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169

French MH370 Investigators Eye “Spoof” Scenario

Interest in MH370 revived earlier this month after next-of-kin Ghislain Wattrelos held a press conference at which he revealed that he had been briefed by French judicial authorities about their investigation into the case. As the UK’s Daily Star reported,

Ghyslain Wattrelos lost his wife Laurence, and two teenage children Hadrien and Ambre when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

Mr Wattrelos today revealed he was told by the French Gendamarie Air Transport (GTA) team investigating the jet’s disappearance they had found “inconsistencies” in the Malaysian investigation’s official report.

He claimed experts are investigating if navigation data from the missing plane could have been hacked to disguise the route it took before crashing into the ocean.

He also said he had been told several “curious passengers” warranted further investigation – including a Malaysian aeronautics expert seated directly beneath the satcom.

This was of course enormously interesting to me, as I had publicly pointed out in early 2015 that if the plane wasn’t in the southern Indian Ocean, the only conceivable explanation was that hijackers outside the cockpit had managed to perpetrate an extremely sophisticated hack of the satcom in order to make the signals seem like they were coming from a plane heading south when it was actually heading north. This idea met with widespread ridicule at the time, as most experts believed that the plane would certainly be found in the southern Indian Ocean where the satcom signals indicated it had flown. Subsequently, of course, it wasn’t–nearly a quarter billion dollars was spent on a seabed search that covered an area the size of the UK but turned up nothing.

At last, it seemed, the authorities were willing to take my idea seriously.

The Daily Star contacted me for a follow-up article:

[Wise] told Daily Star Online: “This (hacking lead) is an interesting development, because it’s exactly what I’ve been talking about for the last five years or so.

“While I haven’t looked at this particular passenger, the core of the argument I’ve been trying to make is that the Satellite Data Unit, or SDU, has a vulnerability that could be exploited to make the plane look like it went south when it really went north.”

He added: “What I pointed out is, are there any way these signals could have been tampered with?

“Is there some way that someone with ill-intent could have changed them?

“The answer is yes, there actually is a way that it’s physically possible that a person could get into the electronics bay, or directly access the data unit from ceiling of the cabin.

“And they could alter either the inputs into the SDU itself in such a way it would look like the plane was going south when it was going north.

“Do we have any reason to believe that’s the case? I would say yes.

“I think the main and most obvious one is having searched the seabed, based on signals of where the plane went, the plane is not there.”

Inmarsat data has led investigators to believe the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean west of Australia after running out of fuel.

But he has urged a re-analysis of this information, claiming that it could in actual fact have flown north instead.

The radius of one of the “handshakes” runs through Kazakhstan.

And Wise holds Russia as a suspect because of the shooting down of MH17 by a Russian military missile, and how the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea fell off the news radar following MH370’s disappearance.

He told us: “What’s the motive? I can tell you this was happening in the context of Russia getting a lot of heat for the annexation of Crimea.

“I was on CNN six times a day, and CNN didn’t talk about Crimea anymore, they only talked about MH370 and so it was possible a diversion, a show of dominance.

“Because if I’m right and Russia did take the plane, they completely fooled, ran circles, the western authorities and experts have been completely bamboozled, with their pants caught down.

“I would say, only one other 777 has ever been lost mid-flight, that was the sistership of MH370.

“It was shot down by an operation carried out by the GRU. If you’re a chicken farmer, and you’ve never lost a chicken in 15 years, then you find one of your chickens murdered, and a week later you see a fox jumping over the fence with a chicken in its mouth, what would you think?

“What would be your primary suspect here? The only known cause of 777s coming to grief.”

All of which I stand by. I think the headline was unfortunately sensationalistic and misleading, however: “Plane ‘HIDDEN in Russian base’ as investigators swoop on new ‘hacking’ lead.” I’ve never said that I thought 9M-MRO is hidden on a Russian, and certainly not in all caps–though I am intrigued by the possibility that the plane might have touched down on the remote airstrip at Yubileyniy within the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

 

5

Businessweek: This Thiel-Backed Startup Says It Can Clean Up the Seas. Scientists Have Doubts

Boyan Slat, a Dutch 23-year-old who’s collected $30 million for his plastic-removal startup, is ready to test Ocean Cleanup’s System 001 prototype, but he hasn’t assuaged his expert critics.

