New York: How Crazy Am I to Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?

The unsettling oddness was there from the first moment, on March 8, when Malaysia Airlines announced that a plane from Kuala Lumpur bound for Beijing, Flight 370, had disappeared over the South China Sea in the middle of the night. There had been no bad weather, no distress call, no wreckage, no eyewitness accounts of a fireball in the sky—just a plane that said good-bye to one air-traffic controller and, two minutes later, failed to say hello to the next. And the crash, if it was a crash, got stranger from there.

My yearlong detour to Planet MH370 began two days later, when I got an email from an editor at Slate asking if I’d write about the incident. I’m a private pilot and science writer, and I wrote about the last big mysterious crash, of Air France 447 in 2009. My story ran on the 12th. The following morning, I was invited to go on CNN. Soon, I was on-air up to six times a day as part of its nonstop MH370 coverage.

There was no intro course on how to be a cable-news expert. The Town Car would show up to take me to the studio, I’d sign in with reception, a guest-greeter would take me to makeup, I’d hang out in the greenroom, the sound guy would rig me with a mike and an earpiece, a producer would lead me onto the set, I’d plug in and sit in the seat, a producer would tell me what camera to look at during the introduction, we’d come back from break, the anchor would read the introduction to the story and then ask me a question or maybe two, I’d answer, then we’d go to break, I would unplug, wipe off my makeup, and take the car 43 blocks back uptown. Then a couple of hours later, I’d do it again. I was spending 18 hours a day doing six minutes of talking.

As time went by, CNN winnowed its expert pool down to a dozen or so regulars who earned the on-air title “CNN aviation analysts”: airline pilots, ex-government honchos, aviation lawyers, and me. We were paid by the week, with the length of our contracts dependent on how long the story seemed likely to play out. The first couple were seven-day, the next few were 14-day, and the last one was a month. We’d appear solo, or in pairs, or in larger groups for panel discussions—whatever it took to vary the rhythm of perpetual chatter.1

I soon realized the germ of every TV-news segment is: “Officials say X.” The validity of the story derives from the authority of the source. The expert, such as myself, is on hand to add dimension or clarity. Truth flowed one way: from the official source, through the anchor, past the expert, and onward into the great sea of viewerdom.

What made MH370 challenging to cover was, first, that the event was unprecedented and technically complex and, second, that the officials  were remarkably untrustworthy. For instance, the search started over the South China Sea, naturally enough, but soon after, Malaysia opened up a new search area in the Andaman Sea, 400 miles away. Why? Rumors swirled that military radar had seen the plane pull a 180. The Malaysian government explicitly denied it, but after a week of letting other countries search the South China Sea, the officials admitted that they’d known about the U-turn from day one.

Of course, nothing turned up in the Andaman Sea, either. But in London, scientists for a British company called Inmarsat that provides telecommunications between ships and aircraft realized its database contained records of transmissions between MH370 and one of its satellites for the seven hours after the plane’s main communication system shut down. Seven hours! Maybe it wasn’t a crash after all—if it were, it would have been the slowest in history.

These electronic “handshakes” or “pings” contained no actual information, but by analyzing the delay between the transmission and reception of the signal— called the burst timing offset, or BTO—Inmarsat could tell how far the plane had been from the satellite and thereby plot an arc along which the plane must have been at the moment of the final ping.Fig. 3 That arc stretched some 6,000 miles, but if the plane was traveling at normal airliner speeds, it would most likely have wound up around the ends of the arc—either in Kazakhstan and China in the north or the Indian Ocean in the south. My money was on Central Asia. But CNN quoted unnamed U.S.-government sources saying that the plane had probably gone south, so that became the dominant view.

Other views were circulating, too, however.Fig. 5 A Canadian pilot named Chris Goodfellow went viral with his theory that MH370 suffered a fire that knocked out its communications gear and diverted from its planned route in order to attempt an emergency landing. Keith Ledgerwood, another pilot, proposed that hijackers had taken the plane and avoided detection by ducking into the radar shadow of another airliner. Amateur investigators pored over satellite images, insisting that wisps of cloud or patches of shrubbery were the lost plane. Courtney Love, posting on her Facebook time line a picture of the shimmering blue sea, wrote: “I’m no expert but up close this does look like a plane and an oil slick.”

Then: breaking news! On March 24, the Malaysian prime minister, Najib Razak, announced that a new kind of mathematical analysis proved that the plane had in fact gone south. This new math involved another aspect of the handshakes called the burst frequency offset, or BFO, a measure of changes in the signal’s wavelength, which is partly determined by the relative motion of the airplane and the satellite. That the whole southern arc lay over the Indian Ocean meant that all the passengers and crew would certainly be dead by now. This was the first time in history that the families of missing passengers had been asked to accept that their loved ones were dead because a secret math equation said so. Fig. 7 Not all took it well. In Beijing, outraged next-of-kin marched to the Malaysian Embassy, where they hurled water bottles and faced down paramilitary soldiers in riot gear.

