Australia’s transport minister has said the search for flight MH370 could resume in the future, but only if “credible new evidence” emerges.
Australia, Malaysia and China ended the Indian Ocean hunt on Tuesday, almost three years after the jet went missing.
Darren Chester on Wednesday said Australia did not rule out another search, but he stressed he did not want to provide false hope.
He also defended the suspension following criticism from relatives.
The plane carrying 239 people vanished on 8 March 2014 while travelling from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.
More than 120,000 sq km (46,300 sq miles) of the Indian Ocean has been searched. Pieces of debris have been found as far away as Madagascar.
But only a handful of the fragments have been identified as definitely or highly likely to be from the Boeing 777.
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There were 14 nationalities among the 227 passengers and 12 crew on board the plane. The majority – 153 people – were Chinese.
A report in November 2016 said the plane had probably made a “high and increasing rate of descent” into the Indian Ocean.
“I don’t rule out a future underwater search by any stretch,” Mr Chester told reporters in Melbourne, stressing that the hunt was “not a closed book”.
But he said he did not want to provide false hope to the victims’ families.
“We need to have credible new evidence leading to a specific location before we would be reasonably considering future search efforts,” he said.
Australia, Malaysia and China flagged in July that the search would be suspended this month if no credible new evidence was found. In the nations’ joint statement on Tuesday, they hoped “new information will come to light”.
Mr Chester said analysis of satellite imagery and the drifting of plane debris in the ocean would continue into February while Australia remained open to help Malaysia on future requests including the examination of other aircraft fragments that may be found.
He defended the choice of the search zone, which was called into question after new analysis in December concluded MH370 was not in the area.
The report, released by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), said it was more likely to be in a 25,000 sq km north of the current one.
“We need to understand the very limited amount of actual data our experts were dealing with… it has been the edge of science and technological endeavour in terms of pursuing this search effort,” Mr Chester said.
“In future, whether through better analysis of data, if new technology becomes available or through improved equipment or something of that nature, we may have a breakthrough.”
Relatives of the victims on Tuesday criticised the decision to halt the search as “irresponsible”.
Voice370, a family support group, said finding the Malaysian airliner was “an inescapable duty owed to the flying public” and the search must continue in the newly-identified area.
“Stopping at this stage is nothing short of irresponsible, and betrays a shocking lack of faith in the data, tools and recommendations of an array of official experts assembled by the authorities themselves,” the group said in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he empathised with the families, but that search officials had done the best they could under extraordinary circumstances.
“We share their deep disappointment that the plane has not been found,” he said.
“It is an unprecedented search. It’s been conducted with the best advice over the areas that were identified as the most likely to find the location of the airplane… and we deeply regret that the plane has not been found.”