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Report: No One at Controls When MH370 Crashed

FILE - Children write messages of hope for passengers of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, June 14, 2014.

An analysis of satellite data suggests no one was flying Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 when it plunged into the Indian Ocean in March 2014.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released the report Wednesday as experts gathered in Sydney to assess possible future searches for the plane, which vanished with 239 people aboard.

Satellite communications from the aircraft are consistent with the aircraft being in a "high and increasing rate of descent" before it disappeared, the report said. The Australian investigators believe the plane likely flew on autopilot for a time before running out of fuel and crashing into the ocean. The flight was en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing when it went missing.

While a few pieces from the plane washed up on shores around the Indian Ocean in the two and a half years since it disappeared, the crash site of the Boeing 777 has not been located.

One of those pieces – a wing flap found on a shore in Tanzania – seemed to confirm the theory that no one was at the controls of the plane in its final moments.

Investigators say the flap does not appear to have been deployed when it broke off the plane's wing. Had a pilot been trying to bring the plane in for a controlled ditching, the flaps would typically have been extended.

"You can draw your own conclusions as to whether that means someone was at the controls or not," ATSB search director Peter Foley said.

Crews continue to scour a 120,000-square kilometer search area, however, that effort is expected to be completed in early 2017. Unless there is new evidence indicating a specific location for the crash, officials say they will end the hunt for MH370.