The Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that disappeared nearly three years ago with 239 people on board crashed into the Indian Ocean at high speed rather than gliding down gently, an analysis of the debris found.
The conclusion from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau made public Wednesday is based on analysis of 20 pieces of debris believed to have come from the Boeing 777. Pieces of debris have washed ashore on the east and south coast of Africa, the east coast of Madagascar and the islands of Mauritius, Reunion and Rodriguez since the plane disappeared March 8, 2014, during a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Beijing.
Two sections of flaps were traced specifically to the lost plane by their markings.
Damage to pieces of the wings suggest the flaps “most likely” weren’t deployed as they would be in a controlled glide for landing, according to the bureau’s 27-page report.
For takeoff and landing, flaps are extended from the wing along tracks, with the extra surface area and angle of the wing helping lift or slow the plane. Investigators found the damage along the tracks and fiberglass seals suggested that the flaps were still retracted when the plane entered the water — key evidence indicating the flaps did not deploy.
“The right outboard flap was most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing,” the report said. “The right flaperon was probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing.”
Peter Foley, the bureau's director of search operations for the plane, told reporters Wednesday that the new analysis "means the aircraft wasn't configured for a landing or a ditching."
"You can draw your own conclusions as to whether that means someone was in control," Foley said. "You can never be 100 percent. We are very reluctant to express absolute certainty."
Investigators continue to search for the plane based on clues from scant pieces of wreckage found since the plane disappeared. Equipment aboard the plane that would have provided a more precise location — the transponder and an automated maintenance system — lost power less than an hour into the flight, either because someone turned them off or because of a catastrophic failure aboard the plane.
Analysis of hourly signals from the plane’s satellite communications, which reached a satellite perched above the Indian Ocean, suggested the plane spiraled into the water about 1,000 miles west of Australia after first one and then the other engine ran out of fuel.
A sonar search of the ocean floor by Australia, China and Malaysia has spanned 42,000 square miles, an area about the size of Virginia. The three countries agreed in July to stop searching the ocean floor once they cover 46,000 square miles, an area a little bigger than Pennsylvania. The search is expected to conclude in about a month.
Based on the debris and the way that the electronic signals reached the satellite, the report confirmed that the search is focused on the right general area.