Guided by Inmarsat’s calculations, Australia, which was coordinating the investigation, moved the search area 685 miles to the northeast, to a 123,000-square-mile patch of ocean west of Perth. Ships and planes found much debris on the surface, provoking a frenzy of BREAKING NEWS banners, but all turned out to be junk. Adding to the drama was a ticking clock. The plane’s two black boxes had an ultrasonic sound beacon that sent out acoustic signals through the water. (Confusingly, these also were referred to as “pings,” though of a completely different nature. These new pings suddenly became the important ones.) If searchers could spot plane debris, they’d be able to figure out where the plane had most likely gone down, then trawl with underwater microphones to listen for the pings. The problem was that the pingers  had a battery life of only 30 days.

On April 4, with only a few days’ pinger life remaining, an Australian ship lowered a special microphone called a towed pinger locator into the water.Fig. 8 Miraculously, the ship detected four pings. Search officials were jubilant, as was the CNN greenroom. Everyone was ready for an upbeat ending.

The only Debbie Downer was me. I pointed out that the pings were at the wrong frequency and too far apart to have been generated by stationary black boxes. For the next two weeks, I was the odd man out on Don Lemon’s six-guest panel blocks, gleefully savaged on-air by my co-experts.

The Australians lowered an underwater robotFig. 9 to scan the seabed for the source of the pings. There was nothing. Of course, by the rules of TV news, the game wasn’t over until an official said so. But things were stretching thin. One night, an underwater-search veteran taking part in a Don Lemon panel agreed with me that the so-called acoustic-ping detections had to be false. Backstage after the show, he and another aviation analyst nearly came to blows. “You don’t know what you’re talking about! I’ve done extensive research!” the analyst shouted. “There’s nothing else those pings could be!”

Soon after, the story ended the way most news stories do: We just stopped talking about it. A month later, long after the caravan had moved on, a U.S. Navy officer said publicly that the pings had not come from MH370. The saga fizzled out with as much satisfying closure as the final episode of Lost.

Once the surface search was called off, it was the rabble’s turn. In late March, New Zealand–based space scientist Duncan Steel began posting a series of essays on Inmarsat orbital mechanics on his website.Fig. 10 The comments section quickly grew into a busy forum in which technically sophisticated MH370 obsessives answered one another’s questions and pitched ideas. The open platform attracted a varied crew, from the mostly intelligent and often helpful to the deranged and abusive. Eventually, Steel declared that he was sick of all the insults and shut down his comments section. The party migrated over to my blog,

Meanwhile, a core of engineers and scientists had split off via group email and included me. We called ourselves the Independent Group,11 or IG. If you found yourself wondering how a satellite with geosynchronous orbit responds to a shortage of hydrazine, all you had to do was ask.12 The IG’s first big break came in late May, when the Malaysians finally released the raw Inmarsat data. By combining the data with other reliable information, we were able to put together a time line of the plane’s final hours: Forty minutes after the plane took off from Kuala Lumpur, MH370 went electronically dark. For about an hour after that, the plane was tracked on radar following a zigzag course and traveling fast. Then it disappeared from military radar. Three minutes later, the communications system logged back onto the satellite. This was a major revelation. It hadn’t stayed connected, as we’d always assumed. This event corresponded with the first satellite ping. Over the course of the next six hours, the plane generated six more handshakes as it moved away from the satellite.

The final handshake wasn’t completed. This led to speculation that MH370 had run out of fuel and lost power, causing the plane to lose its connection to the satellite. An emergency power system would have come on, providing enough electricity for the satcom to start reconnecting before the plane crashed. Where exactly it would have gone down down was still unknown—the speed of the plane, its direction, and how fast it was climbing were all sources of uncertainty.

The MH370 obsessives continued attacking the problem. Since I was the proprietor of the major web forum, it fell on me to protect the fragile cocoon of civility that nurtured the conversation. A single troll could easily derail everything. The worst offenders were the ones who seemed intelligent but soon revealed themselves as Believers. They’d seized on a few pieces of faulty data and convinced themselves that they’d discovered the truth. One was sure the plane had been hit by lightning and then floated in the South China Sea, transmitting to the satellite on battery power. When I kicked him out, he came back under aliases. I wound up banning anyone who used the word “lightning.”

By October, officials from the Australian Transport Safety Board had begun an ambitiously scaled scan of the ocean bottom, and, in a surprising turn, it would include the area suspected by the IG.13 For those who’d been a part of the months-long effort, it was a thrilling denouement. The authorities, perhaps only coincidentally, had landed on the same conclusion as had a bunch of randos from the internet. Now everyone was in agreement about where to look.