Of all the things San Francisco has brought into the wider world, few have been as big and curious-looking as Ocean Cleanup’s System 001, the contraption an offshore supply ship towed to sea through the Golden Gate last month. Black, snakelike, and 2,000 feet long, System 001 was beginning a slow 1,300-mile journey to a remote garbage patch in the Pacific Ocean. When it arrives in mid-October, it will spend a year drifting around and around in a circular current, gathering as much plastic as possible, like a gigantic pool skimmer.

The idea can be attributed to Boyan Slat, a slight, 23-year-old Dutchman of Croatian descent who wears his curly brown hair in a mop and favors sunglasses made of recycled plastic. He says he became concerned about ocean debris when he was 16, scuba diving off the coast of Greece. In the intervening seven years, with the help of a viral explainer video, he’s raised more than $30 million from Salesforce.com Inc. co-founder Marc Benioff, Palantir Technologies Inc. co-founder Peter Thiel, and others to try to prove that setups such as System 001’s can, in great enough numbers, help rid the ocean of plastic by 2050.

There’s just one problem, say ocean scientists: The device can’t possibly work on the scale imagined, and it could end up becoming just another piece of litter in the ocean. “People think that it’s an easy, sexy solution, but it’s not,” says Kim Martini, an oceanography postdoc at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Given that only single-digit percentages of the plastic entering oceans each year wind up in the garbage patches, “it’s clear that the problem is much bigger than what we’re able to solve,” admits Ocean Cleanup spokesman Joost Dubois.

Slat says Ocean Cleanup has conducted extensive modeling and prototype testing and that the outcry from his more credentialed peers (he dropped out of college) just proves he’s on to something. “If you don’t have any critics, it means that what you’re doing is easy and obvious,” he says.

Read the rest of this entry »

479

About That MH370 Inmarsat Data…

Earlier this month France announced that it will reopen its investigation into the disappearance of MH370:

French newspaper Le Parisien reports that investigators are keen to verify data from Inmarsat — the British operator of a global satellite network — which tracked the aircraft’s pings to the southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia, where it is believed to have crashed.

I was happy to hear that, because for the last four years I’ve been making the case that there is one known way by which the Inmarsat data could have been falsified as it was being transmitted from the plane. This falsification would make the plane look like it was heading south when it was really heading north, and would explain why an exhaustive quarter-billion-dollar search of the southern seabed found no trace of the plane.

Of course, there are other reasons to suspect that the plane went north. One of the less probative but more elegant is the simple fact that when it was last spotted, that’s where the plane was turning. The above image comes from page 4 of Appendix 1.6E of the latest Malaysian report, entitled “Aircraft Performance Analysis,” prepared by Boeing. I think this appendix is one of the most important sections of the whole report, as the authority of the source is unimpeachable and its assertions are laid out with such clarity. In this image we see a summary view of what is known about the first two hours of the plane’s flight, based on a combination of secondary and primary radar as well as the first ping from the Inmarsat data. It shows, as I and others have pointed out, that after an aggressive turnback at IGARI, and a high-speed flight over peninsular Malaysia and up the Malacca Strait, the plane disappeared from primary radar and then turned to the north.

Some have proposed that this is best explained by the assumption that whoever was in charge of the plane wanted to avoid conflicting traffic on the airway, but that is absurd–there was no conflicting traffic, and anyway it would be very simple to avoid any such hypothetical traffic by flying at a nonstandard altitude. A simpler explanation is that they turned to the north because they were heading north.

The report has another similiarly compelling illustration that combines fuel-burn data with ping-ring distances to illustrate the various routes the plane might have flown, assuming a constant altitude and turns only at ping arcs:

This picture neatly illustrates a point that the DSTG arrived at more conclusively through the heavily application of mathematics: namely, the only straight-ish flight paths that wind up at the 7th arc at the correct time and distance for fuel exhaustion are ones that fly around 450 to 475 knots, and at relatively high altitude. This is where the Australians originally looked for the plane, and really it was always the only rational place to look.

The absence of the plane in this area could have told the authorities two years ago that something was up–and that would have been the right time to start being suspicious about the Inmarsat data.

 

30

Popular Mechanics: When Ground Crew Steal Airplanes

The joyride started just before sunset.

