MH370: Search for missing plane to be suspended not shut down
The search for Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 will be suspended rather than shut down if the plane is not found in the current search area, officials say.
China, Malaysia and Australia had previously agreed to end the search in the southern Indian Ocean if no "credible new information" was found.
The plane, with 239 passengers and crew, disappeared in March 2014.
Many of their relatives have long pleaded with authorities for the search to continue until the plane is found.
The announcement came after a meeting of ministers from the three countries in Malaysia in which they acknowledged that with less than 10,000 square kilometres of the search area remaining "the likelihood of finding the aircraft is fading".
Almost 180m Australian dollars ($135m, £101m) has been spent on the search so far, making it the most expensive in aviation history.
The search, led by Australia, has been using underwater drones and sonar equipment to scour a 120,000 sq km search zone in the southern Indian Ocean where the plane is presumed to have crashed. Nothing related to MH370 has been found in the area.
However, a few pieces of debris confirmed to be from a Boeing 777 have washed up on various islands thousands of miles from the search zone. MH370 is the only missing Boeing 777 in the world.
"In the absence of new credible evidence, Malaysia, Australia and China have collectively agreed to suspend the search upon completion of the 120,000-km search," Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said at a news conference held after the meeting.
"I must emphasise that this does not mean we are giving up on the search for MH370," he added.
There is little detail about the circumstances under which a search might be resumed.
More than 110,000 sq km of the seafloor has already been searched, but poor weather caused delays to the search operation in recent weeks, the Joint Agency Coordination Centre (JACC) said earlier this month.
The search was initially expected to be complete by July or August of this year, but the JACC said it could take longer if there is more bad weather or equipment failure.