While jubilation rang through the  email threads, I nursed a guilty secret: I wasn’t really in agreement. For one, I was bothered by the lack of plane debris. And then there was the data. To fit both the BTO and BFO data well, the plane would need to have flown slowly, likely in a curving path. But the more plausible autopilot settings and known performance constraints would have kept the plane flying faster and more nearly straight south. I began to suspect that the problem was with the BFO numbers—that they hadn’t been generated in the way we believed.14 If that were the case, perhaps the flight had gone north after all.

For a long time, I resisted even considering the possibility that someone might have tampered with the data. That would require an almost inconceivably sophisticated hijack operation, one so complicated and technically demanding that it would almost certainly need state-level backing. This was true conspiracy-theory material.

And yet, once I started looking for evidence, I found it. One of the commenters on my blog had learned that the compartment on 777s called the electronics-and-equipment bay, or E/E bay, can be accessed via a hatch in the front of the first-class cabin.15 If perpetrators got in there, a long shot, they would have access to equipment that could be used to change the BFO value of its satellite transmissions. They could even take over the flight controls.16

I realized that I already had a clue that hijackers had been in the E/E bay. Remember the satcom system disconnected and then rebooted three minutes after the plane left military radar behind. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how a person could physically turn the satcom off and on. The only way, apart from turning off half the entire electrical system, would be to go into the E/E bay and pull three particular circuit breakers. It is a maneuver that only a sophisticated operator would know how to execute, and the only reason I could think for wanting to do this was so that Inmarsat would find the records and misinterpret them. They turned on the satcom in order to provide a false trail of bread crumbs leading away from the plane’s true route.

It’s not possible to spoof the BFO data on just any plane. The plane must be of a certain make and model, 17equipped with a certain make and model of satellite-communications equipment,18 and flying a certain kind of route19 in a region covered by a certain kind of Inmarsat satellite.20 If you put all the conditions together, it seemed unlikely that any aircraft would satisfy them. Yet MH370 did.

I imagine everyone who comes up with a new theory, even a complicated one, must experience one particularly delicious moment, like a perfect chord change, when disorder gives way to order. This was that moment for me. Once I threw out the troublesome BFO data, all the inexplicable coincidences and mismatched data went away. The answer became wonderfully simple. The plane must have gone north.

Using the BTO data set alone, I was able to chart the plane’s speed and general path, which happened to fall along national borders.Fig. 21 Flying along borders, a military navigator told me, is a good way to avoid being spotted on radar. A Russian intelligence plane nearly collided with a Swedish airliner while doing it over the Baltic Sea in December. If I was right, it would have wound up in Kazakhstan, just as search officials recognized early on.

There aren’t a lot of places to land a plane as big as the 777, but, as luck would have it, I found one: a place just past the last handshake ring called Baikonur Cosmodrome.Fig. 22 Baikonur is leased from Kazakhstan by Russia. A long runway there called Yubileyniy was built for a Russian version of the Space Shuttle. If the final Inmarsat ping rang at the start of MH370’s descent, it would have set up nicely for an approach to Yubileyniy’s runway 24.

Whether the plane went to Baikonur or elsewhere in Kazakhstan, my suspicion fell on Russia. With technically advanced satellite, avionics, and aircraft-manufacturing industries, Russia was a paranoid fantasist’s dream.24 (The Russians, or at least Russian-backed militia, were also suspected in the downing of Malaysia Flight 17 in July.) Why, exactly, would Putin want to steal a Malaysian passenger plane? I had no idea. Maybe he wanted to demonstrate to the United States, which had imposed the first punitive sanctions on Russia the day before, that he could hurt the West and its allies anywhere in the world. Maybe what he was really after were the secrets of one of the plane’s passengers.25 Maybe there was something strategically crucial in the hold. Or maybe he wanted the plane to show up unexpectedly somewhere someday, packed with explosives. There’s no way to know. That’s the thing about MH370 theory-making: It’s hard to come up with a plausible motive for an act that has no apparent beneficiaries.

As it happened, there were three ethnically Russian men aboard MH370, two of them Ukrainian-passport holders from Odessa.26 Could any of these men, I wondered, be special forces or covert operatives? As I looked at the few pictures available on the internet, they definitely struck me as the sort who might battle Liam Neeson in midair.

About the two Ukrainians, almost nothing was available online.Fig. 27 I was able to find out a great deal about the Russian,Fig. 28 who was sitting in first class about 15 feet from the E/E-bay hatch.Fig. 29 He ran a lumber company in Irkutsk, and his hobby was technical diving under the ice of Lake Baikal.30 I hired Russian speakers from Columbia University to make calls to Odessa and Irkutsk, then hired researchers on the ground.

The more I discovered, the more coherent the story seemed to me.32 I found a peculiar euphoria in thinking about my theory, which I thought about all the time. One of the diagnostic questions used to determine whether you’re an alcoholic is whether your drinking has interfered with your work. By that measure, I definitely had a problem. Once the CNN checks stopped coming, I entered a long period of intense activity that earned me not a cent. Instead, I was forking out my own money for translators and researchers and satellite photos. And yet I was happy.

