Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was almost certainly on autopilot when it ran out of fuel and crashed, Australian officials said yesterday as they announced that their search will shift further south.
Investigators have been grappling with the mystery of the jet’s disappearance on March 8 with 239 people on board, with months spent scouring the Indian Ocean and finding nothing.
An expert group has reviewed the existing information and Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said it was now “highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot” when it went down.
“Otherwise, it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings,” he told reporters.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau Commissioner Martin Dolan, whose agency is leading the search, agreed.
“Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it went out of fuel,” he said.
The plane was flying from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it vanished, shocking the world and shattering the families of those aboard, who still have no idea what happened to their loved ones.
No trace of the jetliner has been found, despite an extensive Australian-led search effort deep in the Indian Ocean, where Malaysia believes it crashed.
Theories on what happened include a hijacking, rogue pilot action and mechanical failure.
A review of the data has now identified a new area, covering up to 60,000km2 in the southern Indian Ocean, where an underwater search is to start in August and could take up to a year.
“Specialists have analyzed satellite communications information — information which was never initially intended to have the capability to track an aircraft — and performed extremely complex calculations,” Truss said. “The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc where the aircraft last communicated with satellites. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc based on these calculations.”
The new area is about 1,800km west of Perth and had previously been subject to an aerial search that found no debris.
Truss said he was “optimistic” that “this site is the best available and most likely place where the aircraft is resting.”
Until now, the most intensive search had been with a mini-submarine in an area further north, where pings believed to be from the plane’s black box were detected. The area has now been ruled out as the final resting place of MH370.
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