Missing Flight MH370 was probably on autopilot, say searchers

Flight MH370, the missing Malaysian plane, was ''highly likely'' to have been on autopilot as it flew over the Indian Ocean, Australian officials said on Thursday, as they decided to shift the focus of their search further south to locate the plane that vanished mysteriously over three months back.

After analysing data between the plane and a satellite, officials believe the flight MH370 was on autopilot before it disappeared along with 239 people, including five Indians, on 8 March after taking off from Kuala Lumpur en route to Beijing.

''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,'' Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss said.

The mystery surrounding the missing Boeing 777-200 plane continues to baffle aviation and security authorities who have so far not succeeded in tracking the aircraft despite deploying hi-tech radar, submersible and other gadgets.

''We are confident that the aircraft was operating on autopilot until it ran out of fuel,'' Martin Dolan, chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau which is leading the search, said, divulging new details about the jet's fate.

Investigators have reviewed information in order to define a search zone of up to 60,000 sq km along the arc in the southern Indian Ocean.

Truss said the latest shift in the search area involves the efforts and expertise of specialists from around the world.

He said experts have analysed satellite communications information which was never initially intended to have the capability to track an aircraft and performed extremely complex calculations.

The new priority area is still focused on the seventh arc, where the aircraft last communicated with a satellite.

''We are now shifting our attention to an area further south along the arc based on these calculations,'' Truss said, adding that the new area is around 1,800 km west of Perth.

He said he was optimistic that ''this site is the best available and most likely place where the aircraft is resting.''

He said the search continues with a bathymetric survey or mapping of the ocean floor in the search area, to be followed by a comprehensive search of the sea floor.