Still, it occurred to me that, for all the passion I had for my theory, I might be the only person in the world who felt this way. Neurobiologist Robert A. Burton points out in his book On Being Certain that the sensation of being sure about one’s beliefs is an emotional response separate from the processing of those beliefs. It’s something that the brain does subconsciously to protect itself from wasting unnecessary processing power on problems for which you’ve already found a solution that’s good enough. “ ‘That’s right’ is a feeling you get so that you can move on,” Burton told me. It’s a kind of subconscious laziness. Just as it’s harder to go for a run than to plop onto the sofa, it’s harder to reexamine one’s assumptions than it is to embrace certainty. At one end of the spectrum of skeptics are scientists, who by disposition or training resist the easy path; at the other end are conspiracy theorists, who’ll leap effortlessly into the sweet bosom of certainty. So where did that put me?

Propounding some new detail of my scenario to my wife over dinner one night, I noticed a certain glassiness in her expression. “You don’t seem entirely convinced,” I suggested.

She shrugged.

“Okay,” I said. “What do you think is the percentage chance that I’m right?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “Five percent?”33

Springtime came to the southern ocean, and search vessels began their methodical cruise along the area jointly identified by the IG and the ATSB, dragging behind it a sonar rig that imaged the seabed in photographic detail. Within the IG, spirits were high. The discovery of the plane would be the triumphant final act of a remarkable underdog story.

By December, when the ships had still not found a thing, I felt it was finally time to go public. In six sequentially linked pages that readers could only get to by clicking through—to avoid anyone reading the part where I suggest Putin masterminded the hijack without first hearing how I got there—I laid out my argument. I called it “The Spoof.”

I got a respectful hearing but no converts among the IG. A few sites wrote summaries of my post. The International Business Times headlined its story “MH370: Russia’s Grand Plan to Provoke World War III, Says Independent Investigator” and linked directly to the Putin part. Somehow, the airing of my theory helped quell my obsession. My gut still tells me I’m right, but my brain knows better than to trust my gut.

Last month, the Malaysian government declared that the aircraft is considered to have crashed and all those aboard are presumed dead. Malaysia’s transport minister told a local television station that a key factor in the decision was the fact that the search mission for the aircraft failed to achieve its objective. Meanwhile, new theories are still being hatched. One, by French writer Marc Dugain, states that the plane was shot down by the U.S. because it was headed toward the military bases on the islands of Diego Garcia as a flying bomb.34

The search failed to deliver the airplane, but it has accomplished some other things: It occupied several thousand hours of worldwide airtime; it filled my wallet and then drained it; it torpedoed the idea that the application of rationality to plane disasters would inevitably yield ever-safer air travel. And it left behind a faint, lingering itch in the back of my mind, which I believe will quite likely never go away.

*This article appears in the February 23, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.

1,286 thoughts on “New York: How Crazy Am I to Think I Actually Know Where That Malaysia Airlines Plane Is?”

  1. @JS

    Fugro testing with Edge Tech system has targeted detecting 2m diameter objects at 1000m distance on flat sea bed. Unclear how well defined an image of such an object would be.

    ProSas system on GO Phoenix vessel is expected to have rather higher resolution than the Edge Tech system.

    Note when comparing listed resolutions of these towfish in published documents that resolution in direction perpendicular to travel (often quoted) will usually be substantially lower than that along the vessel track.

  2. @Dr. Ulich

    As DL pointed out last week:

    On the right: Playback
    Bottom, on the left: set the date

    Would be nice if there is a method to get all paths and altitudes in one map. I have to do the same for Perth early morning 8th.


  3. @michael helms:
    Thanks for the link.
    “I see no reason to retract this coincidence from the long list or call it nonsense.”
    Why? It is a coincidence, on the FTP site there’s other data missing too. That site is not meant as operational or for use in research – it’s a nice visualisation for the public, nothing more. The original data (used to make those images) is available from both the SSEC and Japanese Space Agency. Also, the images on that site are from 00:00z, so are of no use anyway.

    @Michael Molinaro:
    Unfortunately you have written too much for me to respond in detail to everything. I’ll take the most important things.
    “I still do not understand whether distrails would withstand Simon R. Proud’s previously posted critiques of the SIO images”
    There was no cloud in the VIIRS images and thus no possibility for distrails. For the GOMS images there’s no way to tell unless the altitude of MH370 is known. If it were at a typical cruising altitude then long distrails were not possible, no.

    “If the photo shows a distrail, not a contrail, do your points 2 and 3 become irrelevant?”
    No, even if distrails were possible then you would still expect to see something in the I5 channel of VIIRS.

    “You were directing your cloud elevation descriptions more in the manner of a devil’s advocate in your recent post, directing focus away from the images Dr. Ulich had circled”
    That was not my intention, I siply wrote what I thought was relevant. In the circled area the vast majority of cloud cover was low (< 10,000ft) with a few ice clouds at high altitude.

