What Was Going On at Yubileyniy?

1 - Yubileyniy overview 2012 smallAs readers of this blog or my Kindle Single (or, now, New York magazine) know, I’m intrigued by the possibility that MH370 might have been hijacked and flown north to the Yubileyniy Aerodrome within the Baikonur Cosmodrome. If so, it would have come to rest on the specially-milled concrete at approximately an hour and a half before sunrise on Sunday, March 8. And then what? If it stayed where it was, it would have been easy to spot by land-imaging satellites overhead. To avoid detection, it would have to have either refueled and taken off again, or found some kind of shelter.

As it happens, the Kazakh steppe is a terrible place to hide a 210-foot long, 60-foot-high airplane. The flat, desert plain is sparsely populated and almost featureless, so that anything large and unusual is apt to stand out. There is no natural canopy of trees to shelter under. Though there are large buildings at the cosmodrome where space vehicles are serviced, there are no large structures near Yubileyniy.

After I began developing my “Spoof” hypthesis I spent days scouring first Google Earth, then free commercial satellite imagery looking for any hint that a plane could have been stashed in the vicinity. The pickings were slim. The Yubileyniy complex was built in the ‘80s as the landing site for the Buran space plane, and after the program was cancelled in 1989 it has largely sat disused. Occasionally the runway is used by planes carrying inbound VIPs and cosmonauts, but otherwise nothing has really happened there in decades. An overview of the area is depicted above.

The dark, fishhook-shaped line is the rail line connecting the airstrip to the rest of the Baikonur complex. Alongside it is a road from which a series of driveways lead off to the north. One of them leads to an isolated six-story building that stands surrounded by debris, berms, and trenches. I came to think of the area as Yubileyniy North. Here’s what it looked like in 2006 (click on images to enlarge):

2 - Yubileyniy North 2006

As you can see, the area is desert, where vehicle tracks persist for many years. The six-story building casts a dark, short shadow to the northwest — the sun is nearly overhead. The road from the airstrip comes up from the bottom of the frame and curves to the right. Here and there rectangular patches of debris suggest where buildings once stood. Essentially, it’s a ruin. Here’s the same area, six years later:

3 - Yubileyniy North 2012

Not much has changed. The sun is lower in the sky, so the six-story building’s shadow is longer. But nothing seems to have changed at all. The entire area of Yubileyniy is like this—the place seems have been left to slowly crumble in the desert sun for decades. There’s nowhere to stash a 777. On the other hand, the most recent imagery viewable here in Google Earth comes from 2012. Perhaps something has happened since then? I didn’t know anything about what kind of imagery is available from commercial sources, but I set out to learn. Before long I came upon a company called Terraserver, which lets you view high-resolution satellite imagery for free. I used it to scope around the general area of the Yubileyniy complex, and here’s what I found in an image of Yubileyniy North from October 31, 2013:

4 - Oct 31 2013 small

Suddenly, things are happening. A number of trucks are lined up in the parking lot in the upper-right part of the image. The six-story building is being disassembled. And what looks like a large rectangle of dirt has been bulldozed to the left of the building. The image resolution is so good that you can make out what I take to be the stripes left by the bulldozer blade as it worked back and forth horizontally. At the northern end of the rectangle is a berm which casts a shadow to the north. At the far northeastern corner lies what appears to be a trench with a well-defined corner on the upper right, with treadmarks leading out of it toward the southeast. I’m not sure what this dirt rectangle represents — are they building a pile of dirt, or a hole? — but what really gets my attention is the size of the thing. To give you a sense of scale, I’ve superimposed an equivalently proportioned 777 silhouette onto the image:

5 - Oct 31 w 777

This struck me as interesting, to say the least. Naturally, I wondered what happened next. Fortunately, Terraserver had one more image that I could browse for free. This next one was taken on April 26, 2014:

11 - Apr 26 2014 small

Holy cow. All traces of both the building and the dirt rectangle have been erased. Various debris piles have been swept away, too. At first I thought that maybe the image had been digitally scrubbed, but if you look closely you can easily make out individual pieces of junk in between the cleared areas. So my interpretation is that the site was actually cleared and swept up.
So here’s the situation: nothing happens at Yubileyniy for decades; then, four months before MH370 disappears, the Russians start building a 777-sized something-or-other a mile and a half from a giant disused airstrip. Then, a month after the plane disappears, the area looks like it’s been erased.
What had happened in the meantime? To find out, I had to shell out cash from my own pocket to buy imagery from the main commercial satellite imagery provider, Digital Globe, via one of its resellers—in this case, a company called Apollo Mapping. The cash drain was painful, but at this point I was very far down the rabbit hole. Here’s what Yubileyniy North looked like on December 17, 2013:

