An analysis of debris from Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 suggests the ill-fated plane entered into a steep dive, crashing into the ocean with wing flaps in a retracted position. The new report suggests no one was at the controls at the time, and that no attempt was made to perform a controlled ditching. French police officers look over a piece of debris from a plane in Saint-Andre, Reunion Island, 29 July 2015. (Image: AP)
Since the plane disappeared on 8 March 2014, two predominant theories have emerged. The favoured theory is that no one was in control of the plane when it crashed, but in recent months - and in light of the fact that the primary wreckage site has yet to be found - an alternate theory has gained traction, namely the suggestion that someone was in fact behind the controls, putting the plane into a glide that in theory would triple the size of the search area.
A new report compiled by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, which is leading the search, now puts this alternate theory in serious doubt. An analysis of satellite data suggests the plane was in a "high and increasing rate of descent" in its final moments. Estimates suggest the plane was plummeting at a rate of about 3657m a minute (217km/h) when in crashed into the water, likely disintegrating on contact.
What's more, a wing section that washed ashore in Tanzania was found to be in a retracted position, and not deployed when it broke off the plane. Pilots typically extend flaps during a controlled ditching.
"[It] means the aircraft wasn't configured for a landing or a ditching - you can draw your own conclusions as to whether that means someone was in control," said Peter Foley, the bureau's director, when speaking to reporters in Canberra yesterday. "You can never be 100 per cent. We are very reluctant to express absolute certainty."
This is a significant setback for those hoping to see the search area expanded. Investigators are currently combing through a 120,000 square-kilometre area west of Australia. Should no new evidence emerge in the coming weeks and months, officials have agreed to call off the search in February 2017 - nearly three years after the plane disappeared with 239 people on board.