The hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 was called off Tuesday after almost three years of fruitless toil.
The Boeing Co. 777 aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014, on its way to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur with 239 people on board. According to satellite data, the jet headed south over the Indian Ocean for about six hours before plummeting into the water at up to 25,000 feet a minute.
The last vessel left the 120,000 square-kilometer (46,000 square miles) area in the southern Indian Ocean without finding the jet, transport ministers from Malaysia, Australia and China said in a joint statement. Australian investigators put the cost of the operation at A$180 million ($135 million). The scouring for the jet is the longest search for a missing plane in modern aviation history.
Even repeated analysis of the data, aimed at zeroing in on the most likely crash zone, failed to turn up any clues.
“Whilst combined scientific studies have continued to refine areas of probability, to date no new information has been discovered to determine the specific location of the aircraft,” the ministers said. “We remain hopeful that new information will come to light and that at some point in the future, the aircraft will be located.”
The first debris from MH370 was found on Reunion Island in July 2015. Four other pieces that turned up on Africa’s eastern seaboard and in Mauritius almost certainly belong to the doomed jet, according to investigators.
Search teams had battled ferocious winter weather and waves more than five stories high as they dragged sonar devices across the seabed. The ocean floor itself, up to 6 kilometers (4 miles) below, was peppered with trenches and submerged peaks.
The search was “an unprecedented challenge,” the ministers said.
Air-traffic controllers lost contact with MH370 less than an hour after takeoff as it approached Vietnam. Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak has said the plane was deliberately steered off course.