6 - Dec 17 2013

The sun is low on the snow-dusted steppe; it’s almost winter. In a month and a half, workers have removed all but the bottom-most floors of the six-story building. You can make out the shadow of a crane projecting to the north from the middle of the remaining structure. A handful of trucks can still be seen in the parking lot. The dirt pile has been extended a few yards to the north; the berm at that end now overlies the what we saw as the sharp corner of the trench in the October image. Beyond the berm lies either a dark strip that could either be a long trench or just a shadow; to my eye the line of brightness at its northern edge implies the lip of a trench, but who knows. Work is clearly continuing. The next image, in black and white, is from three weeks later, January 9, 2014:

7 - Jan 9 2014

Now winter is in full effect. Snow blankets the entire region, and cold has descended: in the four days before this picture was taken, the temperature fluctuated between -15F and +14F. The disruption of the snow cover shows that work is very much underway. The building seems to be down to its last story. Trucks can be seen in the parking lot. I’m not sure what to make of the northern end of the rectangle; two dark strips are visible, perhaps one of them is a trench and the other is the shadow of a berm. Unforunately the resolution is not very good because the image was taken at a fairly low angle. The fact that work is continuing under such harsh conditions suggests a sense of urgency, to my mind; or perhaps these are simply hardy mofos. By the time the next image is taken, nearly two months have passed.

8 - Mar 2 2014

In this black-and-white image, the building has been completely dismantled and the dirt rectangle bulldozed flat. No berm remains at the northern end. Horizontal bulldozer tracks are still visible. The dark dirt is framed with a lighter border, suggesting perhaps a snowy slope. No trucks are visible, suggesting that the work crew has moved on. A color image taken four days later looks almost identical:

9 - Mar 6 2014

This image was taken two days before MH370 disappeared, on March 6. The next one was taken eight days after, on March 16:

10 - Mar 16 2014

When I first saw this picture, my heart leapt. The two scenes, taken just before and after the disappearance, looked so different that I was certain that something significant had occurred in the interim. Perhaps what was a rectangular depression in the March 6 image has now been filled in with sand (along with maybe, oh, who knows, a plane?).
I began pricing out tickets to Kazakhstan and searching the internet for advice on detecting large buried things with metal detectors. I located a Russian from St. Petersburg who’d made a gonzo two-day bike trek across the steppe to reach the Yubileyniy strip and sought his advice on how to get to the area without permission; he told me that he’d camped out at the airstrip overnight without anybody noticing him but then had tried to visit a busier part of the cosmodrome and gotten arrested. After he told them he was just scouting around because he was a huge fan of the Buran project, they let him go. I figured that if I was more careful I had a good chance of making it in and back.
But then I looked more closely, and examined the weather records. It just so happened that during this time interval spring fell on Baikonur like a hammer. On March 6, the temperature had only just peeked above freezing, by the 16th the daily highs had been in the 40s for the better part of a week. The thaw has completely changed the color palette. Everything that was covered in snow, and hence lighter colored, is now sodden and hence darker colored. White plains of snow are now damp brown sand. The darker earth of the rectangle is now drier and lighter-colored. After staring at these images for many hours I concluded that the most likely interpretation is that nothing has changed except for a temperature change.
And so we wind up back at our April 26 image:

11 - Apr 26 2014 small

By now the desert has returned to its normal dried-out state. The cluttered jumble seen over the winter has been replaced by almost featureless swatches of tan. A vehicle track overlies the northernmost part of the dirt rectangle, its borders now smudged and indeterminate.
I showed some of these images to construction experts and satellite imagery professionals, and received very little encouragement. Most likely, they told me, the work being performed was site remediation: a building was torn down, and construction debris thrown in a trench and covered up. As successive trenches are dug and filled in, a rectangular shape is formed. Simple as that.
And yet: the entire cosmodrome is littered with decades of abandoned equipment and derelict buildings, evincing a constitutional lack of interest in the concept of remediation. There is no commercial or residential activity for miles of Yubileyniy. Why, after decades, did the Russians suddenly need to clear this one lonely spot, in the heart of a frigid winter, finishing just before MH370 disappeared? And why is it that the greater part of the dirt rectangle was already laid out in the Oct 31 image, before the building was substantially demolished?
I don’t know. I tried to reach out to people who might know, but had no luck, and eventually I had to turn my attention to projects that might earn me some money. But I’d love to find out. If any readers have any special insight, I’d love to hear it.

UPDATE 4/3/2106: Since I wrote the above, Google Earth has added a new high-quality image of the site, taken October, 12, 2014. It gives a different impression from the last image–it doesn’t look any longer like the dirt was swept flat, like someone trying to cover their tracks.

October 2014

625 thoughts on “What Was Going On at Yubileyniy?”

