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Four-year search for Flight 370 to end, leaving a mystery

The shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion is seen through clouds during a search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the southern Indian Ocean, near the coast of Western Australia, on March 31, 2014. (Rob Griffith/AP)

Ever since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared without a trace on March 8, 2014, theories about its disappearance have drawn global attention.

They may very well remain theories forever.

The four-year hunt for Flight 370 is coming to an end as private Texas-based contractor Ocean Infinity’s search vessel, equipped with underwater sonar drones, is expected to head back from the Indian Ocean amid rising costs and deteriorating weather. No precise date was provided by the search firm, but Malaysia’s new government hinted last week that the efforts would soon draw to a close.

“We sincerely hope that we will be able to again offer our services in the search for MH370 in the future,” Oliver Plunkett, the chief executive of Ocean Infinity, said in a statement.

It was the latest of many such efforts to find the plane, but this time there are no plans for more missions.

Relatives of passengers aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that went missing on March 8, 2014, gathered in Kuala Lumpur to mark the fourth anniversary. (Video: Reuters)

Australia, China and Malaysia teamed up for a joint search for Flight 370 until last year, but stopped their efforts, saying the hunt would start again only if clues pointed to a new, specific location. Malaysia signed a contract with Ocean Infinity in January, promising the company $70 million in case it managed to find the wreckage. Under the agreement, the company agreed to work free if it did not locate it.

Despite mounting costs, the search was extended twice in recent months and covered a seabed area equivalent to 43,000 square miles.

Flight 370 disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board.

New questions about the plane’s disappearance were raised two weeks ago, when a team of analysts assembled by an Australian TV channel said the 53-year-0ld pilot may have committed suicide — killing 238 people with him.

According to that theory, the pilot may have depressurized the plane, knocking out anyone without an oxygen mask and explaining the mysterious silence as the plane disappeared from radar or why the wreckage wasn’t found along its projected flight path.

Investigators have disputed that possibility, reemphasizing that they think everybody on the plane — including the pilot — fell unconscious. The uncontrolled aircraft later ran out of fuel, investigators think, and crashed into the sea.

Only the wreckage itself could help to determine what really happened to Flight 370, but the chances of that happening further diminished with Tuesday’s announcement.

Cleve R. Wootson Jr. contributed to this report.

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