    "we all can evaluate whether a plane at the height MH370 was suspected to be flying at could have left distrails in the particular clouds where the linear, and more materially, the directionally oriented disturbance can be seen."
    That would require MH370 to be intentionally flying in or above these linear cloud features – I consider that as such a remote possibility as to be impossible.

    "I presume, however, that the cloud top height would be highly material to determining whether this is an MH370 distrail. Am I correct in that assumption?"

    "Why did you pick the 6,000 foot elevation and lower set of clouds, not the 35,000 foot elevation, in making this argument."
    Because the high altitude clouds were very narrow and were not oriented in the same direction as MH370 (according to Dr Ulich) was believed to be travelling. As I say above, this would require MH370 to be purposefully flying in/above these clouds.

    "Are there details of the clouds you are referencing that you could describe in detail and/or post by photo link, or other link, to illustrate?"
    Unfortunately not, this data is from a commercial satellite. There is a MODIS pass at around the same time, its CTH product (MYD07 I think) may help, although the resolution is poor.

    "Mr. Proud, I presume your “40 minutes after the aircraft last communicated” comment means that the photos labeled as taken at midnight, and 00:30, were not as objectionable as the last taken, for some reason, but that the photo labeled as taken at 01:00, roughly 41 minutes after the last 00:19 handshake /“partial Ping” for some reason makes a distrail less likely to be shown in the photo."
    The whole lot of them are objectionable, the 01z image just highlights the absurdity of it: The changing sun angle should cause substantial movement in the 'contrail shadow' but this doesn't happen.

    "If you are suggesting these measures, I wondered whether you already know the answers."
    I suspect the answer based on a quick examination of the earlier images (both from GOMS and other sensors), but do not have time to do a robust analysis.

    @Dr Ulich:
    The singapore area is covered by ADS-B, so I have some data there which is not licensed. Email me and I'll send it to you.

  4. @Michael Helms

    “Could You or somebody else calculate the distance 343 were covering while crossing each 370-arc and the whole distance between 1st arc and arrival at Dubai – based on eg flightradar or similar?”

    Unfortunately, I can’t do the calculations, but it would be interesting to know. EK343 took off at 17:29 from Kuala Lumpur. MH370 was at IGARI at 17:19. The Vietnamese stated several times that MH370 passed IGARI. They saw it at BITOD (see Factual Report). I read that the supposed flight route back over Malaysia was not an entirely straight course, which suggested that the plane was flown manually. Pilots say it is impossible to fly a plane manually at high altitudes. Hence, if the plane was flown manually, it travelled at a lower altitude, and this corresponds to a slower speed. Is it even possible that the two planes would have been in close proximity at 18:25? Or was there only EK343? Would spoofing a southern route be possible from a plane flying from east to west?

  5. @DL: We have to be careful about what we mean by flying manually. For instance, the plane might have been automatically maintaining speed, altitude, and heading yet the setting for the heading was manually dialed in rather than flying a waypoint route using LNAV.

    If somebody has a time versus position data for EK343, I could compare its path with MH370.

  6. Victor, Bobby, Gysbreght, Nihonmama,

    A long while ago Simon Gunson posted a link to the plot showing overlaid EK343 and Lido snapshot [Posted December 14, 2014 at 9:45 AM]

    The image is still there:

    (add http in front).

    I have overlaid Lido image, digitized ATSB and Bobby’s image, but so far I did not find anything worth of mentioning. The length of the ‘hook’ is 168 km if I digitized visible ‘feature’ and calculated the distance correctly. As expected, no contrail associated with EK343, but it was slightly behind MH370, and thus, I presume, the pilots of EK343 were able to see MH370 on their weather radar.

  7. @Orion:

    I. Re your last —

    “Bottom line- there appears to be no altitude information available from any source, official or otherwise, after the reported 32,800 feet at 17:39:59, just past Kota Bahru.”

    I can’t THANK YOU enough for taking the time to answer my altitude question. And for re-visiting that aptly described “gem” of a NYT article. You first mentioned it here in Feb, and before going further, I’d like to re-post excerpts of my response to it:

    Posted February 24, 2015 at 12:51 AM
    (Guest Post: Why Did MH370 Log Back On With Inmarsat?)
    “Re —

    ‘Investigators have also examined data transmitted from the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines that showed it descended 40,000 feet in the span of a minute, according to a senior American official briefed on the investigation. But investigators do not believe the readings are accurate because the aircraft would most likely have taken longer to fall such a distance. ‘A lot of stock cannot be put in the altitude data’ sent from the engines, one official said.’

    This is really important. You know why? Because we can see the beginning of a narrative being framed. To wit: the ALTITUDE DATA from MH370’s Rolls-Royce engines ‘doesn’t make sense.’

    Where else have we seen a similar conclusion about ALTITUDE DATA?

