CANBERRA, Australia, March 7 (UPI) -- The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the plane that disappeared in 2014, will likely end in July, the leader of the Australian investigation team said.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said he believes the plane will be found in the 46,000-square-mile search area of the Indian Ocean, three-quarters of which has been searched.
"If we don't find the aircraft within the priority search site ... that's the point at which the search will stop," he said, suggesting the plane will be found in the last, unsearched quadrant of the search area.
"It's as likely on the last day (of the search) as on the first that the aircraft would be there. We've covered nearly three-quarters of the search area, and since we haven't found the aircraft in those areas, that increases the likelihood that it's in the areas we haven't looked at yet," Dolan added.
The plane, a Boeing 777 with 227 passengers and 12 crew members aboard, mysteriously disappeared on March 8, 2014, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Satellite data indicates it was thousands of miles off course over the southern Indian Ocean when it presumably ran out of fuel and fell into the water.
Just one piece of wreckage, a piece of a wing called a flaperon found on Reunion Island off the east coast of Africa on July 29, 2015, has been confirmed to have come from Flight 370. Two other pieces of debris have been found on Reunion Island and on the shores of Mozambique, but have not yet been positively identified as having come from Flight 370.
Dolan said that Australia, China and Malaysia, the governments conducting the search, "don't have the appetite" to widen the effort after spending nearly $100 million thus far in mapping and scanning the ocean floor.
As the search continues, families of passengers aboard the plane are rushing to file lawsuits prior to a two-year deadline, specified by international treaty, Monday. Lawyers representing the families have advised their clients to bring claims against Malaysia Airlines, which is liable under a 1999 treaty setting rules for compensating victims of air disasters. Families are entitled to claim up to $160,000 from the carrier.
The airline said Feb. 24 that 42 families had settled claims, and 118 had begun legal proceedings. Other families have sued Boeing Co., Malaysia's Department of Civil Aviation and the Royal Malaysian Air Force for alleged negligence.
The incident, which features little evidence, and the accompanying lawsuits, are unprecedented in aviation history.
"This is so far removed from what anyone has experienced that everyone has been left reeling," said Joseph Wheeler, an Australian lawyer representing five families. "We've never seen that before."