Australian service marks third anniversary of MH370 tragedy

By ROD McGUIRK - Associated Press ,

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In this March 31, 2014 file photo, the shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion is seen on low level cloud while the aircraft searches for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, near the coast of Western Australia.

In this March 31, 2014 file photo, the shadow of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion is seen on low level cloud while the aircraft searches for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean, near the coast of Western Australia. (Photo: AP Photo/Rob Griffith, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government minister in charge of the suspended seabed search for the Malaysia Airlines jet joined victims' families and friends on Wednesday in the east coast city of Brisbane for a memorial service to mark the third anniversary of Flight 370's disappearance.

Darren Chester, minister for infrastructure and transport, and Angus Houston, the former Australian defense chief who coordinated the early months of the search efforts, were among around 100 who attended the private ceremony at St. John's Anglican Cathedral.

Several victims and relatives of the 239 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing 777 live in or near Brisbane.

Chester said before the service that he understood the frustration that many would feel on the anniversary of the tragedy that there was no longer an active search for the crash site.

Australia, Malaysia and China in January suspended the sonar search for the airliner after a sweep of 120,000 square kilometers (46,000 square miles) of the Indian Ocean southwest of Australia failed to find any trace. The airliner for unknown reasons flew far off course during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing on March 8, 2014.

"I understand that the families and friends have a level of frustration and disappointment that despite the enormous search effort, we haven't been able to locate MH370," Chester told the AP.

"It's important to hold this service to remember those who are missing: the seven Australian citizens and residents along with the 232 others who were on board from 14 countries around the world," he said.

"Not knowing their final resting place is a traumatizing experience for the families and friends and after three years and so many unanswered questions, I think it's important that we have this service. It'll be a sad day for many, but it will also be a chance to celebrate the lives of those who are missing," he said.

Chester declined to comment on a suggestion by some relatives of raising funds to continue a private search of the ocean floor.

"I'm not going to offer advice to those who want to fund-raise privately to extend the search, but from the Australians government's perspective, the search remains suspended," Chester said.

Australia's prime minister at the time of the tragedy, Tony Abbott, said in a newspaper interview last month that areas north and south of the searched zone should also be examined.

"When you've got nearly 240 people missing, the greatest mystery of modern times, as long as there is any reasonable prospective place to search, you just keep searching," Abbott told New Corp. Australia.

Abbott, who remains a government lawmaker, said "the most plausible scenario" was that a pilot had deliberately crashed the plane. A pilot could have flown the plane further south than the area searched, Abbott said. Abbott had not responded by Wednesday to a request for comment.

A lawsuit filed in the United States on behalf of the families of 44 people on board Flight 370 alleges a series of catastrophic electrical and other failures may have led to the crash.

The lawsuit, filed Friday against Boeing in U.S. District Court in South Carolina, names seven malfunctions, from an electrical fire to depressurization of the plane's cabin, that could have led to the crew losing consciousness, the plane's transponder stopping its transmission and the plane flying undetected until it crashed after running out of fuel.

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