    ‘The primary radar data pertaining to altitude is regarded as unreliable” said Angus Houston…Martin Dolan, the chief commissioner of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, agreed with Mr. Houston. ‘There’s nothing reliable about height…

    Mr. Houston and Mr. Dolan declined to discuss any details about the Malaysian radar readings…


    [Source: NYT 06.23.14 “Malaysian Jet Was in Controlled Flight After Contact Was Lost, Officials Suspect” by Keith Bradsher]

    Now, let’s just pause and think about what you said — “no altitude information available from any source, official or otherwise, after the reported 32,800 feet at 17:39:59, just past Kota Bahru” — in light of what Bradsher (very clearly) reported.

    What do you see?

    Posted February 24, 2015 at 2:06 AM


    [This is 2 of 2 posts related to the MAR/14/14 NYT article you mentioned previously, which is entitled “Radar Suggests Jet Shifted Path More Than Once”]

    On Mar 13/14, the day BEFORE the above-mentioned NYT article,

    WSJ journos Andy Pazstor and Jon Ostrower wrote this:
    ‘U.S. Investigators Suspect Missing Malaysia Airlines Plane Flew On for Hours’

    Then, guess what happened?

    Rolls Royce (AND Boeing) denied receiving any data from MH370 after 1:07 (17:07 UTC)

    So Pazstor and Ostrower had to change their story:

    ‘An earlier version of this article and an accompanying graphic incorrectly said investigators based their suspicions on signals from monitoring systems embedded in the plane’s Rolls-Royce PLC engines’

    So in two days, from two different sources, we’re told:

    1. Rolls Royce’s data as it pertains MH370’s ALTITUDE ‘doesn’t make sense’.

    2. If MH370 “flew for hours” that didn’t come from Rolls Royce – because they deny it.”

    What do you see?

    II. Re —

    “Interestingly, the Factual Information document indicates altitude and speed fluctuations for at least a 9-minute period around Kota Bharu- but no further mention of altitude after that.

    ‘Military radar last recorded the aircraft flying at an altitude of 29,500 feet, about 200 miles northwest of Penang and headed toward India’s Andaman Islands.’

    However, after cross-checking many early reports dating back to March 11, I believe that altitude reported in that NYT article was mistakenly attributed to that location.

    Most of the earlier reports dating back to March 11, do quote RMAF Cheif Daud mentioning the Pulau Perak trace, but then seem to refer to altitudes from the early part of the flight.”

    Orion — your read may be prove to be more insightful than you realize.

    Yesterday on Twitter, and in the context of a discussion about Inmarsat’s data and the VALIDITY of the radar track for MH370 (which an increasing number of people now seem to believe was fabricated), I asked — because this point has always bothered me:

    “if the Thai radar data is “bedrock”, what is it’s PROVENANCE?”

    Consequently, I brought Paul Howard into the conversation — because if understanding the RADAR data is ALSO critical to locating MH370 — then why not talk to someone with relevant domain expertise (read: who actually monitored airplanes on radar for a living) — aka a RADAR EXPERT?

    And Paul responded: “Plot is Kota Bharu PSR not Thai. Report specifically states no radar except KB & MY mil”

    He then went on to propose a DIFFERENT RADAR track:

    “I’m now of the opinion that this could be the complete radar track and the true last Military PSR contact was 6nm south of Penang at 1752.35 UTC”

    “all I’m asking is to consider the possibilty that nothing was seen after Penang.”

    I think that you’ll find Paul’s new post on this — and the conversation that ensued — very interesting.

  8. DL posted April 28, 2015 at 2:16 PM: “The Vietnamese stated several times that MH370 passed IGARI. They saw it at BITOD (see Factual Report).”

    Are you sure that the Factual Report states that Vietnamese radar saw MH370 at BITOD?

  9. @Gysbreght

    Per your question April 28, 2015 at 4.42PM – Please see FactualInformation.pdf p97, last para: “At 1746:47 UTC [0146:47 MYT] HCM ATCC queried about MH370 again, stating that radar
    contact was established over IGARI but there was no verbal contact. HCM ATCC advised
    that the observed radar blip disappeared at waypoint BITOD.”

  10. Pass it on:

    * * *

    I challenge the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in charge of the search for MH370 to conduct the following useful control experiments, with results available online, in real time:

    (TRIC = Thai Radar & Inmarsat-Consistent)

    – Fly proxy drone on TRIC path (adjusted for 3F1 drift since) while 3F1 in same CYCLE as 3/8/14
    …replicate primary radar & signal data to within predicted error tolerances
    …confirm fuel exhaustion point

    – By REPEATED trials, demonstrate validity of each ADJUSTMENT to raw Inmarsat log (offset/discard)

    – Crash MH370-sized object (whether or not drone, above) at TRIC location & speed
    …note acoustic record at all hydrophone stations

    – Launch 500 drift buoys at (not “near”, AT) TRIC location; track until 150 come ashore
    …note distribution by date and shoreline

    – Run Fugro’s towfish over PROXY debris
    …verify it is consistently detected/promoted to level 2 search

    If the JIT does not respond quickly and substantively, I will add the sub-demand that each of its anonymous members be tied to one of the above objects for the experiment’s full duration…

    Alternatively, of course, they could come clean about what REALLY happened to MH370.

