Putrajaya: Hope of finding flight MH370`s final resting place is "fading" and the massive three-nation search for the doomed jet will be suspended if nothing turns up in the suspected crash zone, Malaysia, Australia and China said Friday.
With the designated search area due to be fully scanned within weeks, transport ministers from the three countries held talks to discuss the future of the unprecedented deep-sea sonar hunt for the Malaysia Airlines passenger plane.
"Ministers acknowledged that despite the best efforts of all involved, the likelihood of finding the aircraft is fading," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said after the talks in the country`s administrative capital Putrajaya.
He was joined by Australia`s Darren Chester and China`s Yang Chuantang.
Unless "credible new evidence" is found by the current operation, "the search would not end, but be suspended" until solid new information pointing to a crash site emerges, Liow said.
The use of the term "suspended" was an apparent nod to anguished families who have stepped up pressure on authorities not to declare efforts to locate the aircraft completely abandoned.
"The suspension does not mean the termination of the search," the joint ministerial statement said.
"Ministers reiterated that the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned."
The Boeing 777 vanished for unknown reasons on March 8, 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard, mostly Chinese nationals. It remains one of the greatest mysteries in aviation history.
The Australian-led operation is scanning the seafloor at forbidding depths within a 120,000-square-kilometre (46,000-square-mile) area -- nearly the size of Greece.
Search authorities say satellite data indicates the plane went down somewhere in that remote and stormy part of the southern Indian Ocean far off Western Australia.
Only about 10,000 square kilometres are left, and officials say that could be completed in August, weather permitting.Next-of-kin who turned up for the three ministers` appearance told reporters they welcomed the official statement.
"This means authorities are committed to finding answers and not just quitting. This is to be welcomed," said K.S. Narendran, a business consultant in Chennai, India, whose wife Chandrika Sharma was on board.
Many relatives have long questioned whether the right area is being searched and want a thorough reassessment of the data.
Some next-of-kin present on Friday called for the three searching countries to actively seek new angles on the mystery, but the transport ministers did not mention any plans to gather new information or re-examine existing data.
Chester defended the focus on the current search zone, saying expert analysis determined it was the "most probable location for MH370."
"I hope new information will come to light and that the aircraft will be located," he said.
Authorities hope to find a crash site and recover MH370`s data recorders for clues into what happened.
Even if located, recovering them would be an operation of unprecedented difficulty in an area of rugged undersea terrain at crushing depths exceeding 4,000 metres (13,000 feet).
Several pieces of debris that apparently drifted thousands of kilometres toward Africa have been identified as definitely or probably from MH370.
But they have shed no light on where exactly the plane went down or why.
Theories include rogue pilot action, terrorism, or catastrophic mechanical failure, but there is no evidence to support any one hypothesis.