On Friday, Horizon Air ground service agent Richard B. Russell got in one of the airline’s Bombardier Q400 aircraft and took off from Seattle’s SeaTac Airport. In audio recordings released over the internet, Russell can be heard chatting in an upbeat, enthusiastic tone with the air traffic controllers trying to talk him down.

Onlooker John Waldron took video that shows the plane rolling inverted at low altitude, then pulling into a half-loop in a aerobatic high-g maneuver called a “split S.” Whether through skill or luck, Russell managed to pull the plane out of its rapid descent just above the wave tops. F-15 fighter jets scrambled to intercept the Q400, which ultimately crashed into Ketron Island, about 30 miles from the airport.

The incident is bizarre and tragic, but it is not uprecedented. In fact, there have been a number of occurrences in recent decades in which ground personnel made off with aircraft.

May 23, 1969. U.S. Air Force Sergeant Paul Meyer, a 23-year-old crew chief stationed at Mildenhall Air Base in England, stole a C-130 cargo plane and took off. While in the air, Meyer, who’d been married eight weeks before, called his wife and said, “Guess what? I’m coming home!” But it was not to be. An hour and 45 minutes into the flight, Meyer crashed into the English Channel. Meyer had recently been passed over for promotion and had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.

August 22, 1979. Recently fired airline mechanic Armando Nieto Jaramillo, 23, stole a military HS-748 transport plane from Bogotá-Eldorado Airport and crashed it soon after takeoff, killing himself and three people on the ground.

July 4, 1986. Marine Corps lance corporal Howard A. Foote, Jr. stole an A-4M Skyhawk ground attack jet from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and took it on a 45-minute aerobatic joyride before returning to base and landing safely. Foote was an experienced glider pilot and had undergone 100 hours of simulator flying in the Skyhawk and had hoped to become a military pilot before his ambitions were derailed by health issues. Foote served four and a half months in the brig and later went on to become a test pilot in civilian life.

July 13, 1994. A Russian Air Force engineer made off with an Antonov An-26 transport plane from Kubinka Air Force Base near Moscow. He flew until the plane ran out of fuel and died in the ensuing crash.

May 25, 2003. Ben Charles Padilla, an aircraft mechanic who held a private pilot’s license and was a certified flight engineer, was repairing a 727 airliner in Luanda, Angola for a Florida-based company named Aerospace Sales and Leasing. Padilla and an a recently hired assistant boarded the plane, taxied it to the runway, took off, and head out over the Atlantic Ocean. Neither the men nor the plane has ever been seen again. Some speculated the plane was stolen as part of an insurance scam, or perhaps taken by terrorists who planned to use it as a flying bomb, but the truth remains unknown.

Lastly, we’ve been reporting a lot only on the most famous case of suspected pilot suicide, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, and this weekend’s tragedy bears at least a few similarities. During an exchange with air traffic controllers, Russell mentioned he had some experience using flight simulator software. “I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before,” he said. MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a flight-sim enthusiast who is known to have taken a simulated flight path similar to the one authorities believe the plane ultimately took into the southern Indian Ocean. On the other hand, Russell was reported to have been profoundly troubled, whereas Malaysian authorities were unable to find any evidence that Shah suffered from mental illness or was undergoing any kind of stress in his life.

It’s not yet known exactly what pre-existing psychological conditions Russell may have had, but in the course of his conversation with air traffic controllers he expresses racial resentment. At one point he asks the controller, “Hey, do you think if I land this successfully, Alaska [Horizon Air’s parent company, Alaska Airllines] will give me a job as a pilot?” Told, “You know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off,” Russell replies, “Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy.”

Acts of wanton violence by white men bearing racial grievance have been on the rise during the Trump administration, which has embraced white nationalism and adopted openly racist policies.

[Note: A version of this story originally ran on 8/13/18 on Popular Mechanics.]

61

Seven Takeaways from the Final Malaysian MH370 Report

The report released Monday by the Malaysian government about its search for MH370 runs over a thousand pages, so it’s going to be a while before anyone has a chance to go through every detail, but after a cursory skimming a couple of points stand out.

