The search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 continues with no signs of where the plane could have possibly crashed or landed. A new clue has surfaced in the search this week, however: Australian officials say they believe the plane was on autopilot when it disappeared.
According to CNN, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss announced in a press conference this week that all signs point to a human hand not being in control of the plane when it disappeared. “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 explained. The path has been drawn out using pings from the plane as it flew in the sky that were sent to satellites. The fact that the plane was on autopilot rekindles the possibility that everyone on the plane was unconscious–or, as Truss put it, an “unresponsive” state–due to a failure that left the plane without oxygen.
While authorities now know that it was on autopilot, they have not declared any exact time in which the plane was set to autopilot. A specific time would confirm whether an error placed the plane on autopilot or someone in the cockpit intentionally set it to run a specific course. The latter does appear to be the preferred theory of Australian officials, however.
The search for the missing plane has proven the costliest in history, and many major points of controversy remain. In June, satellite company Inmarsat, which possessed some tracking information from its satellites that was taken automatically during the night MH370 was lost, announced that authorities had not searched the site they believed to be the most likely crashing spot of the plane based on their data. While acknowledging that the search area agreed upon by government authorities was “by no means an unrealistic location,” Inmarsat spokesman Chris Ashton said “it was further to the north east than our area of highest probability.”
In addition, reports surfaced that deleted flight paths on the simulator of Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah included landing areas in the southern Indian Ocean.
Days later, authorities announced that they would be shifting the search area south, to an area about the size of West Virginia in the Indian Ocean. The new search would be conducted by scanning the ocean floor, a tedious process hindered by the fact that the ocean floor has not been fully mapped in that area.