    Brock McEwen
    on behalf of a VERY frustrated general public

    PS: one more:

    – Set TRIC surface debris afloat in penned waters off Tony Abbott’s beachfront property
    …maintain until all plastics have “waterlogged and sunk”.

  11. my sincere apologies to everyone still waiting for replies 🙁 sorry, as soon as I can …
    just a quick note in the meanwhile:

    A long while ago Simon Gunson posted a link to the plot showing overlaid EK343 and Lido snapshot
    “Proof that the so called so called military radar screen image was a hoax. It does not show aircraft such as EK343 which were known to be present.”

    I am wondering if the image really qualifies as “proof”.
    Isn’t there a radar visualization mode showing you only unidentified blips ? This would explain the image.
    Alternatively, the identified targets (such as EK343) could have been removed with Photoshop for presentation purposes.
    So many questions and so few official answers.

    Brock McEwen: “towfish scanner resolution: 70cm, per Fugro via Richard Cole (Q: is this 1 pixel = 70cm?)”

    Matty-Perth: “Brock – recent reports – if I recall correctly – refer to starfish being identified on the seabed at the site of sonar returns that offered some hope. “Nothing but rocks and starfish” I think they said. Does that reveal a lot more resolution than we currently believe. One thing I got from it, they sound comfortably assured that they haven’t missed it.”

    Here are some seabed images with rocks and starfish from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute:
    (images #155, #19, #23, #158, #25, #53)

    The smaller starfish shown there take up ~30×30 pixels, which is about the minimum you need to be able to identify something as a starfish.

    If 1 pixel = 70 cm, then Fugro has found starfish >20m (!!) in size.
    Quite scary, huh ?!

    And I am not even including the fact here, that the imagery I linked to above is underwater photography. Sonar imagery is obviously of much lower quality than photography imagery, so you need a lot more pixels (than with photography) to be able to identify something.

    See here what I mean by bad pixel quality:

    Maybe “rocks and starfish” was not to be taken literally.
    Maybe what they meant was just “regular seafloor imagery”.

    OR – what I rather believe – is that when they found a promising spot on their sonar images, they verified the location using a camera to get optical images.

    See here:

    Mr Paul Kennedy stared at his sonar on March 7 in disbelief: He saw what looked like a debris field on the floor of the Indian Ocean. It’s Flight 370, he thought […] A camera was raced down to confirm that the aircraft’s wreckage had been found. Satellite Internet on the search vessels was cut off to prevent the news from leaking. “We thought, ‘We might have solved this,’” Mr Kennedy, a deputy managing director at search operators Fugro NV, said in an interview. “It was the right size, the right shape.” The cameras brought back the truth: No wreckage, just volcanic boulders and starfish crawling over a silty sea floor.

    So, no. That does not “reveal a lot more resolution than we currently believe”.

    BTW: Are starfish really supposed to show up on sonar imagery ??
    I don’t think so, and would concur with Dave Reed.
    I think you can realistically only hope for finding the engines:

    Dave Reed: “Here’s the description of the ProSAS-60 used in the search for MH370:
    The minimum pixel size is 10x10cm, which means that neither starfish or beer cans would be visible. In fact, it is unlikely that a beer keg full of water would be visible, because it wouldn’t reflect sound waves sufficiently differently from water. Look at the images in the link (, which are of course about as good as can be achieved and taken on a smooth sea floor, and I think you’ll see that the best chance is to find an engine, unless the plane stayed in large pieces.”

    What if the plane crashed at high speed, completely obliterating the plane and leaving only pieces of a few cm like in the Germanwings crash ? (Water is said to be “as hard as stone” at these velocities.)

    The Germanwings engines came apart (see picture:, so how can it be guaranteed the MH370 engines remained in 1 piece ?

    By the way, given Brock’s quoted resolution of 1 pixel = 70 cm, the person in the picture would be smaller than 1×3 pixels and the engine part would be 1 pixel. And even Dave’s quoted resolution of 1 pixel = 10 cm would display this engine part as 9×9 pixels. Again, we are not talking photography imagery pixels, but sonar imagery with lesser quality. Would this be enough to find this engine part on the seafloor ?

    I really would love to see some sample images of the search devices currently in use.

  12. Peter – if they are in the practice of deploying camera’s to verify possible wreckage then we can relax I guess. They are properly equipped to investigate leads.

    Brock – that would be interesting to say the least, but anything they deliberately sink these days has to be decontaminated. And, they don’t want to introduce doubt over the data at this stage. You might struggle to get official backing but if it was done somehow there would be official curiosity in the findings. Crowd source?

