malaysia, including the examination of any further debris that may come ashore in months to come."

Also in the wake of Tuesday night's announcement, family members of the missing have also voiced their disappointment.

Perth woman Danica Weeks told the Australian Associated Press (AAP) that she was most angry at the Malaysian government for calling off the search.

Weeks' husband, Paul, was on the flight, but she said the families would continue to seek closure even if governing bodies were "giving up."

"It is (Malaysia's) plane, their responsibility; they're the ones that promised they would bring them home and now they are just giving up," Weeks told the AAP.

"We will keep fighting. I'm not going to leave him out there or wherever he is, we're not going to leave our loved ones out there."

MH370 was a scheduled passenger flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing. It disappeared on March 8, 2014, with 239 passengers and crew on board.

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