1) Primary Radar. Right up near the top, on page 3, we read that the plane vanished from primary radar after hanging a right at Penang “only to reappear at 1815:25 UTC [0215:25 MYT] until 1822:12 UTC [0222:12 MYT].” This statement is markedly at odds with the ATSB’s assertion that the plane only appeared after 18:02 as a solitary, instantaneous blip at 18:22. It’s difficult to understand how the authorities could be in disagreement over such a seemingly simple matter-of-fact issue. And it’s an important one, because the DSTG decided not to use the post-18:02 radar information in their Bayesian analysis on the grounds that it was an isolated and hence not-fully-reliabled data point. To ignore a seven-minute long track would amount to cherry picking. I strongly suspect that if this data point were included in the BTO data set, it would strongly increase the probabilistic density of routes to the northwest, that is, to Kazakhstan. Is this why all the primary radar visualizations we’ve seen thus far end before the 18:15 section of the track?

2) Among the report’s conclusions is that “The possibility of intervention by a third party cannot be excluded.” Yet the report offers no indication of who that third party might be, how they might have taken the plane, or why they might have done so. Another paragraph in the section emphasizes the lack of evidence linking either of the pilots to the disappearance. It’s easy to see that the Malaysian Government, which happens to own Malaysian Airlines, would have a vested interest in drawing blame away from the pilots. But it’s nonetheless significant that the official final report in this case undermines what has become the consensus view, namely that Zaharie took the plane. I hardly need point out that the only technically informed theory about MH370 than posits a third-party hijacking is my own.

3) At last we get to see the French oxygen isotope barnacle report, which Patrick De Deckker mentioned but which had never before been officially referenced. This document is in accord with De Deckker about the age of the barnacles (no more than a couple of months) and about the fact that the oldest barnacle started and finished growing in warm water, but it failed to find evidence of a cold-water dip in the middle. On the whole, this new oxygen isotope seems more extensive and better supported by calibration, so that’s where I’d put my money, not that it really tells us much. By the way, one of the enduring mysteries of this saga is why the initial report on the biology of the flaperon’s biofouling reported much larger barnacles, with the implication of an age closer to what you’d expect if the piece had floated since March of 2014. As with the primary radar, this matter is too simple to justify such a profound disagreement.

4) We also see, at last, a much more detailed report by the French about their investigation into the flaperon’s buoyancy. As Steve Barratt points out in the comments of my last post, “The clean separation of the rear honeycomb structure was mainly in traction but some compression (scanning electron microscope). Unusually the leading edge had four vertical impacts or dents that suggested interaction an adjacent part. However Boeing confirmed that there was no adjacent part that would cause these four impacts with the spacing observed.” Thus the mystery of how the retrieved parts came off the airplane deepens. Also: “The tests performed showed that in that, the buoyancy was quite high. The position with the upper surface immersed seemed more stable, which is consistent with a significant presence of crustaceans on the upper surface. However, the waterline noted did not correspond to that suggested by the zones where the crustaceans were located, that’s to say on the water, while the trailing edge was significantly out of the water.” I’ve been thumping this tub for years now, and it continues to baffle me that the Australians have resolutely ignored this issue.

5) We now have a much more detailed understanding of how ATC responded to the plane’s disappearance. (Not well, but then nobody really comes off well in this incident; it doesn’t seem fair to me than an official had to resign over it.) What we still don’t know is why MAS OPS insisted that the plane was over Cambodia, and that there was therefore no reason to go into crisis mode. This seems to me a far more impactful error.

6) One page 276 we read for the first time about a very interesting set of simulator flights recreating the turn at IGARI. The upshot is that in order to match primary radar data tracks the plane must have been banked over by hand into a steep turn. This, together with the high speed at which the plane flew up the Malacca Strait, gives the impression that the hijacker/s were feeling a sense of urgency about getting somewhere.

7) Finally, on page 130 we read about the strange frequencies generated by the Inmarsat logons at 18:25 and 0:19. I’ve long argued that since it led to the generation of the rest of the Inmarsat data, the first of these logons is far and away the most critical piece of evidence in the whole affair, and that it has been under-scrutinized by authorities. The fact that one of its component frequencies cannot be explained should raise concerns about the interpretation of all subsquent data.

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Popular Mechanics: What If They Were Looking for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in the Wrong Place All Along?

