Jun 27, 2014

Malaysia - MH370 likely on autopilot when flight went down, says Australian DPM

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Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 was "highly, highly likely" on autopilot when it ran out of fuel and crashed, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the search will shift further south.

"It would be fair to comment that it is highly, highly likely that the aircraft was on autopilot, otherwise it could not have followed the orderly path that has been identified through the satellite sightings," AFP reported Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss as saying at a press conference in Canberra.

Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), who was also at the press conference said they were confident the aircraft was operating on autopilot based on its path across the Indian Ocean, until it ran out of fuel.

"The whole process of analysis has been iterative one, so based on the satellite date there were theoretically an infinite range of flight paths the aircraft could have taken of all different sort of shapes and changes of course.

"But to try and refine those we had to make some provisional assumptions about the behaviour of the aircraft which was then tested against the date and analysis.

"And the best fit and highest probability flight path is one that has it on a straight course and that's associated with the aircraft operating on auto-pilot," said Dolan.

Truss also said the new search zone measures up to 60,000 sq km, located along the arc in the southern Indian Ocean.

"Specialists have analysed satellite communications information - information which was never initially intended to have the capability to track an aircraft - and performed extremely complex calculations.

"The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with satellite. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc based on these calculations," he said.

Truss said the search would entail ocean floor mapping followed by a comprehensive search of the sea floor.

"The bathymetric survey has already commenced, with the Chinese survey ship Zhu Kezhen and the Australian-contracted vessel Fugro Equator conducting operations in the areas provided by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau," Truss said.

He said it will take around three months to complete the bathymetric survey, while the underwater search will begin in August and could take up to 12 months to complete.

"The underwater search will aim to locate the aircraft and any evidence to assist with the Malaysian investigation of the disappearance of MH370."

He said Malaysia and Australia are developing a memorandum of understanding to determine the areas of cooperation in the search and recovery activities, including financial arrangements.

He said Malaysia would announce details of the contracted assets that may be deployed for use in the search.

The survey equipment that has been identified so far includes towed side-scan sonar, a multi-beam echo sounder and a sub-bottom profiler.

Neville Spykerman

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