MH370 search team may have looked in the wrong location for two years
The missing Malaysia Airlines jet MH370 may have glided down during its crash rather than dived meaning that its final resting place would lie out of the area explored by search teams.
Searchers led by engineering group Fugro have been scouring a patch of ocean roughly the size of Greece for two years but have so far failed to find anything more than fragments of the aircraft.
Although plane debris that washed up on a beach in Mozambique in March was considered to be ‘almost certainly’ from MH370, the majority of it is still missing.
MH370 disappeared in March 2014 with 239 passengers and crew on board en route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur.
When deciding the search area at the time of the disappearance, authorities assumed the plane had no ‘inputs’ during its final descent, meaning there was no pilot or no conscious pilot. They believe it was on auto-pilot and spiralled when it ran out of fuel.
The search, which covers over 120,000 square kilometres of the southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia, is expected to end in three months and could be called off after that following a meeting of key countries Malaysia, China and Australia on Friday.
The three country’s governments have previously agreed that unless any new credible evidence arises the search would not be extended, despite calls from victims' families. Further searches would require another round of funding from the governments in addition to the A$180m (£104m) that has already been spent.
Fugro project director Paul Kennedy said that their failure to find anything so far suggests the bulk of MH370 is in another location.
"If it's not there, it means it's somewhere else," he said.
If the gliding theory is correct, it would mean the plane was manned until the end and made it beyond the area marked out by calculations from satellite data.
Although Kennedy does not exclude extreme possibilities that could have made the plane impossible to spot in the search zone, he and his team now believe that gliding was the more likely option.
"If it was manned it could glide for a long way," Kennedy said. "You could glide it for further than our search area is, so I believe the logical conclusion will be well maybe that is the other scenario."
Doubts that the search teams are looking in the right place will likely fuel calls for all data to be made publicly available.
Doing so would allow academics and rival companies to pursue an ‘open source’ solution to finding the plane, a collaborative public answer to the airline industry's greatest mystery.
Fugro's controlled glide hypothesis is the first time officials have lent some support to contested theories that someone was in control during the flight's final moments.
Since the crash there have been competing theories over whether one, both or no pilots were in control, whether it was hijacked or whether all aboard perished and the plane was not controlled at all when it hit the water.
Adding to the mystery, investigators believe someone may have deliberately switched off the plane's transponder before diverting it thousands of miles.
But many major organisations in the aircraft sector including Boeing, Thales, the National Transportation Safety Board, Inmarsat, UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation do not support the glide theory.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), the agency coordinating the search, has consistently defended the defined search zone. It did not immediately respond to questions over whether it was assessing the controlled glide theory.
The International Civil Aviation Organization announced stricter requirements in March for real-time aircraft tracking on the two-year anniversary of MH370’s disappearance.