Search for MH370
Squadron leader Brett McKenzie marks the name of another search aircraft on the windshield of a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion aircraft searching for missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 over the southern Indian OceanREUTERS/Jason Reed/File Photo

The examination of a key piece of wreckage from the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has found that the aircraft was most likely in a steep dive and crashed with flaps in a retracted position, casting new doubt over theories that it was under human control, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Australian investigators overseeing the hunt for the airliner in a remote area of the Indian Ocean released a report on Wednesday saying an examination of wing flap debris found off Tanzania in June showed it likely wasn't extended when the plane entered the ocean, suggesting the aircraft wasn't in a controlled glide with the pilot or passenger at the controls.

"It was probably in a non-extended position, which means that the aircraft wasn't configured for a landing or a ditching," said Peter Foley, the director of the search for Flight 370 at the ATSB. "You can never be 100 percent and we are reluctant to express absolute certainty, but that's the most likely scenario," he added.

Authorities have long believed the plane wasn't under human control at the time of its apparent crash, based on communications between the aircraft and an Inmarsat PLC satellite. That communications data — central to fixing on a 120,000 square-kilometre search area, more than 90 percent of which has now been covered — suggest Flight 370 was plummeting at a rate of at least 12,000 feet a minute when it entered the water.

However, another theory — that the plane was in a controlled glide following a loss of engine power — hasn't been ruled out, though authorities consider it less likely.

The latest wing flap analysis found the right outboard flap of the Boeing 777 was likely damaged by an adjacent control flaperon in the "neutral position," instead of extended as it would normally have been when landing.

Taken together with satellite data and modelling of possible crash simulations put together by Boeing experts, Foley said the analysis showed the current search zone along an area known as the seventh arc continued to be the most likely place where the plane came down.

ns put together by Boeing experts, Foley said the analysis showed the current search zone along an area known as the seventh arc continued to be the most likely place where the plane came down.

MH370 search

The WSJ reported that international aviation experts will meet for several days in Canberra to re-examine evidence and consider high-tech new drift analysis of how debris was carried from the crash site to wash up on the coasts of Africa and Indian Ocean islands.

"I don't think anyone who's been involved in the search wants to walk away," said Foley.

"Every single one of us is motivated by the desire to find the aircraft for the sake of the families of passengers and crew, and indeed for aviation safety more broadly," he added.

The ATSB is seeking up to $30 million from the government to extend the search after working for months to redefine the parameters of the current 120,000 square kilometre zone.

"If it's not in the area which we defined, it's going to be somewhere else in the near vicinity," ATSB Chief Commissioner Greg Hood said in August.

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