  1. I have say it does look like site remediation / salvage. There could be any number of contaminants associated with such a site. There are likely building components and other debris buried in the 777 silhouette area, judging from the buildings that are in the photo before it. The heavy equipment tracks in the silhouette photo are likely from pushing debris over the fill (which I gather was pre-MH370). At some point in the last couple of photos, they came in and did some final grading and cleanup. The Western world does this routinely, even at sites not touched for years. There are plenty of messes leftover from the Cold War. I can’t comment on remediation practices in this part of the world, but they likely have some minimal standards.

  2. Hi Jeff,

    Your entire spoof theory is very interesting, and I can appreciate all of the effort which has gone into it.

    Regarding the sand pit, in particular, I created an animated GIF overlay of the two images taken 10 days apart.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/cc3yil9qsm4hxpv/Yubileyniy-timelapse.gif?dl=0

    While the thaw does seem to change the appearance of the site, when the images are overlaid, the sand pit appears to have the same tracks and detail in both images. Also, the darker ‘groundcover’ appears to be what retained snow, instead of the lighter ‘sand’ color.

    Just my input on the sand pit. Jeff, thanks again for all of your efforts, and for hosting such a great platform to share ideas.

  3. Simple site remediation? Exploring the idea it was sinister then all such endeavours would be disguised – think like a criminal all you crunchers. In Vlad’s day and now there were agencies devoted to studying each others works. Especially around such assets. And such a low priority task in the middle of nowhere. Why level a significant structure? Was it unsafe? Why bury it right on site when there are a million of spots to dump it – even use the rubble like we do? The dimensions and shape of the now graded area was clearly planned. Overall the place is still a dump?

  4. Jeff W

    Interesting info but you would have to believe that the entire Inmarsat data is completely corrupted for this to work, I think it is very unlikely, but not impossible,for it to have been spoofed.

    In my opinion if the Inmarsat data is corrupted it would be more likely the result of signal interference only on some measured values, but not all. Most of the data I see as valid so I can’t say I think this theory is plausible.

    Let’s stick to science and the more likely explanations first before we say “spoofing”!

    Ken S.

  5. Jeff W

    Here is a link to my blog of my explanation as to why the Inmarsat data appears to be corrupted. Less pseudoscience but more practical electronic engineering which is my background.

    Signal interference is something I deal with everyday designing RF and High Frequency digital circuit boards. I see clear evidence of data corruption in the Inmarsat data as result of internal channel/frequency interference. Some of the data was discounted already by JACC/ATSB because of this interference. I think the 7th BTO value was also corrupted as well.

    Ken S

  6. Hi,
    When I firstly saw the rectangle, I thought the lines are stripes of some fabric used for camouflage. The kind of jute bags fabric. Then I read, you think it as the bulldozer marks.
    I think, bulldozer marks would fade with time, but the lines still appear, which suggests it is covered with stripes of some kind, maybe as I suggested above.
    I am now referring to the first image with the rectangle before you superimposed the plane; if you notice, at the top of what you called dirt, or sand, but before the rectangle gets completely black, there are marks which are the same as a bulldozer marks, as seen on the ground above, outside the rectangle. The mark on the right, seems to stop at the dirt, but it’s discontinuing. This would mean, in would continue below what you called dirt, and I suggest is a camouflage.
    It looks like they were covering a piece of land, in order to construct something underneath.
    it’s the right thing to do if someone wishes to construct a secret underground space.
    The demolition and clearing the area could be a diversion, not to suspect a construction is taking place, and for later, not to attract people of satellite images by having something so conspicuous.
    There might be few accesses for staff. The northern trenches, a western trench to the most left kind of construction, and maybe a previous underground access to the disassembled building. It mast have had some foundations and underground spaces.
    Too bad it’s not possible to attach an image. It would be a shorter explanation.

  7. Hi Matty,
    Remember me? Back from the days, when there were no “conspiracists” and “crunchers”? This trench must’ve formed while I took a break from the mh 370 conundrum. Quite regrettably, if I may say so…But I take up your suggestion to think like a criminal. So, how would I hide a stolen 777 in the Kasach desert, while being watched by eagle eyed satellites? Maybe, that’s actually harder than faking the pings, lol! But seriously, it’s something which has to be answered if we consider the merit of Jeff’s theory. When Inmarsat first reveiled the existance of the pings, people were looking north and south for the plane. Kasachstan was considered to be a viable destination and the plane simply couldn’t remain on the tarmac for long if it really landed there. It was a logical idea to check the area before and after 3/8/14 via satellite photos. What Jeff has discovered is truly interesting insofar as there ARE indeed differences! That’s the important thing. That the differences can be explained by ordinary remediation work is secondary. Actually, a mundane explanation is to be expected. A hangar popping up a few days before the plane vanished would invite immediate suspicions. Unfortunately my training in thinking like a plane thief is still in the rookie stages and I fail to see atm how exactly a 777 can be quickly and successfully hidden in an open sand rectangle – if that’s what we are seeing on the pictures. Maybe, we need a camouflage expert here. And wouldn’t a really devious mind make the rectangle bigger or of different proportions than a 777 in order to avoid instant comparisons with superimposed plane pictures?
    But if Jeff is right – that the plane did land at this tarmac and that it was hidden there somehow – then it would tell us an awfull lot about the nature of this crime: It was planned at least month in advance. Which opens up a string of problems concerning possible motives.
    Another thought: wouldn’t it be easier simply to fuel up the plane and fly it – again in complete dark mode, of course – to another destination before sunrise? Nobody would be looking for the plane beyond it’s fuel range and the 7th ping ring.

