By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The head of a U.S. technology company that scoured the Indian Ocean seabed for more than three months looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 said on Tuesday he was disappointed the hunt failed to find wreckage and hoped to take part in some future search.
Malaysia said last week the search by Texas-based Ocean Infinity would end on Tuesday after two extensions of the original 90-day time limit.
Ocean Infinity chef executive Oliver Plunkett said the search would soon end after covering more than 43,000 square miles (112,000 square kilometers) of remote ocean floor — an area more than four times larger than the zone targeted by experts as the most likely crash site.
“I would firstly like to extend the thoughts of everyone at Ocean Infinity to the families of those who have lost loved ones on MH370. Part of our motivation for renewing the search was to try to provide some answers to those affected,” Plunkett said in a statement.
“It is therefore with a heavy heart that we end our current search without having achieved that aim,” he added.
Plunkett said he was pleased to hear the new Malaysian government had made finding the Boeing 777 that vanished with 239 people aboard a priority.
“Whilst clearly the outcome so far is extremely disappointing, as a company, we are truly proud of what we have achieved both in terms of the quality of data we’ve produced and the speed with which we covered such a vast area,” Plunkett said.
“We sincerely hope that we will be able to again offer our services in the search for MH370 in the future,” he added.
Malaysia signed a “no cure, no fee” deal with Ocean Infinity in January to resume the hunt for the plane, a year after the official search in the southern Indian Ocean by Australia, Malaysia and China was called off. Ocean Infinity stood to be paid $70 million if it had found the wreckage or black boxes. No other search is scheduled.
Australian Transport Minister Michael McCormack said the four-year search had been the largest in aviation history and tested the limits of technology and the capacity of experts and people at sea.
“We will always remain hopeful that one day the aircraft will be located,” McCormack’s office said in a statement.
Australia, Malaysia and China agreed in 2016 that an official search would only resume if the three countries had credible evidence that identified a specific location for the wreckage.
Flight 370 vanished on March 8, 2014, while flying from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing. The original search focused on the South China Sea before analysis revealed that the plane had made an unexpected turn west and then south.
Australia coordinated an official search on Malaysia’s behalf that scoured 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) and cost 200 million Australian dollars ($150 million) before it ended last year.
Experts used drift analysis of wreckage found washed ashore on the west coasts of the Indian Ocean to define the new search area that Ocean Infinity. The most likely crash site was only 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles), roughly the size of Vermont.
Ocean Infinity ship Seabed Contractor made quick progress operating up to eight remotely controlled underwater sonar drones.
Danica Weeks, an Australian resident who lost her husband on Flight 370, urged Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to call on Malaysia’s new government to be more transparent about what they knew about the mysterious disappearance.
“There’ve been so many theories and rumors and … we don’t know what is true and what isn’t,” Weeks told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“I want Julie Bishop to say to the Malaysian counterparts now: What do you have? Where is the investigation at?” she added.
The director of the official seabed hunt that ended last year, Peter Foley, told an Australian Senate committee hearing last week that he still hoped that Ocean Infinity would be successful.
“If they’re not, of course, that would be a great sadness for all of us,” Foley said.
Jiang Hui of China, whose mother was on board the plane, said he appreciated Ocean Infinity’s efforts but still hoped for more information on the possible reasons for the disappearance.
The recent seating of a new Malaysian government under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad could offer the prospects of new data becoming available, Jiang told The Associated Press last week.
“I don’t believe a corrupted government can be efficient or fair,” he said, referring to the administration of Najib Razak, who was Malaysia’s prime minister when the flight disappeared and who has been questioned by police in a money-laundering scandal that tainted his government.