A report on the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 says the ongoing mystery over plane's fate is "unacceptable" and "almost inconceivable" in the modern era. The jet had 239 people onboard when it vanished in 2014.
Australian authorities said in their final report on Tuesday that despite an exhaustive search, they still could not pinpoint the plane's exact location or the reason for its disappearance.
The Beijing-bound flight MH370, carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, vanished shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur on March 8, 2014, sparking a massive ocean search.
The nearly three-year international search effort covering thousands of square kilometers in the southern Indian Ocean failed to find the Boeing 777. The hunt, led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), was ultimately called off in January, despite protest from families of the lost.
"The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found," the ATSB wrote in its 440-page report detailing the 1,046-day search.
"It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era with 10 million passengers boarding commercial aircraft every day, for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board," it said.
Largest search in history
Experts involved in the search initially had little information to work with. No transmissions from the aircraft were received after its first 38 minutes of flight. Authorities believe the jet flew off course for around seven hours before going down somewhere in the southern Indian Ocean.
The search for the plane was the largest of its kind in history, the bureau said in its report. Teams scoured several million square kilometers of ocean surface off Australia's west coast before conducting an underwater search across 710,000 square kilometers (274,000 square miles) of Indian Ocean seafloor at depths of up to 6,000 meters (20,000 feet).
"The understanding of where MH370 may be located is better now than it has ever been. The underwater search has eliminated most of the high probability areas," the ATSB said.
"We...deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft, nor those 239 souls on board that remain missing."
Officials search the shore of Reunion after the discovery of a MH370 wing fragment there in August, 2015
The ATSB said analysis of satellite imagery, ocean drift studies and the discovery of debris from the plane that washed up on western Indian Ocean shores in 2015 and 2016 had provided more clues about "the most likely area" the plane ended up.
Narrowing down the area
A review carried out last year identified an area of less than 25,000 square kilometers (9,650 square miles) — roughly the size of Macedonia — to the north of the initial search zone that "has the highest likelihood of containing MH370."
The ATSB noted that although the Australian-led mission had ended, Malaysia's government was "continuing work on their investigation of the facts and circumstances surrounding the loss of MH370." In August, Kuala Lumpur received an offer from a private seabed exploration firm to resume the search.
The Australian government has said it will only get involved in further searches if prompted by "credible" new evidence.
nm/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)