Search for missing Malaysian plane shifts south
By Kristen Gelineau, AP
June 27, 2014, 12:00 am TWN
SYDNEY--Investigators looking into the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines plane are confident it was on autopilot when it crashed in a remote stretch of the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said Thursday as they announced the latest shift in the search for the jet.
After analyzing data exchanged between the plane and a satellite, officials believe Flight 370 was on autopilot the entire time it was flying across a vast expanse of the southern Indian Ocean, based on the straight path it took, Australian Transport Safety Bureau chief commissioner Martin Dolan said.
"Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel," Dolan told reporters in Canberra, the nation's capital.
Asked whether the autopilot would have to be manually switched on, or whether it could have been activated automatically under a default setting, Dolan replied, "The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it's because it's been switched on."
But exactly why the autopilot would have been set on a flight path so far off course from the jet's destination of Beijing, and exactly when it was switched on remains unknown.
"We couldn't accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot," Transport Minister Warren Truss said. "It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot."
The latest nugget of information from the investigation into Flight 370 came as officials announced yet another change in the search area for the plane that vanished on March 8 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur with 239 passengers and crew on board.
The new search area is several hundred kilometers southwest of the most recent suspected crash site, about 1,800 kilometers off Australia's west coast, Dolan said. Powerful sonar equipment will scour the seabed for wreckage in the new search zone, which officials calculated by reanalyzing the existing satellite data.