Early this morning, local time, the Seabed Constructor recovered the last of eight sea drones it had sent to scour a remote patch of the southern Indian Ocean. Then, with little fanfare, the ship set off on a course for Dampier, Australia. Thus came the end of the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, an epic feat of undersea exploration that lasted nearly four years, covered a total of some 85,000 square miles (an area larger than Great Britain), and cost on the order of a quarter-billion dollars.

The search found not a single trace of the plane. How could such an epic undertaking have come up empty?

Here’s one idea: the experts were wrong all along about which direction the airliner flew—it went north, not south toward the deep Indian Ocean. If that sounds like crazy second-guessing, then consider it’s the point of view of someone who helped solve one of the biggest missing plane cases of the 21st century.

Here’s a quick catch-up on how we got here: Based on a series of seven signals automatically transmitted from the plane to an Inmarsat communications satellite shortly after MH370 disappeared from radar, investigators came to believe that the plane flew on autopilot for six hours and then ran out of fuel shortly after midnight, universal time, on March 8, 2014. The airliner then sent a final burst of data as it plummeted earthward.

This data came in two ways. The first, the so-called “burst timing offset” (BTO) data, was a measure of how far the plane was from the satellite at the time of transmission. The set of all possible places from which the plane might have made it formed a ring, or arc, on the earth’s surface. The second type of data, the so-called “burst frequency offset” (BFO) data, could provide a rough sense of whether the plane was flying to the north or to the south. After spending weeks developing the mathematics necessary to interpret it, investigators decided that the BFO values meant the plane must have gone south.

The subsequent search for the plane’s wreckage was defined by two factors: where exactly on the final arc the plane was when it sent its last transmission, and how far it could have traveled afterward. After further mathematical analysis, investigators became convinced that the final BFO values meant that the plane was in a steep dive at the end. The condition of debris recovered in the western Indian Ocean in the years after the crash further convinced investigators that the plane hit hard and fast. Taken together, those factors would imply the plane’s final resting place lies close to the arc.

Applying a technique called Bayesian analysis to the BTO data, researchers at Australia’s Defense Science & Technology Group were able to identify a 500-mile-long segment of the arc along which is likely where the transmission occurred. According to their calculations, there was virtually a zero chance that the plane could have wound up south of 40 degrees south latitude or north of 33 degrees south latitude. It had to be between those lines.

Or so they thought.

With the completion of Seabed Constructor‘s work, investigators have now searched that entire length of that 500-mile stretch—and 650 miles beyond it—up to a distance of 25 miles in either direction. With zero to show for four years of effort, the authorities are stumped. They don’t believe the plane ended up somewhere else on the arc, nor are they willing to accept it could have glided more than 25 miles past the line. They’re also confident that the plane isn’t sitting in the already-searched area and they just missed it. It’s just gone.

The country ultimately responsible for finding the plane, Malaysia, seems resigned to an unsolved mystery. Anticipating that Seabed Constructor would not find any wreckage in its final days of work, the country’s minister of transport, Anthony Loke, issued a statement on May 30 announcing the search’s end, explaining: “Whilst combined scientific studies have continuously used (sic) to refine areas of probability, to date however, no new information has been encountered to determine the exact location of the aircraft.”

However, many observers outside the investigation are unsatisfied with this declaration of surrender. Plenty of online conspiracy theorists and armchair investigators have their own ideas about the fate of MH370, but one person you should actually listen to is David Gallo. He’s the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute researcher who co-led the search that found Air France 447.

Writing on Twitter on May 25, Gallo suggested that the search’s heavy reliance on Inmarsat signals might have been a mistake. “I never accepted the satellite data from day one,” he wrote, adding: “I never thought I’d say this….I think there is a good chance that MH370 never came south at all. Let’s put it this way, I don’t accept the evidence that the plane came south.”

When I reached him on the phone, Gallo told me he was flummoxed by the authorities’ insistence that the Inmarsat data and its interpretation had to be correct. “This is where I got so frustrated,” he said. “The plane’s not there, so what the hell? What’s going on?”

Gallo doesn’t claim to know how the satellite data could have been misinterpreted, but one possibility is that a sophisticated hijacker might have deliberately tampered with it in order to throw searchers off the trail. Search officials have never come up with an explanation for how the satcom system came to be turned back on an hour after all its other electronics went dark. Victor Iannello, a member of the influential Independent Group of amateur researchers, has pointed out that by changing a single parameter inside a satcom computer, a hijacker could have tweaked the BFO data to make it look like the plane was winging south when it was really heading north.

