MH370 Search Area Moves Further South Again

ATSB search areaAt a press conference in Canberra today, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss state that “further refinement of satellite data” indicated that missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 had turned south earlier than investigators had originally thought. This implied, he said, that the plane had most likely would up further to the south than previously estimated.

The previous assumption was laid out in a report released in June by the Australian Transport Safety Board (ATSB), which included the map shown here. The document described a methodology for determining the search area which suggested that the plane did not make a single turn to the south and then fly on a straight-ahead course into the southern ocean, but rather lingered near western Sumatra for the better part of an hour.

After the report was issued, a loose coalition of experts from around the world called the Independent Group (of which I’m a part) released a statement which questioned the ATSB’s methodology, and in particular pointed out that signal data related to an attempted satellite phone call at 18.40 UTC indicated that the plane was already established on a course to the south. This fact allows the range of possible flight paths to be narrowed considerably.

As fate would have it, Truss’ announcement came just one day after the Independent Group issued a follow-up statement reminding the authorities that its own analysis suggested a search area futher to the south.

“The data is nothing new, but the fact that the Australian government has chosen to issue this statement is very interesting,” says Independent Group member Victor Iannello.

Truss was vague as to where the priority search area had shifted, saying it remained “within the search area” previously laid out in the southern Indian Ocean. This area, however, is more than 1,500 miles long.

260 thoughts on “MH370 Search Area Moves Further South Again”

  1. The decision at the end of March to move the search area closer to Australia was fatally flawed. They claimed data that suggested the plane was flying fast, therefore should run out of fuel faster. Fair enough, but higher speeds point to a more southern path. My own prediction agrees with the independent team – 34.6 S, 93.5 E.
    (Don’t mind the bible issues root, it’s just the easiest place for me to post it).

  2. Alex:

    Waving at you. See my latest Twitter post.

    Have a lot more to say, including re Rolls Royce. Back soon.

  3. For those why say there is no cover up, I wish to pose this question: in what other case of a missing plane, has the authorities seen fit to suppress the information as to where and when the plane was last seen on the ATC radar screen?

    Both the Preliminary Report and the ATSB Report only state the time and place where the plane was last seen on secondary radar.

    Page 2 of the ATSB Report: “The final ATC (secondary) radar fix occurred at 1722”. There is no mention of the final ATC primary radar fix.

    Page 1 of the Preliminary Report: “Location: Unknown (Last known Secondary Surveillance Radar(SSR) return, Waypoint IGARI). Page 4:”….last secondary radar detection at 1:21:13 MYT….”. But like the ATSB Report, there is no mention of the final ATC primary radar fix.

    We know that Malaysia ATC, like all other countries, uses both forms of radar. From the WSJ article on March 13th:

    “Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, told a news briefing that air-traffic control lost contact with Flight 370 on its secondary radar system at 1.21am Saturday, before losing contact on the primary radar at 1.30am….. As is standard international practice, Malaysian controllers use two radar systems, a primary and secondary, to monitor their airspace….”.

    So the plane was last seen on the ATC radar screen (as a radar blip derived solely from primary radar), at 1.30am. Azharuddin, the DCA head and the person in charge of the search before it was moved to the South Indian Ocean, had in fact said so in the hours after the plane disappeared on March 8th. From The Star, a leading Malaysian newspaper/news portal on March 8th:

    “The last signal position of MH370 recorded on the Department of Civil Aviation’s radar was at 1.30am Saturday. Director general Datuk Azharuddin Abdul Rahman said this was MH370’s last position on the radar before the signal disappeared at 1.30am. ‘The signal suddenly disappeared,’ Azharuddin told reporters at the Operation Coordinating Centre at the Sama-Sama Hotel here”.

    Thus while the plane’s ID on the ATC radar screen derived from the SSR signal ceased at 1.21am, the plane now a mere blip derived from primary radar continued to be observed on the ATC radar screen until 1.30am. Only the plane’s ID or label dropped from the screen at 1.21am. This is confirmed at page 3 of the Preliminary Report:

    “At 1:21:13 MYT the radar label for MH370 disappeared from the radar screen at LUMPUR RADAR KLATCC”.

    Azharuddin at that press conference that Saturday afternoon March 8th, did not state the location of the radar blip when it was last seen on the radar screen at 1.30am. For that information we have to go back to an earlier press conference held that Saturday morning by Malaysia Airlines where its CEO Ahmad Jauhari stood in front literally hundreds of reporters and said the last position of the plane on the radar was about 120 NM off Kota Bharu ( a town in the north east of Peninsular Malaysia). This was widely and repeatedly reported. Those who wish to verify this information only has to Google ‘120 nm off Kota Bharu MH370’. (‘Bharu’ is sometimes spelled ‘Bahru’ or ‘Baru’).

    From the website, one can obtain information regarding a particular waypoint and its distances from various airports. The airport at Kota Bharu is called the Sultan Ismail Petra airport. This airport from the map is about 1 to 2 NM from the coast. The main part of the town of Kota Bharu itself appears to be around 4 NM from the coast.

    This website lists the airport at Kota Bharu as 126 NM from BITOD and 89 NM from IGARI.

    Thus 120 NM from Kota Bharu would be around BITOD.

    Although the main text of the preliminary Report did not contain any reference to the final ATC primary radar location, a schedule annexed to the report, does. The relevant part of this schedule “ACTIONS TAKEN BETWEEN 1:30 AND 06:14 ON SATURDAY 8 MARCH” is set out below:

    “1 01:38:19 Ho Chi Minh first enquired about Mh370, informed KL-ATCC that verbal contact was not established with MH370 and radar target was last seen at BITOD……

    3 01:46:46 HCM queried about MH370 again, stating that radar contact was established over IGARI but there was no verbal contact. Ho Chi Minh advised that the observed radar blip disappeared at waypoint BITOD……

    10 02:18:53 …..HCM confirmed earlier information that radar contact was lost after BITOD and radio contact was never established……..”.

