The Australian government should get behind a new search for the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the man who headed up the initial search says, now that new equipment and data is available.
Peter Foley was the program director for the international effort, led by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, to find the plane. MH370 went down on 8 March 2014, with 239 people on board. The disappearance of the plane is one of the world’s greatest enduring mysteries.
Foley hopes pressure from families and the upcoming anniversary will push things in the right direction.
“I want to see the Australian government push for another search and support a search when and if one gets up and running,” Foley said.
“There are a lot of people who contributed to the original search and everyone who’s been involved in the search is really keen to get answers for the families.”
The search was suspended in 2017 “in the absence of credible new evidence”, after failing to find the wreck in the area of the southern Indian Ocean, in Australia’s search and rescue zone.
The government said at the time the search was not terminated.
MH370 went missing 40 minutes into a six-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Most passengers on board were Chinese, but there were more than a dozen nationalities represented including dozens of Malaysians and six Australians. Australia had put $90m towards the cost, China $20m and Malaysia the balance.
In 2018 Malaysia contracted marine robotics company Ocean Infinity to use autonomous underwater vehicles in a new search on a “no find, no fee” basis. It had no luck. But now Ocean Infinity has new data, and new robotic ships.
Ocean Infinity chief executive officer, Oliver Plunkett, has said there is an “almost daily conversation” about resuming the search. In a speech on last year’s anniversary of the plane’s disappearance he told family members the search would begin again in 2023.
Plunkett said there was new information about where the plane may have ended up, and that the company had commissioned a fleet of new, 78-metre search vessels.
Plunkett said Ocean Infinity would re-engage and tell the Malaysian government they were ready to carry on, again on a “no win, no fee” basis.
“Hopefully, we’ll enjoy the same support from the Australian authorities as we did last time,” he said.
That support included dealing with regulations for an unmanned ship.
The federal government declined to comment on whether or not it would support a new search.
From the moment MH370 disappeared there have been theories about what happened – theories that range from serious data analysis to conspiracy theories.
These have included a mass hypoxia event, a deliberate murder-suicide by the pilot, an unconscious pilot, and a “controlled ditching”.
New evidence has also emerged, including debris that has washed ashore.
A spokesperson for Bridget McKenzie, the Coalition’s shadow transport minister, emphasised that the search had only been suspended, not closed.
“The families of those who were tragically lost with the disappearance of flight MH370 will not have closure until solid answers are obtained as to what happened,” the spokesperson said.
“If credible new evidence becomes available as to the location of the missing plane, this should be fully considered – noting the government of Malaysia is responsible for making any decision to resume the search for the missing plane.”
Foley said it was time for a new search.
“We should be searching, and this time we need to search until we find it,” he said.