Many relatives of passengers from the missing flight were upset by Malaysia’s declaration in January that all onboard were presumed dead. (AFP: Mana Vatsyayana)
Despite complex searches covering millions of square kilometres, Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 remains missing one year after it disappeared with 239 people onboard, including six Australians.
Today marks a full year since the doomed plane set off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing, never to be heard from again.
The anniversary is a painful milestone for relatives of the passengers on crew onboard the plane — which inexplicably diverted from its prescribed route shortly after takeoff — many of whom are unhappy with the lack of progress.
Four ships involved in the Australian-led search are now using sophisticated sonar systems to scour a huge and previously unmapped undersea region.
Initially, the search involved 22 military aircraft and 19 ships from eight countries, covering areas of more than 4.6 million square kilometres.
More than 40 per cent of the “priority search zone” has been scanned, with nothing detected on the seafloor aside from a few sunken shipping containers.
The current search is scheduled to end in May, when weather conditions in the remote region are expected to worsen.
Tragedy ‘left an unfillable hole in many lives’
Many next of kin have been deeply critical of Malaysia’s initial response to the crisis, saying that opportunities to intercept or track the plane were lost.
Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said the plane’s disappearance has left an “unfillable hole in many lives”.
“For the families and friends of the 239 passengers and crew on board, the past year has been one of anguish, deep sorrow and a daily struggle to come to terms with their loss,” he said in a statement.
“At this time, more than ever, our thoughts are with the loved ones of those on board the aircraft and, in particular, those who have called Australia home.”
On Saturday, Malaysia’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai said the hunt for the missing plane would be sent “back to the drawing board” if the current strategy was unsuccessful.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Saturday that, while Australia remained committed to the current operation, he could not promise that the search would “go on at this intensity forever”.
Mr Lai said Malaysia remained committed to finding the plane, a sentiment that was echoed by Mr Truss.
“Locating the plane and its flight recorders offers the best hope of finding answers to the mystery of what happened and help to bring some comfort and closure to all those who have lost loved ones,” Mr Truss’s statement said.
‘One of the great mysteries of our time’
Addressing Parliament on Thursday, Mr Abbott said the disappearance of the passenger jet was “one of the great mysteries of our time” and a “harrowing nightmare” for the families and friends of those onboard.
Some of the victims’ families, as well as Malaysia’s high commissioner to Australia and the Chinese ambassador, were present for Mr Abbott’s address.
Retired Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston, who previously led the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) in charge of the search, said while there is a chance the aircraft will never be found, he remains optimistic.
“I think on the balance of probabilities at the moment, the chances of finding it are still good and we should be patient and persist with the search that’s ongoing,” he told 7.30 last week.
On its website, the JACC describes the search as “unprecedented”, with “immense” complexities.
“The wide search area is a remote and previously unmapped area 1.1 million square kilometres in size … with water depths of up to 6,000 metres.”
A message left on a board of remembrance by the wife of a MH370 passenger. (Reuters: Olivia Harris)
Speculation about plane’s fate continues
Speculation about the plane’s fate remains rife, with some suggesting the incident was due to hijacking or sabotage.
Malaysian authorities, in one of their many lines of inquiry after the incident, launched an investigation into the pilot, Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah, taking several items from his home including a flight simulator.
No evidence was ever found to implicate him.
Captain Shah’s sister, Sakinab Shah, made an impassioned plea in an online statement that surfaced this week to defend her brother against claims that he was behind the disappearance of the aeroplane.
“I want the world to know here is a loving man who will stop at nothing to render help when it is needed,” she said.
“As things stand today, with no tangible evidence to show, no one, be you politician, scientist, aviation expert, plane crash investigator, pilot, retired pilot, media or whoever else, none of you have a right to blame Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah of any wrongdoing.”
Ms Shah described her brother as a “doting father” who “had a passion for life, for family, and above all, for flying.”