    Ho Chi Minh ATC did not give a time for when they last saw the plane at BITOD. But from the schedule above, we know they called KL at 1:38am. The Malaysians did, they gave a time of 1.30am.

    Thus the evidence is clear: MH370 disappeared from ATC secondary radar at just past IGARI at 1.21am and from ATC primary radar at around BITOD at 1.30am.

    IGARI to BITOD was part of MH370’s original flight path. Contrary to what is stated at page 2 of the ATSB Report that” [A]t 1725 the aircraft deviated from the flight-planned route”, MH370 had in fact remained on its original flight path of IGARI to BITOD, reaching BITOD at around 1.30am.

    These critical 9 minutes have huge implications:

    1. As explained in previous comments, for the plane to have taken 9 minutes to travel the 37 NM from IGARI to BITOD and for the plane to disappear from primary radar at that point, means the plane must have lost all power at IGARI at 1.21am, which was the time all communication systems requiring electrical power ceased .

    2. The speed MH370 was traveling at between the 2 waypoints works out to be around 240 knots which is the speed a B777 would glide at unpowered, ie if it had lost all power.

    3. The disappearance of the plane from primary radar at BITOD means the plane must have dropped to around 21000 to 20000 ft at BITOD (the ‘above the horizon’ threshold of the primary radars tracking it according to Professor Stupples) from the 35000 ft at IGARI, a drop rate of around 1500 to 1600 ft per minute, which is the drop rate of a B777 gliding without power.

    4. If MH370 was at BITOD at 1.30am (1730 UTC), it could not have made it to MEKAR at 2.22am (1822 UTC) as a B777 cannot cover the distance between these 2 points in such time even if it was traveling at maximum speed.

    5. If MH370 was at BITOD at 1.30am (1730 UTC), it obviously did not deviate from its flight path at 1.25am (1725 UTC) as stated in the ATSB Report.

    6. In summary, the fact that the plane was at BITOD at 1.30am (1730 UTC) cannot be reconciled with the purported western turn and track set forth in the ATSB Report. In other words, whatever is drawn up in Figure 2, which is completely unsubstantiated to begin with, it is not a radar track of MH370.

  4. Alex,

    You believe the plane crashed in the South China Sea (just off of Vietnam). But wasn’t that the first place they searched as soon as the plane vanished? And they found nothing. If it was there, then that would have been the easiest place to find wreckage.

  5. @Denver- They later clarified that ‘faster’ meant the plane was flying faster than previously considered during the time from the last ACARS AT 17:07 (that should have transmitted fuel level) and 18:22 UTC. That implies that the range was reduced.

    @Alex #4 from Sept. 14, 12:47 AM post – Per SkyVector the distance from BITOD directly to MEKAR (without diversion over PENANG) is 457.4 nm. In order to cover that distance in 52.8 min, the plane would have needed to have had an average speed of 528 kts. Richard’s spreadsheet shows an a/c speed of 510 kts during the radar trace. While 528 kts is near the upper edge of the performance for a B777-200, refinement of the time, distance and wind involved might show that this is within the capabilities of MH370.

  6. @Lauren H,

    The fact is the purported path as drawn up by the authorities involves a ‘diversion’ to Penang and even a purported time over Pulau Perak of 2:03am (1803 UTC). So the purported path is not a straight line but a shallow V shaped line (see Figure 2).

    Also, if indeed the plane did turn back after BITOD, the turn would necessarily mean additional flying time and distance.

    Richard himself conceded that the plane could not have made it to MEKAR at the given time of 2.22am (1822 UTC) if the plane had reached BITOD at 1.30am. On March 18th 22.54, i posted a comment on Duncan’s blog about the evidence showing the plane reached BITOD at around 1.30am. Duncan replied at 23:45 that he had “…no faith at all in the various statements regarding the aircraft being at BITOD at any particular time..”. Duncan did not give any reasons why he was of such view. Richard in a further reply to Duncan on May 19th 17:37 said the following:

    “…The question of BITOD has been discussed before in a large number of comments in previous posts. You are right to dismiss any claim that MH370 reached BITOD, because if it did you have to discount both the 3 ping rings at around 18:25 and the Malaysian Military Radar……”.

  7. Lauren: your response to Denver is accurate, but potentially misleading.

    Yes, the added fuel burn was during radar-tracked phase, and yes, taking fuel away would reduce range during southern leg.

    But the performance limit for MH370 (if the Inmarsat data is valid) is defined by a set of CONSTRAINED paths, whereby each path must still cross each arc at a set time. Because of this – and because fuel efficiency tails off at extremely fast OR slow speeds – the performance limit is shaped like an egg, whose long axis runs NW to SE.

    Take away fuel, and the feasibility range along the final Inmarsat arc doesn’t shift NE – instead, the feasibility range contracts sharply at BOTH ends, as the “point of the egg” retreats to the NW.

    (That is why the ATSB’s original rationale for the March 28 move is so concerning. I have proven (see Sept 10 11:54/11:55pm “proof” links) that their own performance model would reject the NEW site before rejecting the OLD. Martin Dolan acknowledged this, when he wrote that the search moved DESPITE the added fuel burn.)

  8. @Lauren, I understand that faster speeds mean higher rate of fuel burn. But the fact is that the plane flew until 00:19 therefore TIME FLEW is fixed. The only equation that applies is
    Distance = Speed * Time
    Higher speed can only mean increased range. Hence higher speed paths would shift away from Australia, not nearer.

  9. Therefore what you need is the RIGHT speed that would result in fuel burn out by 0019, that also matches ALL the satellite data and wind data.

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