MH370 Search Area Still Too Far North, Independent Experts Suggest (UPDATED)


Yesterday the “Independent Group” (IG) of technical experts looking into the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 (of which I am a part) released a new report which made the case that the official search area now being scoured by undersea robots is not where the plane most likely crashed. The reason, the group explained, is that the Australian Transport and Safety Board has relied on a statistical model in which hundreds of possible paths were generated, then winnowed down to include only those that fit the timing and frequency data from the seven handshake pings; this resulted in a distribution whose greatest density coincides with the current search area. The Independent Group, in contrast, began by asking what possible routes most closely match the flight speeds and altitudes that a pilot would most likely choose:

The ATSB analysis used two basic analysis techniques referred to as “Data Driven” and “Flight path/mode driven”… While we agree that these statistical methods are reasonable techniques, both tend to overlook or minimize likely human factors in favor of pure mathematical statistics. This ATSB approach appears to have resulted in a conclusion that the most likely average speed was approximately 400 kts (Appendix A). However, 400 kts is not consistent with standard operating procedure (typically 35,000 feet and 470-480 kts), nor is it consistent with the likely speed a pilot would choose in a decompression scenario (10,000 feet and 250-300 kts). A speed of 400 kts may minimize the BTO and BFO errors for a given set of assumptions, but the errors can also be shown to be very small for other speeds. Given all the tolerances and uncertainties, we believe it is important to consider human factors with more weight… B777 pilots consistently tell us that under normal conditions, the preferred cruise attitude would be 35,000 feet and the TAS would be approximately 470-480 kts. We believe this is the most likely case for MH370, and note that the last ADS-B data available indicated that MH370 was at 35,000 feet and 471 kts at that time.

As can be seen in the chart above, the differing approaches result in search areas that are some 500 miles apart. The full report can be found online here.

UPDATE 9/12/14: Richard Godfrey has pointed out that a recent report from the ATSB  shows that the seabed-mapping effort has recently been extended some 200 nautical miles toward the IG search area:




571 thoughts on “MH370 Search Area Still Too Far North, Independent Experts Suggest (UPDATED)”

  1. Nihonmama – From your link – “One U.S. intelligence official, who asked not to be identified because he doesn’t have permission to speak to reporters, said the decision to hit Khorasan was related in part to concern that recent news stories in the United States about the group might cause the terrorists to go more deeply underground. U.S. officials wanted to act while they had fresh intelligence on where the group’s members could be found, he said.

    For me at least, a credible reason has emerged as to why noone wanted to talk about terrorism back in March, and been invisible ever since?

    Just going expansive on the terror bit – If they were planning hijacks, how did they intend to get around the ballistic door? Remembering that Iran was housing them until a year ago.

    And maybe a Kindergarten level question – could an impostor satellite be used to mess with a 777 in flight? What would it require?

  2. @Brock,

    Thanks for your constructive criticisms and suggestions. That is exactly the kind of response which I was hoping to get.

    More specifically, you are correct in that including the second and third best fits would undoubtedly increase the probability of a successful search by widening the search area to include 83.2 to 85.1 degrees east longitude. I think those would be good boundaries to use for a “wide” search zone, keeping the smaller zone with the Maimun Saleh Airport route as a “priority” search zone, following the ATSB’s nomenclature. In fact that is how I originally wrote it up, but then I decided just to focus on the most-likely zone I described in my white paper. I figured that sort of multi-level approach is something that the ATSB will want to determine for themselves. That was the main reason I ended up with just one high-priority area – to keep it simple.

    In my opinion, the probability that a true track was flown is practically nil based on the normal flight crew practices. To add to that, they would have to change the reference switch from its Normal position (= magnetic) to True. That seems even less likely. SO I concluded that a great circle route to a waypoint was at least one or two orders of magnitude higher in probability than a true track route not using a waypoint. The great circle 192.1 route is instructive in studying the end point errors, but there were no other waypoints besides Maimun Saleh Airport that were anywhere close to 192.1 degrees initial bearing.

    I will explore the sensitivity of the end point location to the turn radius assumption. That will shed some additional light on the uncertainty in the end point longitude. The 15 NM error margin I described was intended to be applied to a single route. No one, me included, has a full understanding of the errors involved in calculations like these. However, I have been doing this a very long time and metrology is a specialty of mine. I came up with the best estimate I could with the information I had to work with. More work, including fits with slightly different assumptions, may help refine the error estimate.

  3. Hi Jeff,
    I just wanted to explain briefly why I believe the MH370 route I have discovered is the correct one. Your readers can view my white paper at:

    1. This route is a great circle route that can be set by selecting a single aviation waypoint in the Flight Management System (the normal navigation mode after takeoff and climb).

    2. That waypoint is Maimun Saleh Airport on Weh Island. It is the nearest airport to 9M-MRO when it went out of radar range.

    3. This route begins at the last radar contact point and continues at the same heading.

    4. It is a simple route, requiring only one turn and no speed changes.

    5. The turn begins at 18:27:00 and ends at 18:28:36. This time period is consistent with the BFO data at 18:28:10 that indicates a turn is underway.

    6. The RMS radial error in the seven arc crossings is less than 1.5 NM, which is equivalent to ~13 microseconds RMS noise (and truncation error) in the BTO’s. This is actually twice as good as the value suggested by the ATSB based on the repeatability at Kuala Lumpur International Airport before takeoff.

