Children write messages of hope for passengers of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 during a remembrance on March 6, 2016 in Kuala Lumpur.
Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images

And a new report says we probably never will

By Hallie Detrick
October 3, 2017

More than three and a half years after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, it is “almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable…for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”

That’s the analysis of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) anyway.

In a 440-page report out today ATSB investigators meticulously detail the search efforts carried out by three governments (Malaysian, Chinese, and Australian) over nearly three years — a massive outlay of resources that was ultimately all but fruitless. Though some debris from the plane eventually washed up on East African shores, the main wreckage was never found and no conclusion ever reached as to why the plane stopped communicating, veered off course, and then disappeared from radar several hours after taking off on March 8, 2014.

The nonplussed ATSB report reads like a list of superlatives. The $160 million, 1,046-day search produced the largest-ever hydrographic survey (710,000 square kilometers), the largest-ever high-resolution sonar search (120,000 square kilometers). 661 areas of interest were identified within the search area, which was defined as an area of 60,000 square kilometers before doubling in size one year into the search.

The hope of knowing what happened to the passengers and crew on board MH370 is not lost completely. Though the Australian and Chinese governments agreed to stop searching in January 2017, the Malaysian government is continuing the investigation and the families of the 239 people on board say they plan to hire a private company to continue the search. But the report is clear: until the aircraft is found, it will be impossible to know what went wrong.

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