KUALA LUMPUR: A long-awaited official report into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines (MAS) flight MH370 said that the Boeing 777's controls were more likely to have been manipulated than to have suffered mechanical issues.
Investigators were, however, unable to determine who was responsible due to the lack of evidence.
According to the report released on Monday (Jul 30), investigators are "not of the opinion" that the pilots were responsible and there is no evidence to suggest that the aircraft was flown by anyone other than the designated MAS pilots.
However, they are not ruling out any possibility.
"The team does not exclude the possibility of intervention by a third party," said the largely technical 400-page report.
At the same time, there is no evidence to support the belief that MH370 was taken over by remote control, said the team's chief investigator Kok Soo Chon, who was Malaysia's former Civil Aviation Department director-general.
At a news conference, he concluded that the team is unable to determine the real cause of one of the world's greatest aviation mysteries.
"The answer can only be conclusive if the wreckage is found," he said when asked if they would ever find out what happened on the plane.
DIVERSION FROM FLIGHT ROUTE
Flight MH370 disappeared on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on Mar 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.
It went missing soon after a routine handover from Malaysian to Vietnamese air traffic control. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had signed off with "Good night Malaysian three-seven-zero" - the last communication from the plane.
Shortly afterwards, Malaysian air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane somewhere over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. The mysterious circumstances in which it vanished led to theories about a possible hijacking or terror plot.
According to the report, evidence showed that the plane was likely in manual mode instead of autopilot when diverted from its flight plan and towards the southern Indian Ocean, as captured by both military and civilian radars.
The changes in the flight path were difficult to attribute to any specific aircraft system failures, according to investigators. The plane was airworthy and maintenance records indicate that the aircraft was equipped and maintained in accordance with existing regulations.
"It is more likely that such manoeuvres are due to the systems being manipulated," said the report.
"It could not be established whether the aircraft was flown by anyone other than the pilots," it added.
This turn back in manual mode “irresistibly points to unlawful interference”, said Mr Kok at the news conference, but he questioned why no claims of responsibility were made if this was the case.
The report added that Captain Zaharie and the first officer were competent, with valid licences and medical certification. There was also no evidence to suggest that they experienced recent changes in personal relationships, had financial problems, or that there were any conflicts between them.
In addition, the report said there was no unusual activity on the pilot's home flight simulator.
A 440-page final report by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) last year showed that Zaharie had flown a route on his home flight simulator six weeks earlier that was "initially similar" to the one actually taken by MH370.
The Malaysian police previously concluded there was no unusual activity on the home simulator.
The inability to locate MH370's crash site has fuelled conspiracy theories and online debates over the last four years.
Theories range from mechanical error or a remote-controlled crash, to more bizarre explanations like alien abduction and a Russian plot.
Kok said they looked into each theory and rumour raised on social media.
"We had over 60 allegations ... we removed them one by one and saw what remained behind," Kok said.
He added all the passengers of the 15 countries had their backgrounds checked by their respective countries and all came back with a clean bill of health.
The report said there was no sign the plane was evading radar detection or that it was taken over by remote control. No irregularities were found in the cargo on board, which included items like lithium batteries and about 2,500 kgs of mangosteen.
No sign of the jet was found in a 120,000-sq-km Indian Ocean search zone and the Australian-led hunt, the largest in aviation history, was suspended in January last year.
US exploration firm Ocean Infinity resumed the hunt at the start of this year on a "no find, no fee" basis, using high-tech drones to scour the seabed. But that search was called off after failing to find anything.
On Monday, Mr Kok said 27 pieces of debris have been found to date, of which only three fragments - all found on the western Indian Ocean shores - have been confirmed to be from MH370, including a two-metre wing part known as a flaperon.
Malaysia's new government, which took power in May, has said that the hunt could only resume if new evidence comes to light.
Mr Kok stressed that the report put together by a team of experts from eight countries - Malaysia, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, United Kingdom, China, United States and France - was focused only on the safety aspect of the investigation. It is also not the final report on the investigation.
One area that came in for criticism in the report by the 19-member investigation team was air traffic control.
It said both Malaysian air traffic control and their Vietnamese counterparts failed to act properly when the Boeing jet passed from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace and disappeared from radars.
Air traffic controllers did not initiate emergency procedures in a timely fashion, delaying the start of the search and rescue operation, it said.
Transport Minister Anthony Loke said in a statement that Malaysia would investigate any misconduct committed based on the findings.