    7. The true air speed is constant within ~1 knot from 18:22 (the last radar contact) to 22:41 (the 5th arc crossing). This stability is expected since the true air speed should be very constant when the auto-throttle is used. [ The average speed drops at 00:11 (the 6th arc) and even more at 00:19 (the 7th arc) due to fuel exhaustion, first in one engine, and then in both engines. ]

    8. The average true air speed for my route is 503 knots, which is consistent with no change in speed from the average true air speed flown during the post-diversion portion of the radar track (i.e., from 17:22 to 18:22 the average true air speed was 500 +/- 6 knots [2 sigma]).

    9. The RMS BFO error (the difference between predicted and measured BFO’s) is 4.9 Hz +/- 1.6 Hz (1 sigma). This is consistent with the ATSB estimate of 5 Hz.
    10. The BFO Bias for my route is 149.5 Hz +/- 1.6 Hz (1 sigma), which agrees with the ATSB’s best estimate of 150.0 Hz.

    In summary, the Maimun Saleh Airport route is the only proposed route that hits a nearby waypoint, has very steady true air speed, and matches both the BTO and the BFO data. In addition, the BFO data are not used at all to determine (fit) the route. My fitting method only used the BTO data and the last radar contact position, time, and heading. None of the BFO data were used in the fitting process whatsoever. The perfect consistency of this route with all the BFO properties (values, noise level, and bias) strongly argues that this route is correct. I believe it is the unique route followed by MH370.

  4. John Fiorentino
    Posted September 27, 2014 at 7:51 AM

    Hi John ~

    Please provide a direct link to your curriculum vitae. Thank you.


  5. John – so why would he plane be headed to Perth? Are you saying terrorism? I’m intrigued.

  6. @Matty-Perth

    Hi Matty

    I would love to elaborate, nut it really is difficult without giving it all away.

    Just don’t feel that would be appropriate since my theory is of course speculative.

    But, no terrorism.

  7. @John,

    When can we expect you to enlighten us about your theory? What circumstances are required for you to feel comfortable to publish your theory here and invite peer review, independent assessment, criticism and possibly adulation?

    What is your concern with “giving it all away”? Are you privy to classified information that cannot be revealed?


  8. Hi Jeff and Brock,

    I have performed an analysis of the end-point longitude errors caused by uncertainties in the final radar data and in the turn rate I assumed in fitting the Maimun Saleh Airport route I described in my white paper.

    I created a table showing the end-point location shifts caused by errors in the assumed parameter values. Here is a link to the table and an explanatory write-up (Addendum 1 – Error Sensitivity Analysis):

    The estimated error along the arc due to the uncertainties described above is +/- 10 NM.

    For those who have not seen my white paper “The Location of MH370”, here is the link to it:


  9. Nihonmama –

    From about 18 mins into this vid they go into cyber hijack and the WSJ retraction on Rolls Royce. I guess the issue is how could the journo’s – who get a few words in – confuse two distinct sources such as RR/Boeing and Inmarsat? Very odd. A retraction? I would like to have a chat with those guys over a few beers.

  10. @ matty in perth wrote,
    “Tdm – There is some defence cooperation between Australia/Malaysia but you couldn’t honestly say it’s a warm arrangement and there has been some antagonism coming from that side in the past. After it flew off radar I reckon they had a rough two hour window to notify Australia and if they did then we wouldn’t be here, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t, but it was heading the other direction when they saw it last. Hmmm.”
    Matty ,as I am sure u are aware australia is the only country to have personnel or adf ( austrailian defense forces )stationed in Malaysia this began in1958 *(pg.42)today 58 adf personnel and ” various aircraft are stationed at airbase butter worth .This relationship beetween Australia and Malaysia is very important .
    Malaysia is part of the five power defence agreement.

  11. @Matty-Perth

    Previously you asked me about my theory re: MH370. Specifically, you asked about “terrorism”…I indicated no.

    I do however believe the plane was intentionally diverted with a final destination of Perth……Just wanted to clear that up in case I was unclear.

  12. @John Fiorentino

    IMHO final destination Perth exonerates the flight crew. They would have entered that destination in the FMS and it would have been immediately apparent to them that Perth could not be reached with the fuel available.

  13. Tdm – I almost ended up doing a rotation in Butterworth myself years ago, and your’e right there is a cooperation going on, but it’s structured and with very little warmth. There is resentment at many levels – a previous PM DR Mahatir positively hated us. Just picturing the Malaysians going about it, it wouldn’t surprise me if there was no inclination to pick up the phone if something was happening that they didn’t quite grasp themselves. And the cooperation is generally based on us coughing up, ditto the Indonesians – so it’s not the real thing as in Aust/US.

  14. Matty: re the link for the documentary you posted: cyberhacking through the IFE was a bit spooky, I kept thinking, “don’t try this at home.” And it seems the journalist being interveiwed conflated the means of the data transmission (ACARS via Inmarsat) with the data that was destined for RR/Boeing itself. No?

  15. Rand – in the doco at least they chop from engine data to sat data(Inmarsat). A couple of WSJ aviation writers are logically going to have contacts with Boeing and RR. Before MH370 I doubt they had ever heard of Inmarsat and were never likely to get a call either. Somewhere someone had to introduce the issue of engine data and if there was none how was this so? Even diesel engine manufacturers like Cummins/Perkins/CAT are getting engine data from trucks all over the world every minute. Are they doing this independently of vehicle manufacturers? How do RR go about this?

  16. Rand,

    Thank you for your clarifying comments regarding the reporting of Mr. Sandilands.

    While my recollection is a bit different, at this current time I cannot locate any published articles that indicate use of U.S. intel beyond the Inmarsat data and Malaysian-collected radar stuff that seems to have been the source for the March 13-15 articles positing a Southern Indian Ocean terminus for MH370.

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