  8. You have Obviously done a huge amount of “Thinking”about this and then putting it down on Paper!
    My personal View From day one has been Simple! Shah Stole the plane! Got rid of Pax! U know How! And flew it to the Deepest Spot in the SIO! EOS!
    However Based on what I have seen from your Work,( enlarged on my 50 Plasma) it certainly Demands to be Scrutinized, Analyzed,Critiqued etc etc, and looked at in Detail.
    I will state the obvious, in saying it is a Crying Shame you were not Able to grab some Vodka and sneak in to this site and Dig a Hole! with that Ruskys Help.

    If we Aussies do not Find it Shortly, maybe @tonyabbott can have a talk with Putin (his Buddy!!)..Now if they Refuse…..?

  9. @littlefoot, Welcome back! As to your final point, I think the odds are good you’re right; if the plane did go north, refueling and then continuing on before sunrise would seem a pretty solid strategy.

  10. Anyways Jeff, I think this theory shows some great creative thinking on your part and shows us that there other possibilities other than the 7th arc theory which I think we all need to start considering more.

    Having said that I don’t see how you could get a 777-200 into a hole like that without breaking it’s suspicion on the landing gears.
    Seems to me that would be a very difficult task to do.

    Ken S

  11. I think GlobusMax is on the right track. According to one article, Baikonur is taking steps to remediate the environmental impact of spent boosters:

    “This situation [launch location away from the coast] limits the permissible launch azimuths to avoid impacts near populated or foreign regions, e.g., due east launches (the most advantageous) from Baikonur are forbidden since lower rocket stages would fall on Chinese territory. For those launch corridors which are used, tens of thousands of tons of spent boosters, many with toxic residual propellants still on board, now litter the countryside. Steps are underway around both Baikonur and Plesetsk to mitigate the situation, but the problem remains monumental.”

    http://fas.org/spp/guide/russia/facility/baikonur.htm

    If there were a remediation site with good access adjacent to a derelict building already slated for demolition, two birds could be killed with one stone, to coin a phrase.

    This facility does not seem to be too heavily shrouded in secrecy. I wonder how difficult it would be to contact a person who actually knows what’s up.

  12. I don’t think you could get a 777 from the runway to the “hole.” You would have to dismantle or demo it on the runway and truck it up there. There appear to be no hangers at this facility on Google Earth, so you’re out in the open under spy satellites. I’ve done big demo projects and such an operation would not be easy. Lot’s of people would be needed to do it quickly – people who might talk.

    Russians are simple and ingenious, imo. I agree with another poster who said just fly it elsewhere. If they can spoof BFO, they can disable the SDU. I’d think an intact 777 would be worth more to them.

    Only Americans would go to such elaborate lengths to destroy and bury something. 🙂

    It’s an awful thought, but if anything associated with MH370 is buried here, it’s likely not the plane.

  13. @GlobusMax:

    “Only Americans would go to such elaborate lengths to destroy and bury something”

    No just the Americans Globus!

    “In July 2014 (after MH370 vanished), Keith Bradsher wrote about an incident that occurred in 2000, wherein a mysterious chemical (in canisters), found its way onto an MAS flight. The Malaysian government ended up digging a large hole in the ground near the airport tarmac and burying the entire plane.

    What was quite notable (beyond the fact that MAS buried a ENTIRE airplane in the ground) is that Bradsher’s article did not specify that the canisters contained oxalyl chloride (a military poison) or better, how he knew that this shipment of chemicals was ‘destined for Iran’.

    So I posed the Iran question on Twitter (and tagged Bradsher in it). His response:

    ‘Malaysian who worked on the issue at the time said it was destined for Iran.'”

    http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sd7gtn

  14. @all

    Still doesn’t explain WHY the Russians would do such a thing. Cargo? Why kidnap & murder so many Chinese citizens when they’re practically the only communist friends you have since goose stepping into the Ukraine? Risk the weight of the entire worlds condemnation….& risk of war for what? What would be their motive for such a heinous crime? This to me poses more Whack-A-Doodle, James Bond like theories. If it was anyone other than Jeff Wise, I’d call it Hooka pipe & whiskey fueled BullSh*t.

