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Malaysia: 'Back to Drawing Board' if MH370 Not Found by June

Fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Jan. 29, 2015.
Fleet of Malaysia Airline planes on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, in Malaysia, Jan. 29, 2015.

Malaysia’s civil aviation department on Saturday gave copies of its interim investigation of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 to government officials, the latest chapter in what some call the world's greatest air crash mystery.

The document is to be made public Sunday — the one year anniversary of the Boeing 777's disappearance.

MH370, scheduled to fly to Beijing, was carrying 239 passengers and crew. It veered off course after takeoff from Kuala Lumpur and disappeared from radar.

Despite an estimated $200 million spent so far in a multi-national search focused 1,600 kilometers to the west of the Australian coast, no trace of the jetliner has been found.

Malaysia's transport minister, Liow Tiong Lai, says if the search turns up nothing by the end of May, then his country, along with Australia and China, will re-examine the data and devise a new plan.

“We have to go back to the drawing boards,” said Liow. “We need the experts to advise us how to move forward.”

The transport minister also said he remains “cautiously optimistic” the missing plane is in the southern Indian Ocean.

Australian Prime Minister John Abbott told Parliament on Thursday he “can't promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever, but we will continue our very best efforts to resolve this mystery and provide some answers.”

Abbott's deputy, Warren Truss, who is also the country's transport minister, says the search — the most expensive in aviation history — will continue for now.

“We have committed significant financial resources to the search and we will have to make a decision also about how much more we will be prepared to devote,” Truss said. “And that would depend clearly on the commitments that other countries are prepared to make.”

How long to search?

Some analysts question whether a costly search for MH370 - which is currently focused on a patch of water equivalent to the size of Sri Lanka - can go on indefinitely.

“I suppose when it comes from the cost perspective, you really can't justify looking for the aircraft forever,” says Professor James Chin, the director of the University of Tasmania's Asia Institute.

Chin cautions, however, that ending the search does risk further fueling all kinds of speculation about the passenger jet's fate.

“If they do not find the aircraft, I think a lot of people will come to believe the various conspiracy theories about what happened to the aircraft,” Chin says. “They really do need to find the aircraft in order for the families to have closure and, perhaps more importantly, bring confidence back to flying.”

Aviation experts, including experience airlines pilots, and legions of amateur sleuths at their keyboards around the world are not in agreement as to why MH370 veered off course and where it ultimately ended up.

Many speculate the flight's captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, purposely crashed the plane, which is known to have flown along the border of Malaysia and Thailand, skirting the pilot's home island of Penang.

The search has focused in the southern Indian Ocean based on fragments of data recorded by an Inmarsat satellite indicating the jet flew south in a straight line for six hours after making a series of unexplained turns.

Other theories abound, partly fueled by initial contradictory statements by Malaysia's government and the airline, despite repeated insistence by both they have revealed all they know.

Some of the explanations propagated online and the airwaves are quite far-fetched, such as that the aircraft was shot down - by the Americans, the Thais or the Chinese, depending on who is expounding.

Some even suggest the large jet and its occupants were abducted by space aliens, based on supposed sightings of UFOs in the area.

There is a primary alternate theory for the route, based on a different interpretation of that same satellite data that reverses the flight's arc and has MH370 possibly flying into Central Asia.

Science journalist Jeff Wise, who has made numerous appearances on CNN to talk about the missing plane, recently authored a 4,000-word New Yorker magazine article concluding that MH370 could have landed at an airstrip that is part of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, possibly on Russian President Vladimir Putin's orders to intimidate the West.

Unless the plane's flight data recorders or significant wreckage is recovered, the conspiracy theories are likely to persist, as they have regarding the fate of famed female aviator Amelia Earhart who disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 with flight navigator Fred Noonan in their twin-engine Lockheed Model 10 Electra.

Malaysia, in January, formally declared MH370 had met with an accident and everyone on board was declared dead, allowing families to receive compensation payments from the airline.

An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the flight model of MH370, which is a Boeing 777. VOA regrets the error.