The latest details in the hunt for the doomed airliner were announced on Thursday.
“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,” Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Canberra, in comments reported by CNN.
In a report published on 26 June, the authorities also suggested the flight crew may have been in an “unresponsive” state, possibly caused by lack of oxygen (also known as hypoxia).
The report examined a series of previous accidents caused by an unresponsive crew/ hypoxia event, stating they tend to be characterised by:
- Loss of radio communications
- Long period of without any en route manoeuvring of the aircraft
- A steadily maintained cruise altitude
- Fuel exhaustion and descent
- No pilot intervention
- Loss of control
The report adds: “Given these observations, the final stages of the unresponsive crew/ hypoxia event type appeared to best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370’s flight when it was heading in a generally southerly direction.
“This suggested that, for MH370, it was possible that after a long period of flight under autopilot control, fuel exhaustion would occur followed by a loss of control without any control inputs.”
It points out the suggestions have been made for the sole purpose of assisting to define a search area; "and there is no suggestion that the investigation authority will make similar assumptions."
“The determination of the actual factors involved in the loss of MH370 are the responsibility of the accident investigation authority and not the Search Strategy Working Group (SSWG).
The news comes as a new search area south of the original hunting ground was probed, after new information from existing satellite data came to light.
The plane and its 239 passengers vanished almost four months ago en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
The Boeing 777 is believed to have crashed in the southern Indian Ocean, but not a single piece of debris has been identified in an extensive search involving more than a dozen countries.
Family members of passengers are seeking to raise $5 million for a reward and private investigation leading to discovery of what happened to the missing jet, in the hope whistleblowers will come forward.
Last week it was revealed that the pilot of the vanished flight MH370 has become the chief suspect in its disappearance, after police learned he had made no social plans after the day it disappeared.
Captain Zaharie Shah had no social or professional engagements after March 8, the day the flight vanished. The Malaysian police investigation has not ruled out mechanical failure as an explanation but says he is the most likely culprit if human action was to blame.
The rest of the crew were all cleared by security checks, the Sunday Times reported.