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  • Sep 21, 2014
  • Updated: 10:32pm
Malaysia Airlines flight 370
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Flight MH370

Experts say MH370 flew on autopilot then ran out of fuel as search shifts south

Autopilot theory would explain plane's 'orderly path' says Australian transport minister

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 June, 2014, 2:13pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 June, 2014, 2:34am

The missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel above the southern Indian Ocean, with its crew likely "unresponsive", experts believe.

The latest theory on the fate of the plane - which disappeared more than three months ago - came as Australia announced that the underwater search for the jet would shift further south.

Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said yesterday that an expert review had found it was "highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot" when it crashed. "Otherwise it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings," he said.

The jet, with 239 people - mostly Chinese - on board, disappeared on March 8 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

An extensive Australian-led search has so far failed to find any trace of the jet. New search efforts will now concentrate on an area 2,000 kilometres off Australia's west coast near where the original search began in late March.

The new search area, covering up to 60,000 square kilometres, is along the so-called seventh arc, one of several possible routes projected by investigators. Starting in August, the seabed search at depths of up to 5,000 metres will last up to a year.

"We are now shifting our attention to an area further south ... broadly in the area where our first search efforts were focused," Truss said.

Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said the plane's journey over the Indian Ocean was largely guided automatically, giving rise to the likelihood that the crew had been rendered unconscious.

Theories on the plane's fate have included hijacking, a rogue pilot and mechanical failures.

But the ATSB report released yesterday said the most likely scenario was the crew suffering from hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, possibly from the plane losing air pressure at high altitude.

The report said "the hypoxia event type appeared to best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370's flight".

Graham Edkins, a former ATSB safety investigator, said the time and distance for which the Boeing 777's autopilot function was used was not considered "unusual".

He supported the idea that the crew was "incapacitated", adding that it did not necessarily "indicate there was some kind of terrorist activity".

Malaysia last week denied claims that experienced Boeing 777 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a prime suspect in investigations surrounding the flight's disappearance.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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This article is now closed to comments

mfchung
so they're going back to search the region where the Chinese ships said they heard something before the New York Time toerags jumped in?
fink
No, they're going to where Inmarsat said it was all along.
Dai Muff
No. This is a completely different area to the one the Chinese ships were even in.
Hum-Balang
In the first month of its disappearance, SCMP headlined the Boeing 777 was "state of the art", lo and behold we knew what happened to that. For three months we heard from the "experts", including the headline here, so how far or long are we from locating MH370? Can we simply admit that no one knows, not even these "experts".
keithafielder
Does anyone in the airline industry have a theory? A catastrophic mechanical failure resulting in lack of oxygen and everyone passing out and the plane flying on auto-pilot until it ran out of fuel? Or a pre-meditated sabotage by the pilot? If the latter is possible what about the others in the cockpit: the co-pilot and navigator? And the cabin crew and passengers: would they not realise that the plane was going in the wrong direction? Quite a mystery! This "autopilot" theory does not seem to have much to offer other than a new search area.
asiaseen
Hypoxia (lack of oxygen) is a possibility though there could be several reasons for it. At the height the aircraft was flying you only have very little time before unconsciousness sets in.
As for the cabin crew and passengers being aware that the direction was wrong - most unlikely. I'm ex-aircrew (military) and whenever I fly I only watch the flight map on the entertainment system but without it, there are no clues in the cabin especially at night.
Once an airliner is established in the climb after take-off, the auto-pilot is engaged, it's very unusual for a civil aircraft the be flown manually
keithafielder
Flight map on the entertainment system is an interesting point: does it show exactly where the plane is or is it a fake like those thermostats in hotel rooms?
asiaseen
It's fed directly from the aircraft navigation system, so yes, it is accurate.
cy_lau
really?!! you learn something new everyday ....
HK-Lover
Sorry asiaseen but I can't agree with you with regard to realising of the wrong direction.
From KL to Beijing MH370 would have been on a NNE course and if they flew the direction the experts say the routing was southerly.
In the night any passenger with an average education and a cockpit crew for sure would very well see and realise that the moon is on the wrong side of the plane. And at normal cruising altitude you usually have clear skies.

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