Families of missing MH370 passengers were left “shocked and confused” after a Malaysia Airlines official suggested the plane could be declared “lost” by the end of this year, raising fears that search efforts in the Indian Ocean could be called off.
The airline’s commercial director Hugh Dunleavy allegedly told the New Zealand Herald that the Australian and Malaysian governments were trying to set a date to formally announce the loss of MH370 and that this was likely to be set by the end of the year.
“We don’t have a final date but once we’ve had an official loss recorded we can work with the next of kin on the full compensation payments for those families,” he is quoted as saying.
This raised fears that the huge undersea search for the missing plane would be terminated.
Voice 370, an association set up for families of those on board the aircraft, said relatives had been left “shocked and confused” by Dunleavy’s “astounding” comments, especially since the second phase of the search had only just begun.
“Such [a] unilateral declaration brings intense agony and confusions to family members and makes us lose faith in the search effort,” it said.
Malaysia Airlines has since issued a statement to say the comments were Dunleavy’s “personal opinion”. The only official updates would be coming from the Australia-based Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC), it said.
JACC has acknowledged that Dunleavy’s comments were “greatly disturbing” for the families and loved ones of the passengers and crew.
“Australia continues to lead the search for MH370 on behalf of Malaysia and remains committed to providing all necessary assistance in the search for the aircraft,” it said. “We owe this to the families of those on board MH370.”
The Malaysia Airlines plane disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on 8 March with 239 people on board. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has only recently signed a multimillion dollar contract to search a large swathe of the southern Indian Ocean.
Voice 370 said JACC has assured families that all possible efforts will be exhausted before the search is called off.