Hopes of finding flight MH370's final resting place are "fading", and the massive three-nation search for the doomed jet will be suspended if nothing is found in the suspected crash zone, Malaysia, Australia and China said today.
With the designated search area due to be fully scanned within weeks, transport ministers from the three countries made their announcement after holding talks on the future of the unprecedented deep-sea hunt for the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane.
"With less than 10,000 square kilometres of the high priority search area remaining to be searched, ministers acknowledged that despite the best efforts of all involved the likelihood of finding the aircraft is fading," said a joint statement after the meeting in Malaysia's administrative capital Putrajaya.
Unless "credible new evidence" turns up by the time the current operations are completed, "the search would not end, but be suspended" until solid new information pointing to a crash site emerges, they said.
"The suspension does not mean the termination of the search. Ministers reiterated that the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned," said the statement by meeting host Liow Tiong Lai, Australia's Darren Chester and China's Yang Chuantang.
The use of the term "suspended" was an apparent nod to anguished families who have stepped up demands recently for authorities not to fully abandon efforts to locate the aircraft.
The Boeing 777 vanished March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, mostly Chinese nationals, in what remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
The Australian-led operation is scouring the seafloor within a 120,000-square-kilometre belt of remote Indian Ocean where authorities believe the passenger jet went down.