MH370: Cockpit ‘deliberately tampered with in bid to avoid radar’, new evidence from Australian investigators suggests

Experts say the plane suffered a mysterious power outage shortly after disappearing from civilian radar

New evidence has emerged to suggest that someone deliberately tampered with the missing Malaysia Airline flight MH370’s cockpit equipment shortly before it turned south towards the Indian Ocean.

According to a report released by the Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB), the jet is believed to have suffered a power outage after it disappeared from air traffic controllers’ screens.

Experts said that the evidence was consistent with someone in the cockpit deliberately trying to disable one or more systems related to the aircraft satellite data unit (SDU), and that this could have been part of an attempt to avoid radar detection.

The evidence comes from further analysis of the available satellite data, which show that the plane made an unexpected “log-on” request to the satellite around 90 minutes into its flight from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing.

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The report said: “A log-on request in the middle of a flight is not common. An analysis was performed which determined that the characteristics and timing of the logon requests were best matched as resulting from power interruption.”

Experts believe this crucial incomplete “handshake” and the final, seventh contact with a satellite out in the Indian Ocean both involved power outages – but that the latter was after the plane had run out of fuel and was about to crash into the ocean.

The other five handshakes, used by investigators to plot the plane’s path south into the Indian Ocean, were initiated by the satellite ground station and not believed to be unusual.

File: A Malaysia Airlines aircraft taxis on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport File: A Malaysia Airlines aircraft taxis on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur International Airport Chris McLaughlin, from the British satellite firm Inmarsat which provided the data to investigators, told The Telegraph: “It does appear there was a power failure on those two occasions. It is another little mystery. We cannot explain it. We don't know why. We just know it did it.”

Also speaking to the newspaper, Loughborough University flight safety expert David Gleave said that the first loss of power appeared to be the result of someone “messing around in the cockpit”.

He said: “It could be a deliberate act to switch off both engines for some time. By messing about within the cockpit you could switch off the power temporarily and switch it on again when you need the other systems to fly the aeroplane.”

Malaysian investigators have reportedly identified Captain Zaharie Shah as their chief suspect in the inquiry over the disappearance of flight MH370 Malaysian investigators have reportedly identified Captain Zaharie Shah as their chief suspect in the inquiry over the disappearance of flight MH370 Asked if there were other issues such as a mechanical fault that could have caused the power outage, Mr Gleave said: “There are credible mechanical failures that could cause it. But you would not then fly along for hundreds of miles and disappear in the Indian Ocean.”

As part of the same 55-page report, the ATSB said that after comparing the conditions of the flight with previous disasters it was “most likely” the case that the 239 people on board the plane died from suffocation and coasted lifelessly into the ocean on autopilot.

It noted a number of conditions including the jet’s absence of communications and steady flight path and concluded: “Given these observations, the final stages of the unresponsive crew/hypoxia event type appeared to best fit the available evidence for the final period of MH370's flight when it was heading in a generally southerly direction.”

Meanwhile, Dutch engineers this week started a months-long survey to map unchartered deep-sea terrain at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, the next step in the search for the missing plane’s wreck.

A survey ship from Dutch engineering company Fugro , carrying 40 crew and technicians, began mapping out an area larger than the Netherlands, some 1000 miles (1,600 km) east of the northwest coast of Australia.

The search, coordinated by the ATSB, is expected to cost $60 million AUS (£33 million) over the first year.

Once an accurate map has been constructed with the aid of computers on board the ship, searchers can begin more detailed, slower surveys in a bid to find the wreck itself, using unmanned robots and submarines to search the ocean floor.

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