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The final "handshake" message sent to the satellite didn’t coincide with the previous, hourly pings.
In a report on its website titled "Considerations on defining the search area," the Australian Transport Safety Bureau said the last message was a "logon request from the aircraft that was consistent with satellite communication equipment on the aircraft powering up following a power interruption."
It said the interruption may have been caused by fuel exhaustion, a potentially significant finding.
Given that investigators believe the plane was deliberately diverted, the role of the pilots has come under scrutiny. Much of the speculation has centered on whether the aircraft could have suffered a mechanical failure in which the pilots struggled to regain control before all on board were somehow incapacitated, or whether it was crashed deliberately.
Brummitt contributed from Hanoi, Vietnam. Associated Press writers Kristen Gelineau in Sydney and Didi Trang in Beijing contributed to this report.
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