MH370: NTSB Chief Martin Dolan 'Optimistic' Despite Abbott Comments

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CANBERRA, Australia — Top officials leading the hunt for Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 have remained outwardly optimistic about finding the aircraft, despite dropping hints that the search may be scaled back if no debris is located soon.

"We clearly cannot keep searching forever," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told Reuters one week before the anniversary of the plane’s disappearance this Sunday. "I can’t promise that the search will go on at this intensity forever," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told parliament on Thursday.

Despite this shift in tone, the head of the agency responsible for the underwater search told NBC News he was still optimistic of finding the jet. "We are confident in the understanding of the likely behavior of the aircraft at the end of the flight, so we think we are looking in the right area," Australian Transport Safety Bureau director Martin Dolan said in an interview.

In May, investigators are set to complete their search of a 23,000-square-mile area where they believe the plane crashed. The estimated cost so far, around $40 million split evenly between Australia and Malaysia, would increase considerably were the hunt expanded to a wider 425,000 square-mile area of interest.

Dolan was not prepared to be drawn on what would happen after May. "Hypotheticals on what might happen next is not where our eyes are at, our eyes are on the priority search area and finding the aircraft there," he said.

Asked whether he had a message for the next of kin who shared those sentiments, Dolan said: “I would say very clearly that there are over 200 people that are passionately committed to solving the mystery of MH370 and to providing at least some certainly and therefore some sense of closure for those families.

"We understand their pain, and we are doing everything we humanly can to find the aircraft."

— Ed Flanagan

Reuters contributed to this report.

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