    Hi Littlefoot, welcome back.

  15. I’m fascinated by this theory, and I’m eager to see how the discussion (and the research) continues.

    A few questions:

    1. How large do you hypothesize such a “spoofer box” would have to be? More Raspberry Pi size, or laptop size?

    2. Malaysia Airlines’ current baggage policy (http://goo.gl/US3BD6) indicates that pony bottles are forbidden as carry-ons. Instead, could(n’t) the hijackers have used the oxygen cylinders for the flight crews’ masks that are in the E/E bay?

    3. Did Brodsky’s son and dive-club friend indicate that he cut the dive trip short unexpectedly, or did his itinerary always include the Mongolia piece?

    4. I share GlobusMax’s question: how difficult would it to get the plane over, or around, those railroad tracks?

  16. Interesting theory. My career is in aircraft certification, so when MH370 disappeared, my family turned to me for answers. Obviously, I didn’t have any, but I decided to approach it from a different angle. Who would benefit the most from a media frenzy caused by a commercial airliner completely disappearing?

    My answer in March, 2014, was Russia. The annexation of Crimea was well underway, and was the center of public attention. Once MH370 happened, Crimea barely made the news.

    But I would think the site remediation would simply be the perfect excuse to have active ground equipment in the area, to support a quick refuel and departure. There are far easier places to hide an aircraft in Russia. Although Russia is the land of dash cams, so it would still need to be pretty remote.

  17. @All

    When considering the taking of flight 377 for a future occasion. WHY? When their are soooo many surplus AC’s around the world. Especially in Russia & other countries, that would supply them without hijacking a major airliner.

    Hijack, kidnap & KILL 227 pax & 12 crew members. Bear the the weight of 15 different nations, three of them being, China, Russia, & the USA. Not the mention, Australia & Malaysia.

    You may have stumbled onto something, it’s very interesting stuff, but MH370 is not the focus of the imagery you’ve presented, IMO.

    Sorry Jeff, IMO..your money would have been better spent at a local pub in remembrance of all aboard. Along with those involved with search & recovery efforts.

  18. What about the airfield here? Definitely long enough: about 5500 feet. From Google Earth, it looks a little run down, but the images overlayed from Panaramio show newly painted runway numbers.

    29°02’22.50″ N 62°12’50.33″ E

  19. Jeff, I quote one of your captions from the NY Mag article:

    Fig. 23: To the best of my knowledge, this airstrip is the only one in the world built specifically for self-landing airplanes.

    Really? In the WORLD?

    How many airports in the world have CAT III Approaches….lots.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoland

    I follow your blog, but unless I missed something this statement is an error. Maybe you can help me understand. This kind of hurts the credibility of this theory.

  20. Jeff,

    This runway looks familiar, of course, from the early days looking for runways near Beshtash and Qiambo.

    I do think the photo is doctored, though it may be benign. The color is very consistent – low contrast, no variation. But open it in an image editor and see how the red, green and blue channels, each with very little variation, occur at distinctly different levels. Your other images don’t do that.

    I would suggest a tool that looks at the compression. These can highlight modified or airbrushed pixels, since colors not present during the original compression don’t quite fit.

    That said, there’s support for burying a plane, and support for stealing one, but the combination doesn’t make sense.

  21. 1.If MH370 was taken to Kazakhstan, what was the MOTIVE?

    2.In “The Spoof, Part 4: Motive”, Jeffwise said:

    “If, as I suspect is most likely, the plane landed at Baikonur, then obviously the finger of blame points to the Russian government. But even if MH370 flew somewhere else in Kazakhstan, suspicion must still fall on the Kremlin. The country is a close ally of Russia.

    In the days after MH370’s disappearance, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak personally appealed to Kazakhstan’s president, the Soviet-era strongman Nursultan Nazarbayev, to allow Malaysia to set up a search operation in the country. Kazakhstan never responded. After Inmarsat concluded that the plane had gone south, the matter was dropped.”

    But there’s another agent of influence in Kazakhstan – and it is CHINA.

    “Remember, the Chinese have built oil and gas pipelines in Central Asia. Moreover, and as controversial as this may be (and it is, if for no other reason than the current and bloody events in Ukraine), there is another player that has historically had strong ties with countries in the northern corridor, but now finds itself in a battle with China for influence there – and that is Russia.”

    http://www.duncansteel.com/archives/751/comment-page-1#comment-3628

    “Kazakhstan is one of the cornerstones of the Moscow-designed Eurasian Union, implying a certain attachment to Moscow as a geopolitical center. However, the increasing tension with Russia especially over hydrocarbon trade indicates that the alliance with Moscow is just one among many vectors of Kazakhstan “multi vector” policy… a continuation of the present trend implies that Beijing is becoming Kazakhstan’s most important partner, regardless of the variety of other agreements and alliances that Astana has clinched or with other powers.”

