Flight MH370 was likely out of control when it plunged into the ocean with its wing flaps not prepared for landing, a new report said Wednesday, casting doubt on theories a pilot was still in charge.
Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 carrying 239 passengers and crew.
The report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau found the plane’s final satellite communications were “consistent with the aircraft being in a high and increasing rate of descent” when it vanished.
Analysis of the right outboard flap — which was found off Tanzania — showed it was “most likely in the retracted position”, suggesting the plane was not configured for landing before it smashed into the ocean.
The new finding casts doubt on theories proposed by some analysts that a pilot had been flying the plane when it landed in the sea.
“You can draw your own conclusions,” the ATSB’s head of MH370 search operations Peter Foley told reporters, adding that the new findings showed “we’re looking for an aircraft that’s actually quite close to the seventh arc.”
The search zone — defined under the “most likely” scenario that no one was at the controls as the jet ran out of fuel — is a thin, long stretch of water within the so-called seventh arc, where the plane was calculated to have emitted a final satellite “handshake” showing its location.
“This report contains important new information on what we believe happened at the end of MH370’s flight,” Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester said at the start of a three-day meeting in Canberra where experts will plan the final stages of the search.
Despite a massive underwater hunt far off Western Australia’s coast, no trace of the jet has been found.
Investigators have however confirmed that three pieces of debris recovered along western Indian Ocean shorelines came from MH370.
– ‘Historic’ search –
More than 110,000 square kilometres (42,470 square miles) of a 120,000-square-kilometre search arc have been scoured so far and the operation is due to wrap up in early 2017.
Experts at this week’s meeting will “review all the available data and analysis associated with the search to date”, Chester said in a statement.
Their findings will “inform the remainder of the search effort, and develop guidance for any future search operations.”
“There are currently more than 20 items of debris of interest to the investigation team which have been located on the coasts of Africa, Madagascar, the islands of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues,” he added.
Ongoing drift analysis also suggested the search focused on the right place, the ATSB said, noting it was “unlikely debris originated south of the current search area.
“The northernmost regions were also found to be less likely,” it added.
Chester said he remained hopeful the vanished jet would be found within the current search area, but he added that the challenging hunt has “tested the limits of human engineering excellence and technical capacity, and it has been an historic effort”.
“We are searching in the right area, but the degree of difficulty is something we all need to understand,” the minister told reporters.
“We’re talking about searching sections of the ocean which are four to six kilometres deep, with canyons and ravines. It is an extremely difficult and complex search.”
The governments of Australia, Malaysia and China, where most of the passengers were from, this year agreed to pull the plug on the operation once the search area was fully scoured unless “credible new information” emerged.