That’s a controversial idea to say the least, flying in the face of years of official near-certainty about a southern terminus. But given search officials’ quarter-billion-dollar failure, the truth must lie among one of the possibilities they haven’t yet deemed worthy of consideration.

Gallo argues that a fresh approach is in order. “My advice to the Malaysian govt is to STOP and think,” he wrote. “Turn over controls to a small independent group and let them work out the way forward.”

Note: This article originally ran in Popular Mechanics.

28

No, Larry Vance Did Not Lead the Investigation Into Swissair 111

Those who have closely followed the investigation into the disappearance of MH370 will be familiar with the name of Larry Vance, a former air accident investigator who has caused a big stir with his claims that MH370 glided to a crash landing, rather than plummeted in a dive, as official investigators believe. He made these claims in a 2016 documentary made by Australian “60 Minutes,” and in another released this year.

I never found Vance, or his claims, credible; no serious accident investigator would claim to determine the cause of a crash on the basis of a single piece of debris, let alone one he hasn’t seen in person.

Moreover, he seems not to understand what the different parts of the aircraft are. In the “60 Minutes” documentary, explaining why the trailing edge of the flaperon was torn away, he points to its trailing edge and says, “the flap was extended down and the force of the water would be enormous.” But a flap and a flaperon are different things. Flaps extend down during a 777’s normal approach to landing, as seen in the image above (taken from a YouTube video off a 777 landing in New York), but the flaperons behave differently, bending downward along with the flaps but also moving up and down like ailerons.

Vance makes an equally egregious misstatement when he declares that “most people will agree that the flaps were down–not only were they down, they were fully extended.”

In fact, page 101 of the official Australian final report, “The Operational Search for MH370,”says: “Critically, a section of right outboard main flap (Figure 81) was found near Tanzania on 20 June 2016. The item was shipped to the ATSB for analysis. This analysis indicated that the flaps were most likely in a retracted position.”

This finding competely nullifies the claim that Vance has been trying to make over the last few years, and indeed demolishes the central argument of the “60 Minutes” documentary.

Vance has been treated as a credible source in the press because of his professional background. The bio on the Amazon page for his book describes him as “Investigator-In-Charge for over 200 field investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation.” The BBC described Vance as “a world-leading air crash investigator” and “formerly investigator-in-charge for the Canadian Aviation Safety Board and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, and has led more than 200 air crash investigations.”

Suspicious, I reached out to the media relations team at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada to find out if Vance really had worked there, and if so in what capacity. I received the following reply:

Larry Vance is a former employee of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) who occupied the position of Senior Investigator/Operations Specialist with the Standards and Performance Division of the Air Branch. He was with the TSB from 1990 to 2008. During the course of his employment, Mr. Vance contributed to a number of investigations, including the Swissair 111 crash investigation for which the entire investigation team received a Government of Canada Certificate of Recognition. Mr. Vance was not the investigator-in-charge of the Swissair 111 crash. He was one of two deputy IIC. No further details of Mr. Vance’s employment are available as employee records are retained for only 2 years after their departure and then transferred to government archives.

Please note that Mr. Vance’s opinions are his own and do not reflect those of the TSB. The TSB does not endorse any statement made by Mr. Vance.

So there you have it. Vance indeed, actually, once earned his living in the aircraft accident investigation business. But has inflated his bona fides in a way that casts doubt on his truthfulness.

It’s a sad reflection on the state of the media that Australia’s Nine Network had the poor judgement to build a documentary around Vance’s misinformation, and that its message was then amplified around the world by prestige media outlets like the BBC, Time magazine, and the Washington Post.

 

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Guest Post: “60 Minutes: How to create your own facts before the real ones are at hand”

by Mark D Young

[Reprinted with permission from Mr Young’s website, Flightlevel42]

This past weekend saw the Australian public shown a television programme from the well known 60 minutes team. The programme has been getting a lot of attention, as most episodes do. Similar to the Carte Blanche segment on South African pay-tv station M-Net, 60 minutes has had some stellar moments of true investigative journalism during its run. However, like Carte Blanche, the manner in which many programmes are put together is formulaic.