    Source: Kazakhstan Drifts to China Amid Tension with Russia
    By Dmitry Shlapentokh (the 08/01/2014 issue of the CACI Analyst)

    China had more people on MH370 than any other country. So when Kazakhstan did not respond to Malaysia’s request to set up a search there, why didn’t CHINA pressure Kazakhstan to do the same?

  22. Littlefoot – yes I remember you well and i wondering just the other day where you went.

    On Aircraft disposal, this is what happened to our long serving F1-11’s

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80OadL7f8Lo

    I see it mentioned that you couldn’t get it from the strip to the hole? I wonder? In winter the ground there would be hard, and maybe towable. If it was me though i want it on it’s belly and the tailfin off. With prepared charges and a good team would take about 25 minutes.

  23. The only issue I would have with your theory is motivation.

    I did a search of old Royal Air Force stations dotted around the Indian Ocean on the theory that MH370 had been taken to one of the more isolated ones where it would be disguised and later used as a flying bomb. The problem with that idea is that all of the old, isolated RAF stations, whether they had been abandoned or became local airports, are near populated areas. Perhaps I there are one or two I missed.

    You said in your very interesting article in New York Magazine that there were three Russians in First Class who could well have been Russian Special Force types. Who else was in First Class who might have pulled this off? The idea of the plane being taken north is intriguing, but the Baikonur Cosmodrome is too well known, even to a technophobe with complete dyscalculia like myself.

  24. GlobusMax – I would venture to say that site remediation standards in the Kazakh desert would be almost nothing. If that was ongoing it would involve the removal of soils/materials, then trucked away as happened here with nuclear testing in the 50’s. Just my take.

    Ken S – I don’t think it’s entirely fair to call Jeff’s scenario “creative thinking”. The BTO’s allow a Baikonur destination don’t they? The BFO’s could yet turn out to be anything. Plenty of people staking their credentials on them but not one bit of debris to show for it.

  25. @Dave MacCarter, Yes, many airstrips are equipped for Cat III Approaches, but they were built long before the technology was available. Those that were built more recently were intended for a wide variety of aircraft, some of which could autoland and some of which could not. Yubileyniy was built for one specific vehicle — the Buran — which could autoland, and indeed did.

  26. Hi.

    Pardon my english spelling, not native english speaker/writer.
    Don´t have the time to check all of the prior writings here, but your conclusion of a northern track was my believe as well last year. There is 2 details that never has been discussed. 1: MH370 was using 2 inmarsat terminals, but all released data has only been from the 2nd unit were the engine data was aired, the unit servicing pax that was on the same E/E shelf has never been mentioned-it was also transmitting..!!. 2: It is quite simple to fool the BFO, you access E/E-bay and bring along a old handheld video delay unit size of a mobile phone with manual switches and connect it to the baseband sockets on the inmarsat terminal as the HPA:s is located just under the dome attached to the fuselage. By pulling the switches that are marked in n/s, you could fool the readings for the BFO with this simple video delay if its made for baseband freq, I have worked with D2MaC over satellite were we used delays up to 400mhz, and the baseband of these Inmarsat unit seems to work on 150mhz before coming into the upconverter/HPA. As you are one of the few that really tries to find the thruth, you should asked Inmarsat or others why they never mentioned the data from the 1st inmarsat unit (redundant system 4 channels). There was also a “fire” in MAS service hangar shortly after the investigation started were some documents and parts for their airplane fleet got destroyed, which adds the suspect of faul play.

    If it was an accident were pax and pilots got killed in mid air, the only conclusion of the strange behavior of the flight would be that someone tried to get the plane down by remote control, but when they realized that all was killed up there, then the plane got a ditch course, and that could explain the silence of the 2nd inmarsat unit as that one then would be the remote communication unit, these birds has the infamous chip that´s can make the plane to be remotely controlled.

    Keep up the good work !

  27. @Signal Hill —

    “1. How large do you hypothesize such a “spoofer box” would have to be? More Raspberry Pi size, or laptop size?”

    I don’t know! Seems like things are pretty small these days, look at what an iPhone can do…

    “2. Malaysia Airlines’ current baggage policy (http://goo.gl/US3BD6) indicates that pony bottles are forbidden as carry-ons. Instead, could(n’t) the hijackers have used the oxygen cylinders for the flight crews’ masks that are in the E/E bay?”

    Yes, you’re right. I put in that detail about the pony bottles because Brodsky was coming back from a dive vacation. That part is probably wrong. But as you point out, there are other sources of bottled oxygen aboard the plane.

    “3. Did Brodsky’s son and dive-club friend indicate that he cut the dive trip short unexpectedly, or did his itinerary always include the Mongolia piece?”

