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article imageLost Malaysia Airlines jet flew for hours on autopilot

By Nathan Salant     Jun 29, 2014 in Travel
Canberra - Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 flew for hours on autopilot before running out of fuel over the vast Indian Ocean and crashing, a team of international investigators searching for the plane now believe.
Australian officials now leading the international probe said Thursday said further analysis of data revealed that the lost jetliner flew in a straight line after veering off its planned flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, suggesting it was under automatic control.
"Certainly for its path across the Indian Ocean, we are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel," Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Martin Dolan said at a news conference in Canberra, the nation's capital.
Dolan said someone aboard the doomed jetliner must have switched on the Boeing 777's autopilot before the automatic controls would have taken over the plane's operation.
"The basic assumption would be that if the autopilot is operational it's because it's been switched on," he said, according to the Associated Press.
But officials had no explanation to offer as to why automatic controls would have taken the plane with 239 passengers and crew so far off course, nor could they say when durng the flight the autopilot was activated.
Flight 370 disappeared from radar screens about an hour after taking off March 8 from Kuala Lumpur.
No distress signal was received from the airplane or its crew, and no sign of them has been spotted despite a multi-nation search on the surface and floor of the Indian Ocean.
"We couldn't accurately, nor have we attempted to, fix the moment when it was put on autopilot," Australia's transport minister, Warren Truss, told reporters.
"It will be a matter for the Malaysian-based investigation to look at precisely when it may have been put on autopilot," he said.
Dolan also said investigators now presume the crew of Flight 370 were incapacitated, possibly from oxygen deprivation, as the plane turned south and flew under autopilot.
This would explain why the plane would have lost radio contact with the ground and flew so long without changing course after the initial radical change from its flight plan.
Dolan also offered further explanation of why authorities plan to search a different area of the ocean when search efforts resume in August.
High-powered sonar equipment will be used to scour the new 23,000-square-mile search area, several hundred miles southwest of the previous area that was painstakingly checked over weeks by a high-tech underwater drone.
But the new search area is so large that it could take as long as 12 months to thoroughly check, the AP said.
More about Malaysia, Airlines, Fight 370, Kuala lumpur, Beijing
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