Flight MH370 search shifts further south
Investigators are confident missing Malaysia Air flight MH370 was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean.PT0M0S 620 349
The mystery flight MH370 was almost certainly set to autopilot before it began its journey south, authorities said, as the government announced a new underwater search zone for the wreckage.
More than 100 days since the quest began to find the plane dubbed the greatest aviation mystery, the government announced that experts had identified a new search area that would take up to a year to cover, starting in August.
The 60,000-square-kilometre area of the sea floor lying about 1800 kilometres west of Perth has been chosen by a thorough expert review of satellite and other data, Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.
"The search will still be painstaking": Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
''The search will still be painstaking … We could be fortunate and find it in the first hour or the first day. But it could take another 12 months,'' he said.
In a fresh twist to the puzzle of what happened on board the vanished Malaysia Airlines plane, the top aviation official in charge of the search said the Boeing 777 seemed to have flown from the tip of Sumatra, Indonesia, on autopilot.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief Martin Dolan said, moreover, it was likely to have been deliberately set on autopilot, rather than defaulting due to a technical problem or pilot inaction.
''We would generally expect that if the autopilot is operational, that's a result of it being made operational … it's because it's been switched on,'' he said.
Based on the map released by the bureau of the presumed flight path, MH370 appears to have changed direction three times between taking off from Kuala Lumpur and setting its final course towards the Indian Ocean where officials believe it came down.
Mr Dolan refused to say whether the new information made foul play more or less likely, insisting that was a matter for the Malaysian authorities. Australian authorities were responsible only for the search, he said.
Mr Truss said that despite the false leads in the past, he was confident they would be looking in the right place. ''We are optimistic … with the capacity and the time that's now been available to carefully scrutinise … satellite and indeed other information at our disposal, that this site is the best available and most likely place where the aircraft is resting.''
The new search using high-tech equipment such as side-scan sonar will not begin until August because the sea floor in the region has not been mapped, making any search dangerous. Two survey ships, one Australian and one Chinese, will take about three more months to map the floor.