MH370 was on autopilot until end, say heads of new search
Authorities say the missing Malaysia Airlines plane was set to autopilot during its voyage across the Indian Ocean and have announced a new "painstaking" search across an area covering 23,000 square miles.
Warren Truss, Australia's deputy prime minister, said it was "highly, highly likely" that the Boeing 777 was on autopilot as it travelled on a straight path south over the Indian Ocean.
"We could not accurately – nor have we attempted to – fix the moment when it was put on autopilot," he said. "We know it was on autopilot during this critical tracking."
Australia, which is overseeing the operation, confirmed that the new zone was further south and far larger than the area where an underwater search has already been conducted.
The previous search took about two months to cover just 330 square miles and found no wreckage. The new search, based on analysis of satellite data, is set to start in August, following detailed mapping of the underwater surface, and will then take up to a year to cover 23,000 square miles in an area where the water is 1.9 to 3.1 miles deep. If unsuccessful, it will broaden to an area covering about 77,000 square miles.
"The new search area is indeed a very large one," Mr Truss said.
"This area has never been comprehensively mapped. . . This site is the best available and most likely place where the aircraft is resting."
The new search area is 1,100 miles off the western coast of Australia and was the zone initially believed to be the most likely resting area for the plane. An international air search scoured the area but found no debris.
Mr Truss said the ocean floor in the area was believed to include a relatively flat surface, which rises to a ridge and then falls off sharply, adding: "Who knows how deep it is?"
Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, said the plane was believed to have been deliberately set to autopilot "somewhere off the western tip of Sumatra".
"Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)