    Apparently he had planned to cut the trip short all along, which as others have pointed out would contra-indicate the notion that MH370 was hijacked in retalation for the March 6 sanctions.

    “4. I share GlobusMax’s question: how difficult would it to get the plane over, or around, those railroad tracks?”

    Probably easier than spoofing the BFO!

  28. Jeff – those railroad tracks seem to intersect roads that appear to be in use at various points and maybe it remembles a kind of tramline instead?

  29. Yes, the F1-11 video is pretty heartbreaking for me. There was an energetic lobby to keep them going by rebuilding them with new materials to push the life out another 30 years but it was never going to be stealthy. Still, there was no real replacement in terms of range, payload, and the ability to operate very low at very high speed. Cruise missiles killed the F1-11 but that plane suited out geography perfectly. Point of interest – many of the planes in that hole were 2nd hand(F1-11G’s) from the planes that were stationed in Europe. They got mothballed earlier than thought because when they first began to negotiate disarmament in the 90’s the Russians wanted all F1-11’s out of Europe as they knew it had the ability to penetrate their airspace, and unknown to many was nuclear capable. 2000 mph, and supersonic at a couple of hundred feet.

  30. Hi Jeff,

    It is unlikely that this area could have been used – it is too far from the runway along roads that would be destroyed by the weight and there is a gap of 200m which looks completely unpaved. It also doesn’t really make sense to destroy a 777 that you’ve just stolen, even if you only want the passengers.

    Originally there was some talk about altitude changes that the plane made while it was evading radar, which included a short period of time at close to or above the aircraft’s operating ceiling as well as a period of time at a much lower altitude. I haven’t been able to find any data on this – do you have any?

    Because, the 777, fully fuelled and with a light load can effectively fly non-stop between any two points on the globe. If those altitude changes are confirmed, there is a scenario in which hijackers could lower cabin pressure and fly to maximum altitude, asphyxiating the passengers in a few minutes, then throwing the bodies (and cargo?) out at an altitude safe to open the doors, in a place where no-one will look.

    An informed hijacker would know about the use of satellite ping data from the previous disappearance of the Air France flight, and use this to lay breadcrumbs while flying south towards an area where losing a plane could become understandable given the undersea terrain and surface conditions. They turn off the equipment when they reach the point they would ordinarily have run out of fuel, but with most of the weight they were carrying at take-off gone, they will have had significant extra range.

  31. Re: demolition work being done in winter – this isn’t all that strange, when you consider that in the summer it’s +50C, and too hot for man or machine to do work without overheating.

    Re: getting in there… I’ve been to Baikonur, and the security is no joke. Cutting cross country would require a dirt bike, a camel or a serious 4×4 – the dust out there is very, very fine and most vehicles just sink into it. You’ll need to get over several deep trenches, and past any number of well armed Russian soldiers, who aren’t afraid to shoot – my escapade ended with the “Special Police”, and an SMG in my face… and a hasty retreat to Dzuhsaly, a hundred miles or so down the road.

  32. 2nd AES logon 00:19

    @all

    I like the attitude of this narrative very much since its once more strictly fact based. This is not at all “weird conspiracy talk” but real observations. Thats a tough job being done by Jeff Wise.

    From this observation in Kasachstan the important thing is, like others pointed out, that substantial operations were going on at that site at the time in question, peaking around March 8th 2014.

    What causes me headaches is the satellite logon during the landing process if the BFO spoof is inflight onboard. Why was the power to the AES off again some seconds after 0:11 and why did it then re-logon, and why was this logon abruptly disrupted?

  33. Back to science

    Yubileyniv – ICAO:UAON

    What was the weather on 8th March at Baikonur?
    > Temperature -7ºC to -15ºC

    Time: 06:19UTC
    > Darkness?

    Possible autoland capability:
    > Buran, the aircraft for which the facility was developed, used a unique microwave Radio Beacon Landing System[1], a B777 requires an ILS that supports a Cat-IIIc autoland.

    [1] Energia-Buran, The Soviet Space Shuttle; Hendrickx & Vis; Pub Spinger-Praxis

  34. @Matty & Chris,
    Nice that you remember me. I dropped out after my trip to Hawaii in October, but Jeff drew me in again a few days ago. Is your wife more tolerant now, Chris? Does she realize there is no known cure for this “virus” ? 😉
    Matty, your plane-burial video is uncanny, but somehow I doubt, mh370 got buried in this sand rectangle near the tarmac. Doesn’t make sense and probably couldn’t have been done before dawn. I think, Jeff was jesting, when he said he was tempted to root for the plane in situ with a a metal detector. If this rectangle has anything to do with mh370, it must be something else. If the plane really landed at this air strip, something which was on the plane could’ve been unloaded, buried and hidden there without attracting suspicion.
    Another – more exotic – possibility would be, that the rectangle was temporarily covered with a huge camouflage sheet like those sheets with photorealistic pictures which are used for coverage of unfinished buildings in order to protect and make them look more attractive. They look uncannily realistic. If it was even possible to transport the plane to the rectangle quickly, it could’ve stayed there for a short while until whoever took it was done with it and it was flown after dark to another place. I don’t know if that’s even possible or sensible, and again, it would pose the question how much in advance all this was planned.

