An Australian military report has suggested the missing Malaysian airliner crashed with nobody at the controls. Questions remain about why the pilot used a simulator to plot a similar course to the jet's presumed path.
Extensive testing by aircraft manufacturer Boeing and a new Australian defense department data analysis suggest that the missing airliner dove into the ocean at high speed, suggesting there was no one at the controls, the Australian newspaper reported Tuesday.
The sharp dive was confirmed by signals sent automatically between the plane and a satellite, Australian Transport and Safety Bureau chief Greg Hood said. If a pilot had been at the controls, he would have been able to bring the plane down more gradually in a semi-controlled descent.
The Boeing 777 disappeared on March 8, 2014 while en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 passengers and crew aboard.
Once MH370 ran out of fuel, it slowed before dropping from 35,000 feet at a rate of between 12,000 feet a minute and 20,000 feet a minute, Boeing said, according to the newspaper.
Critics of the search say investigators could be searching in the wrong area. But the lead investigators said the data analysis is consistent with its theory regardless of whether the plane was brought down intentionally or not.
MH370 "was likely to have crashed in the 120,000 square kilometer (46,000 square mile) area now being searched," the newspaper reported.
"The Australians leading the search do not doubt that the pilot may well have been responsible for the jet's disappearance but they say critics of the search strategy are wrong to assume that means they are looking in the wrong place," the report added.
Mystery of the flight simulator
This comes as Malaysia acknowledged for the first time that one of the pilots of the missing flight had plotted a course on his home flight simulator to the southern Indian Ocean, where searchers are now scouring for evidence of wreckage.
Data recovered from Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah's simulator included a flight path to the southern Indian Ocean, but Malaysia's Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai told local journalists that the simulated flight path was not in itself evidence of foul play.
"There is no evidence to prove that Captain Zaharie flew the plane into the southern Indian Ocean," Liow said. "Yes, there is the simulator but the (route) was one of thousands to many parts of the world. We cannot just base on that to confirm (he did it)."
No answers for victims' families
Still, the world's biggest aviation mystery continues to unnerve families of the victims, who blame Malaysia for a cover-up and incompetence.
"It is another irresponsible thing the Malaysian government has done to try to fool the relatives and cover up the truth and the conspiracy. We relatives strongly protest it and strongly demand the discovery of our loved ones," Li Xinmao, whose daughter Li Yan and son-in-law Luo Wei were among the many Chinese passengers on the flight.
Malaysia's national police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar, has said investigations will not be conclusive until the black boxes - the cockpit voice recorder and a data recorder - are recovered.
There is still no explanation for why the Boeing 777 veered so far off course. Theories have ranged from a deliberate murder-suicide plot by one of the pilots, as in last year's Germanwings tragedy, to a hijacking or mechanical failure.
Searchers from Malaysia, Australia and China announced last month that the underwater search will be suspended once the current search area has been completely scoured. Crews have fewer than 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) left to scan of search area, and should finish their sweep of the region by the end of the year.
jar/kl (AFP, AP)