Australian investigators have defended their search for Malaysian Airlines flight 370, saying it was unlikely the pilot performed a controlled ditching.
Australian Transport Safety Bureau’s Greg Hood and Peter Foley told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday they deeply regretted not being able to find the plane and the 239 people on board.
Mr Foley said claims the ATSB had ignored a theory in which the pilot flew the plane to the end were wrong.
A recent book by Canadian Larry Vance, a former commercial pilot who worked as a senior air-crash investigator with Canada’s Transportation Safety Board, cast doubt on the ATSB’s findings.
Mr Vance presents evidence contradicting the bureau’s conclusion MH370 likely entered an out-of-control high-speed descent and crashed into the ocean.
The book argues that two wing flaps found on islands off Africa in 2015 and 2016 points towards the pilot performing a controlled landing in the remote southern ocean, to keep the plane largely intact so it would disappear as completely as possible.
But Mr Foley told the hearing the last transmission from the plane was incomplete and probably triggered by fuel exhaustion.
“There’s no earthly reason why someone in control of an aircraft would exhaust its fuel and then attempt to glide it when they have the option of ditching,” Mr Foley said.
“The aircraft was probably descending in an uncontrolled manner.
“If it was being controlled at the end, it wasn’t very successfully being controlled.”
He said that showed the flaps weren’t deployed at the end of the flight, meaning the aircraft was uncontrolled or poorly controlled.
“We have quite a lot of evidence to support no control at the end,” he said.
One of the plane’s flaps found off the coast of Tanzania in July 2015 was a crucial piece of evidence, Mr Foley said.
However, French authorities prevented an Australian analyst from “doing anything meaningful in terms of analysis” of the flap found on the French island of Reunion.
French authorities are holding the flap as evidence for a potential criminal prosecution.
Mr Foley also dismissed suggestions the pilot had depressurised the cabin to incapacitate passengers.
“Most of the people out there are speculating about a long period of depressurisation after the transponder went off,” he said.
“What they fail to understand is that while you don an oxygen mask and prevent the worst of the hypoxia situation, you are flying an aircraft at 40,000 feet.
“You are taking an aircraft from sea level to Mt Kosciuszko in 20 minutes, then you are taking it, over the course of a couple of minutes, to the height of Mt Everest plus 1000 feet. You’ll get decompression sickness too.”
He said that theory relied on the pilot fighting the effects of decompression sickness for an hour, which was unlikely given the pilot was 53 and overweight.
The hearing also was told Australia contributed $63 million to the search for MH370.