A new update Thursday from Australian officials regarding Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 states that the ending of the flight is best explained by all 239 passengers and crew members becoming unresponsive, possibly due to oxygen depletion, based on the plane’s steady altitude, loss of radio communications, and other factors.
Australian authorities also believe someone onboard Flight 370 switched on the autopilot system deliberately after the plane turned toward the southern Indian Ocean, where it ran out of fuel and subsequently crashed.
This is more likely than other scenarios such as the plane’s systems malfunctioning, a stall or sudden loss of flight controls, they said. But they stressed that these conclusions are not supported by hard evidence, and that Malaysian authorities heading the overall probe may not share their assumptions.
The questions that still remain are why Flight 370 deviated sharply from its planned route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, or what might have caused the oxygen depletion, if that is indeed what occurred.
Along with the report, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau moved the search area for the third time since the flight seemingly disappeared. The new search is slated to restart in August as much as 600 miles south of the previous underwater focus.
The highest-priority search areas were calculated in part by relying on aircraft maneuvers in previous commercial-plane crashes and the assumption that everyone aboard Flight 370 were victims of oxygen deprivation, or hypoxia.
No theory has been given to the cause of hypoxia. The ATSB said the assumption was made in part because the plane appeared to travel for a long period of time – about five hours – without any radio communication or dramatic turns in deviations, and assumingly without significant altitude changes.
Martin Dolan, chief commissioner at the ATSB, downplayed the possibility that the autopilot could have been activated automatically, perhaps in the wake of some massive systems failure, however he didn’t provide an in depth explanation.