The doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 could have dropped from a height of 35,000ft at a speed of up to 20,000ft a minute before it finally crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, analysis of automated flight signals from the missing aircraft showed. The chief of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has said the findings corroborate the assumption that the plane could be located in the designated 120,000sq km seafloor.
Defence scientists thoroughly studied the automated signals — dubbed handshakes — sent by the missing flight during its final moments to a satellite linked to a ground station in Perth and found that the plane crashed into the sea after running out of fuel. They also found that its two engines burst out — the first was the left engine followed by the right, which flamed out in the next 15 minutes.
Pointing to the new theories that have surfaced in the resent past that the pilot of the plane, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, could have glided the plane farther away from the designated search area, MH370 search programme director Peter Foley said the search location was not ascertained based on theories, but on "hard facts" found following months of analysis of signals transmitted by the flight.
The automated signal system, which is designed to provide data about the status of airplane parts like engines, reportedly indicated that just after midnight on 8 March, 2014, MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur and headed for Beijing, with "goodnight" being the last heard radio message from the crew. Signals picked up by Malaysian military radar showed the aircraft making two turns that took it back over the Malaysian Peninsula. But there was further evidence that pointed to at least one more turn that the plane took at the northwest tip of Sumatra towards the southern Indian Ocean, which was most likely made by the conscious pilot.
Seven automated connections received from the flight helped investigators ascertain that the missing Boeing 777 was still flying long after it lost contact with ground control office. Two satellite phone calls made to the plane after it went off radar went unanswered, but defence scientists confirmed the plane was heading south at that time, the Australian reported.
It was the seventh signal that was out of sequence and helped investigators conclude that the plane ran out of fuel from that instant and one of its two engines flamed out.
ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said the analysis of these automated signals back the investigators' theory that the plane was not manned and crashed into the ocean following fuel exhaustion. He added that extensive testing by Boeing concluded that the plane dived from 35,000ft at a speed ranging between 12,000 and 20,000ft per minute. However, an aircraft making a normal landing descends at a speed of 2,000ft a minute.
The defence scientists also found that the crash took place at 8.19am (WA time) on 9 March, 2014, since when the Beijing-bound plane with 238 passengers and crew members has remained untraceable.
Foley told The Australian that a Defence Science and Technology Group team headed by Neil Gordon was a crucial part of the search team. He added that the ATSB had always kept an open mind with regard to the MH370 search.