  35. @Cosmic Academy, I thought a lot about the last log-on request and half-ping as well. If we endorse Jeff’s idea that the plane was landed somewhere safely, I’d guess the perps would have to simulate a power outage because the plane ran out of fuel eventually around the time when the plane must’ve been really pretty low on fuel. They may have pulled the plug of the SDU/AES as they might’ve done many hours before at IGARI. Then they would’ve to restore the power briefly like they did before, when the last log-on request from plane to satellite was triggered. They had to do that, because in an out-of fuel-outage scenario the back-up unit would kick in and supply electricity for a short while. The perps would definitely be aware of that, if they were able to cook up such a sophisticated plan. Then they would pull the plug for one last time in order to complete the out-of-fuel simulation.
    Just one idea. There might be other explanations.

  36. @Jeff & all,

    Back to science.

    The SATCOM spoof: the idea is that the box of tricks feeds the AES a dummy path using positional data and aircraft attitude for a southerly path, laying a false breadcrumb trail, right?

    In this case the AES wouldnt have regained connection with I3-F1. The AES HGA antenna used on this B777 is, in reality, two antennas. One looks into a hemisphere off to the left of the aircraft, the other a hemisphere to the right. Using the IRS data, the AES selects the antenna on the side directed to the satellite. If the AES was fed dummy data for the opposite path the wrong antenna would have been selected & the AES would never have found a satellite.

    A B777 landing at Yubileyniv ICAO:UAON?

    What was the weather on 8th March?
    Temperature -7ºC to -15ºC

    Time: 06:19UTC
    Daylight?

    Autoland capability:
    Buran, the aircraft for which the facility was developed, used a unique microwave Radio Beacon Landing System[1], a B777 requires an ILS to support a std Cat-IIIb/c autoland.

    [1] Energia-Buran, The Soviet Space Shuttle; Hendrickx & Vis; Pub Spinger-Praxis

  37. Thanks for the great answers, Jeff. #4 made me literally laugh out loud.

    I’m with @littlefoot and @Yuv — that if this theory is correct, the use of the rectangle was only temporary, as a camouflaged hangar of sorts. My money says that the complete flattening afterward was just overkill on the proverbial “covering of their tracks,” not burial of the plane. I hope you’ll be able to get some camo, satellite imagery, and site remediation, all three, to take a look at these photos — and perhaps from a different commercial source, for comparison? Who knows what even better pics of the site may be available. Add someone who knows about soil mechanics if you can find one, too.

    (For what it’s worth, I’m picturing the rectangle as a depression in the earth that’s just about EXACTLY tail-height. deep, and that the camo sheet was more or less flush with ground level. I’d love to hear if there’s anyone who can estimate the amount of dirt in the berms and how well it’d align with that.

    The idea that the spoofer box could be so small is compelling — and you’re right, it does seem more like a job for software, not hardware. I’d love to hear that the ‘box’ was actually a Casio F91W… or an Apple Watch… or a Fitbit, heh.

    Minor question: What would the constraints be on whether the tampering in the E/E bay and of the SDU unit needed to be done in a certain order, and/or within a certain number of minutes of one another? Just trying to visualize the hijackers’ process better.

    @Matty, I like your observation of how hard the ground would be in winter. I think you’re right about the tram-ish design of the railway, as well (photo: http://goo.gl/q7KZ3M). Apparently “All Baikonur’s logistics are based on its own intra-site 1520 mm gauge railway network, which is the largest industrial railway on the planet. The railway is used for all stages of launch preparation, and all spacecraft are transported to the launchpads by the special Schnabel cars. Once part of the Soviet Railroad Troops, the Baikonur Railway is now served by a dedicated civilian state company. There are several rail links connecting the Baikonur Railway to the public railway of Kazakhstan and the rest of the world.” (That last sentence is really something too, isn’t it?)

    Jeff, I imagine it’s a pretty exciting day for you — congratulations, and hang in there (don’t forget to eat something!).

  38. @Littlefoot

    Yes, she has become very tolerant, mostly because of the political news coming out of Greece, and being from Athens, she has her own virus that she her Greek friends are dealing with.

    It’s been very icy in the Dallas area. I tried to make it to my car from my third story apartment, took two falls, hobbled back upstairs, gathered myself, logged back on & was very happy to see that your back with us…wonderful writing & insights.

  39. One more question: In the March 6 and March 18 image sets (and any you can find in between), is there any evidence of plowing or other activity on the runway itself?

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