A script is devised and then a pre-determined set of outcomes is established prior to interviews being conducted. The selection of participants and the editing of footage is carefully undertaken to steer the selected narrative in the direction chosen by the production executives. I have seen enough of both programmes to spot where and how they are edited, how shot selection is strategic and selective staging is used to ensure the script worked out by the production team achieves its goal.

A valid retort to anyone taking issue with the broadcasts of either programme is that “Well, we’ve merely presented some facts and opinions. We have got people talking. If anything changes, we will do a follow up.”

From a purely legal point of view, they are–of course–correct. As they would need to be. One cannot keep your programme running if it upsets too many courts. However, the odd bit of legal controversy–actual or threatened–never hurts the ratings. That’s show business.

This past Sunday’s programme–from “The Situation Room”–supposedly investigating and revealing new information on the fate of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, is a great case study, in my view, of how to go about doing what the team at 60 minutes does so well.

Get folk who apparently have complete expertise in the field being discussed into an impressively titled studio set to give their opinions. If you choose the music and selectively edit well enough, you can create a wrapper of atmosphere and supposed investigation effective enough to permit a public lynching to take place in such a subtle way that a non-thinking viewer, devoid of all the salient facts involved (in what is a very complex matter), can comfortably accept that the 60 minutes team had got to the heart of the matter and presented an irrefutable hypothesis. Viewers can then go away into the world apparently ‘fully informed’ when they are nowhere near such a state.

Articles about the programme are trumpeting the fact that “aviation experts” have changed their views on what happened to MH370 and the “mystery” about what happened has now been resolved.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Read the rest of this entry »

301

Ocean Infinity Further Expands MH370 Search Area

 

Fig. 1: The seabed search as depicted in the most recent Malaysian report

When Malaysia announced on January 10 of this year that it had contracted with Ocean Infinity, a US-registered company, to relaunch the seabed search for missing Malaysian airliner MH370, Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai stated that there was an 85 percent chance that the plane’s wreckage would be found within a 25,000 square kilometer search zone previously demarcated by the Australia National Transport Board. As I’ve noted in earlier posts, Australia’s stated position at the time was that if the plane was not found in this area, which stretched from 36 degrees to 32.5 degrees south latitude, it could offer no rationale for looking anywhere else.

On January 30, the Government of Malaysia released its first weekly “MH370 Operational Search Update” showing the progress of Ocean Infinity’s search vessel, Seabed Constructor. In addition to the ATSB’s 25,000 square kilometer search area, the new report designated two “extension” areas, stretching up to 29 degrees south latitude. (See Figure 2, below.) “The advice to proceed north towards 30S latitude came from Independent Group members,” News.com.au noted, referring to a theory put forward by Victor Iannello that the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had hijacked his own plane and set its navigation system for Antarctica.

Fig. 2: The seabed search area as depicted in the first Malaysian update.

That bizarre hypothesis is about to be put to the test: at time of writing–April 18, 2018, 1200Z–Seabed Constructor is working an area around 30.5S. Working at its current rate, it will have soon have finished scouring both the extension areas and laid Iannello’s idea to rest.

What then? With the ATSB’s and the IG’s ideas all exhausted, one might argue that it would be time to pack up and go home. But this is not what will happen. Yesterday, in its 12th weekly update, the Malaysian government unveiled a new supplementary search area, to stretch all the way up to 26 degrees south latitude. (See Figure 1, top.) As far as I know, no one has yet hypothesized a scenario that matches the data and would result in the plane ending up this far north, but hope springs eternal. Perhaps Ocean Infinity, for whatever reason, just wants the process to drag on for as long as possible.

By the way, little attention has been paid to the fact that Seabed Constructor has blasted through the Broken Ridge area of steep, craggy terrain while scarcely breaking stride. This is a testament to the capability of its AUV technology. It also rules out an idea that has been promoted by certain MH370 theorists, to the effect that the captain abducted the plane and headed for Broken Ridge in the hope that the wreckage would never be found there. That idea can now be scratched off the fast-dwindling list of possibilities.

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ATSB’s Final Search Area Completed. Once Again, MH370 Isn’t There.

