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Malaysia Airlines MH370: officials announce new search area

The Australian report suggests the plane lost air pressure and was likely switched to autopilot before the crash.
By Ananth Baliga   |   June 26, 2014 at 8:04 AM   |   Comments

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CANBERRA, Australia, June 26 (UPI) -- Australian officials released a 64-page report Thursday that concludes search operations should shift to an area 1,100 miles off the west coast of Australia.

Officials said they changed the search area after analyzing satellite data and that an underwater search would continue in the new area starting August. They also believe that the plane was on autopilot when it crashed. The continued search will scour 23,000 square miles of ocean floor and the Australian government is using a private contractor to conduct it.

"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," said Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on March 8 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 239 passengers on board. An international search ensued using audio pings from the plane, but officials later determined they were not caused by the plane.

The report by the Australian Transport Safety Board outlines the new search area and also the most likely scenario that led to the crash -- officials believe the crew were either suffering from hypoxia or were otherwise unresponsive.

Hypoxia, caused by a lack of oxygen, could cause crew and passengers to become confused and incapable of performing basic duties.

Officials were able to come to this conclusion because of the loss of radio communication and the steady flight path the plane maintained, suggesting it was on autopilot.

"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," the document said.

The search for MH370 is now the most expensive in aviation history. Families of the 239 passengers have expressed frustration at the lack of progress with the search operations saying that there was information that Malaysian officials were withholding from them.

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