Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Darren Chester says he is open to extending the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 if credible new evidence which leads to the identification of a specific location of the aircraft is found, as a new report suggests the aircraft entered into a steep descent before crashing into the Indian Ocean.
The Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s (ATSB) latest report on the search, published on Wednesday, has detailed analysis of wing debris that investigators hope may provide more clues on the missing Boeing 777-200ER’s flightpath before it crashed in the Indian Ocean.
The report said the flap from the aircraft’s right wing was “most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing”.
Further, the ATSB said the right flaperon was “probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing”.
The findings, alongside additional analysis of the satellite communications data was “consistent with the aircraft being in a high and increasing rate of descent at that time”, the ATSB said.
“Additionally, the wing flap debris analysis reduced the likelihood of end-of-flight scenarios involving flap deployment,” the report said.
The findings suggest it was unlikely the aircraft crashed into the ocean following a controlled rate of descent.
The ATSB report also looked at drift analysis of the more than 20 pieces of debris that have been found since the Malaysia Airlines jet 9M-MRO carrying 239 passengers and crew lost contact with air traffic controllers en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing more than two years ago.
“Preliminary results of a drift analysis by Australia’s top scientific organisation, the CSIRO, also indicated it was unlikely that debris originated from the south of the current search area,” the ATSB report said.
“The northernmost simulated regions were also found to be less likely. Drift analysis work is ongoing and is expected to refine these results.”
The latest report can be read in full on the ATSB website.
The most recent ATSB operational update, published on October 26, said the entire 120,000 square kilometre search area was due to be completed by February 2017.
Canberra is hosting a First Principles Review Summit of the search, which will run from Wednesday to Friday and bring together Australian and international experts.
Chester, who opened the summit, said the gathering would review all the available data and analysis associated with the search so far, including the 20 odd items of debris that have been found off the coast of Africa since the aircraft disappeared in March 2014.
“The experts will also inform the remainder of the search effort, and develop guidance for any future search operations,” Chester said in a statement on Wednesday.
“A report detailing the findings of the review will be released after the meeting.
“Australia, Malaysia, and China continue to work together to find MH370. My thoughts, and the thoughts of all those involved in the summit, remain with the families and friends of the 239 passengers and crew.”
The Minister told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday decision made in relation to the search area were “not those for Australia alone”.
“It’s a tripartite agreement,” Chester said. “We work in partnership with the Malaysian and Chinese governments on these issues.
“Quite rightly, we will continue to explore every bit of information that’s available, and allow the experts from the ATSB in Australia, also the international experience, to inform our efforts.
“There was an agreement reached in July this year between the three nations involved to focus on and complete a 120,000 square kilometre search area, and in the absence of any further credible evidence leading to any specific location, the search would be suspended at that time. So that is the process we’ve undertaken.”
ATSB chief commissioner Greg Hood said recently the search for MH370 was following up on some sonar “underwater contacts” with an autonomous underwater vehicle.
“We’ve got almost 50 of those underwater contacts where the deep tow sonar has said there’s something there, it looks man made but we don’t know what it is,” Hood told delegates at the Regional Aviation Association of Australia (RAAA) national convention on October 21.
“Potentially we may have found the aircraft, but also potentially that underwater contact, they could be containers for example that have fallen off ships.”