Earlier today Malaysia released its latest weekly report into the progress of Ocean Infinity’s seabed search in the Southern Indian Ocean for the wreckage of MH370. Included was the chart above, which shows the area currently being scanned in red. The southernmost portion of this “T” shape is that last part of the 25,000 square kilometer designed by the ATSB as the final search area. Once it is scanned and the data assessed, the search will be over.

Or rather, the statement above should be in the past tense, because the last weekly report showed this small area as already having been scanned. Thus, the ATSB’s final 25,000 square kilometers has already been finished.

You’ll recall that this area was described in the ATSB report “MH370–First Principles Report” as

 a remaining area of high probability between latitudes 32.5°S and 36°S along the 7th arc. 4. The participants of the First Principles Review were in agreement on the need to search an additional area representing approximately 25,000 km² (the orange bordered area in Figure 14) [I’ve added this figure to the bottom of this post–JW]. Based on the analysis to date, completion of this area would exhaust all prospective areas for the presence of MH370. 

If anyone thinks I am hasty in saying that Seabed Constructor has finished its scan of this area, note that as I write, the ship continues to work northwards well beyond this area. If MH370 had already been found, it would not be doing so.

The designation of the 25,000 square kilometers marked the fourth time that the ATSB has assured the public that it had identified the area where the plane had come to rest. Each of the last three times, it was proven wrong and been forced to designate a new place to look. Today, that game ends. The ATSB has admitted that has no further analytical basis on which to recommend any further search. It’s out of ideas. It has thrown in the towel. It is out of ideas.

To be sure, there are some bitter enders among the “MHiste” community who have come up with reasons for searching further beyond the ATSB’s final 25,000 square kilometers, but their theories now lack any official backing, and to my eye are nothing more than hand-waving based on an inability to admit to being wrong. Seabed Constructor sails on like a headless chicken, with no rational basis for continuing to search.

The ATSB’s search areas were defined using data exchanged between the plane and Inmarsat in the hours after the plane disappeared from radar. Their analysis was quite sophisticated; if the data had been authentic, the odds were tremendously in favor of the plane being found.

But the plane was not found. Was this because of an incredible coincidence/bad luck on the part of the ATSB? Or is the case rather that whoever took the plane played them for suckers?

The bitter enders believe that they and the ATSB were the victims of bad luck. The pilot (most likely) took the plane and flew south, but happened to fly in some weird way that by chance produced data that looked very much like what a normally flown plane would produce. This being the case, the plane must be somewhere in the vicinity.

The other explanation is that they weren’t unlucky. They were fooled. By perpetrators who, based on their behavior before disappearing from radar, were both sophisticated and had every intention of misleading and deceiving. Who went electronically dark and pulled a 180 just six seconds after passing the last waypoint in Malaysian airspace, and had the electrical engineering chops to first turn off, then turn back on the satellite data unit that ultimately produced the clues that the seabed search would be based on.

The ATSB, however, has proven themselves constitutionally incapable of grokking that they have been hoodwinked. Time and again, I’ve asked members of the team how they could be so sure that their data wasn’t tampered with. Time and again, they told me that they hadn’t taken the idea seriously. Most recently, a spokesperson for the Joint Agency Coordination Centre emailed me to explain:

The Inmarsat satellite data unit logs were made publicly available at a very early stage of the investigation and the data has been reviewed frequently by the Joint Investigation Team convened by the Malaysian Government comprising experts from the People’s Republic of China, France, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United States and Malaysian Government officials.

Does this explanation justify confidence in the data? I don’t see it.

Over on other blogs, self-appointed experts will continue to spin out elaborate theories and crunch the numbers to generate new convoluted flight paths. They will tell you that the mystery is incredibly complicated and only the truly erudite come hope to plumb its complexities. Actually, the truth looks quite simple to me. The perpetrators of MH370 set out to baffle and confuse, and they succeeded beyond measure. They have played the ATSB and its fan boys for chumps, and will continue to do so. Game, set, match.

UPDATE: Within minutes of my tweeting about this post, Mike Exner laid into me, calling me all sorts of bad names, and saying that Seabed Constructor had lots of high-probability square kilometerage ahead of it. I responded that if he is so confident of the high quality of the area left to search, then he should be willing to make a bet with me: If Seabed Constructor finds MH370’s wreckage in the months to come, I will publicly acknowledge that he was right all along and I was wrong. And if it does not, he will do the same for me.