Malaysia jet passengers likely suffocated, Australia says

SYDNEY Thu Jun 26, 2014 8:19pm EDT

Crew aboard the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield move the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle into position for deployment in the southern Indian Ocean to look for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, April 14, 2014 in this handout picture released by the U.S. Navy.  REUTERS/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/Handout via Reuters

Crew aboard the Australian Defence Vessel Ocean Shield move the U.S. Navy's Bluefin-21 autonomous underwater vehicle into position for deployment in the southern Indian Ocean to look for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, April 14, 2014 in this handout picture released by the U.S. Navy.

Credit: Reuters/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Peter D. Blair/Handout via Reuters

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - The passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines (MASM.KL) Flight MH370 most likely died from suffocation and coasted lifelessly into the ocean on autopilot, a new report released by Australian officials on Thursday said.

In a 55-page report, the Australian Transport Safety Board outlined how investigators had arrived at this conclusion after comparing the conditions on the flight with previous disasters, although it contained no new evidence from within the jetliner.

The report narrowed down the possible final resting place from thousands of possible routes, while noting the absence of communications and the steady flight path and a number of other key abnormalities in the course of the ill-fated flight.

"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 ATSB report said.

All of that suggested that the plane most likely crashed farther south into the Indian Ocean than previously thought, Australian officials also said, leading them to announce a shift farther south within the prior search area.

The new analysis comes more than 100 days after the Boeing (BA.N) 777, carrying 239 passengers and crew, disappeared on March 8 shortly after taking off from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

Investigators say what little evidence they have to work with suggests the plane was deliberately diverted thousands of kilometers from its scheduled route before eventually plunging into the Indian Ocean.

The search was narrowed in April after a series of acoustic pings thought to be from the plane's black box recorders were heard along a final arc where analysis of satellite data put its last location.

But a month later, officials conceded the wreckage was not in that concentrated area, some 1,600 km (1,000 miles) off the northwest coast of Australia, and the search area would have to be expanded.

"The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with satellite. We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc," Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss told reporters in Canberra.

Truss said the area was determined after a review of satellite data, early radar information and aircraft performance limits after the plane diverted across the Malaysian peninsula and headed south into one of the remotest areas of the planet.

"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," Truss said.

The next phase of the search is expected to start in August and take a year, covering some 60,000 sq km at a cost of A$60 million ($56 million) or more. The search is already the most expensive in aviation history.

The new priority search area is around 2,000 km west of Perth, a stretch of isolated ocean frequently lashed by storm force winds and massive swells.

Two vessels, one Chinese and one from Dutch engineering company Fugro (FUGRc.AS), are currently mapping the sea floor along the arc, where depths exceed 5,000 meters in parts.

A tender to find a commercial operator to conduct the sea floor search closes on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Matt Siegel; Editing by Nick Macfie and Stephen Coates)

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Comments (15)
2Borknot2B wrote:
Suffocated is a better description than choked. L.

Jun 26, 2014 9:02pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
chris87654 wrote:
I respectfully disagree that the plane was on autopilot at the end – had it been, the plane would have broken up when it hit the water – debris would have been seen/washed ashore by now. I agree everyone in the cabin died from hypoxia when the plane was over 40K ft for 23 minutes, but figure the pilot sent the copilot back to get coffee/etc and locked him out of the cockpit… there would be plenty of oxygen for one pilot to survive for 23 minutes. I suspect (as his coworker said) that he took the 777 on a joyride to try things he’d only done on his simulator – capped off with an attempt for successful ditch (plane intact) on the ocean.

Jun 26, 2014 10:00pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
dd606 wrote:
Finally people with common sense tell it like it is. When this is all said and done, the families of the crew should sue every single media outlet, that force fed the public the idea of them hijacking the plane. There was virtually no evidence to conclude that.

Jun 26, 2014 10:27pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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