The extraordinary search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 is set to resume, nearly four years after the aircraft mysteriously vanished with 239 people on board.
U.S.-based Ocean Infinity announced Wednesday that the Malaysian government had accepted its "no-find, no-fee" contract, with a reward of up to R872 million ($70 million) if wreckage from MH370 is located within 90 days.
Ocean Infinity describes itself as a "technology company specializing in collecting high resolution geophysical seabed data." It has already dispatched a vessel it calls the Seabed Constructor with a 65-person crew to the southern Indian Ocean. The renewed quest, which will begin in mid-January, will cover a primary search area of up to 25,000 square kilometers previously identified in an international, now-abandoned effort to locate the jetliner.
The company said it will use up to eight "free flying" autonomous underwater vehicles capable of untethered search operations, allowing it "to go deeper and collect higher quality data," according to a news release.
"Ocean Infinity will take on the economic risk of the renewed search, only receiving payment if the aircraft wreckage is located," the release notes.
Malaysian Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai said in a tweet that the primary mission is to locate "wreckage and/or both of the flight recorders." Searchers "must also present considerable & credible evidence" confirming the whereabouts of these items to successfully claim the reward, he added.
Ocean Infinity CEO Oliver Plunkett said he is hopeful "that we will be able to play a part in providing some answers to the many people affected by this tragedy."
The Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens on March 8, 2014, less than an hour after departing from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing. Subsequent analysis of data transmissions led investigators to believe it had crashed off Australia's west coast. Twelve crew members and 227 passengers from 15 countries were aboard.
The governments of Australia, China and Malaysia conducted a massive R1.9 billion ($160 million) hunt for the aircraft above and below water ― the largest search in aviation history. The effort continued for more than 1,000 days before it was called off in January 2017. Australia led the underwater portion of the search, which scoured about 120,000 square kilometers of the Indian Ocean floor.
In 2015 and 2016, debris from MH370 was discovered in the Indian Ocean and along the east African coastline. Whereabouts of the remaining wreckage continues to be unknown.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau released a 440-page report on the missing aircraft in October, noting "it is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era ... for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board."