  13. I would like to go back to the point Brock made here:

    Brock McEwen:
    I’d like to independently estimate the probability of actually identifying debris, GIVEN that the Fugro towfish passes directly over it.
    – towfish scanner resolution: 70cm, per Fugro via Richard Cole (Q: is this 1 pixel = 70cm?)
    – size of typical wreckage elements (engine/landing gear/?): ?
    – pixels per wreckage element required for positive identification: ?

    Do we have a sonar expert here ?

    If not, I add my 2 cents:

    (2) can be inferred by the AF447 site:

    For (1)+(3) unfortunately I don’t think there are easy, clear-cut answers.
    I don’t think that you could find a single piece of debris, probably not even an engine, if it was just laying there completely alone, especially on rocky seafloor.

    I believe, rather than a single piece of debris, you would spot the ENTIRE debris field by way of the unusual pattern all those pieces together form on the ground (i.e. a different pattern than created by the naturally occurring rocks in the surrounding).

    See here:

    There are actually some hi-quality sonar images of the AF447 site (e.g. the one in the first link above at But this is a bit deceiving, because they were made only after the site was successfully located:


    “The team used three deepwater REMUS-6000 AUV’s operating off the M/V Alucia to conduct the search using low-frequency sidescan sonar. Once the wreckage was located, high-resolution sidescan sonar and cameras were used to map and image the debris site.”

    From what I understand reading the link above, the initial sonar image depicting the AF447 wreckage site, looked like this:

    Again, it’s the debris field in its entirety, that allowed a positive identification, I think.
    I don’t think that at this low resolution you could identify a single, isolated object especially on rocky seafloor. I rather think it’s the combined mass of objects lying there together.

  14. The company Jeff banned from this forum are now trying to crowdfound 2 million US dollars:


    In the last link, they even try to connect Kuda Huvadhoo to their claimed crash location.

    If they are really hoaxers, it would be indeed disgusting for them to use the MH370 victims to make money on good-hearted souls who want to help find the plane. 🙁

  15. Matty: “if they are in the practice of deploying camera’s to verify possible wreckage then we can relax I guess.”

    Obviously they use cameras if they think they have found something. They cannot use divers. What else should they do ?

    This does not tell us anything about the sonar image quality.

  16. Peter – AS long as they know what they are looking at I for one am relaxed. I have seen some images though a little while back and I can’t remember where. They did present some examples of shipping containers on the bottom.

  17. Gysbreght: VictorI wrote at 12:56 PM “The only method for detecting MH370 would have been by visual contact.”
    I suppose the same applies for MH370 detecting other traffic?

    VictorI: My assumption is that if MH370 had a TCAS II system in standby mode, it would be able to detect the presence of other aircraft transmitting ADS-B data via their transponders, but since it was not transmitting ADS-B data nor responding to interrogations, the TCAS of other aircraft would not detect it. Perhaps others more knowledgeable than me could correct me if that is wrong.

    (at the end of the posting)

    “Some have raised the statement that TCAS doesn’t work if the transponder is disabled… this is only partially correct. Other planes TCAS would NOT see MH370 at all. MH370 would not actively query other planes as its transponder is off HOWEVER it could still listen to any transponder output from other planes that are actively transmitting [including the tandem plane].
    Even if TCAS on MH370 wasn’t working for some reason, an in-expensive portable ADS-B receiver paired with an iPad and Foreflight app would allow a pilot to receive the ADS-B output being transmitted by [the tandem plane].”

  18. Matty: “AS long as they know what they are looking at I for one am relaxed.”

    Obviously they know what they are looking at, IF they lower a camera down there.
    IMO that is beside the point.

    IMO the point is, are the sonar images of good enough quality that it is 100% certain, that they could not miss the right location (where they would then verify with their cameras).

    Matty: “I have seen some images though a little while back and I can’t remember where. They did present some examples of shipping containers on the bottom.”


    I saw these too. Are there others?
    Because a huge cuboid is much easier to spot (due to size and form) than pieces of debris in between rocks.

  19. … because if it’s not 100%, then we are not sure if they have missed MH370 during the past months.

  20. Peter – from what I can gather there has been plenty to follow up on. Numerous “hard objects” of various size have been investigated for no result. If there are serious reservations about the equipment they are keeping it close. The container images were not that great as I recall.

  21. @Nihonmama
    It’s good to bring together lingering information and to make connections between them to get a bigger picture.
    Thanks !

  22. The weekly update is in: further hints that winter will JUST BARELY beat the SSWG’s spiffy new analysis to the SIO.

    It makes me ill to see these people continue to spin their yarns, accountability-free.

  23. @DL
    Thnx for Your reply.
    Yes – indeed would be interesting. As far as i can see there are already some guys/gals with the right skills on the way – at least Phil (Thank You! Briliiant) and on reddit. I think we will see more soon. How to spoof – IDK. Question for the experts.
    But I still think it is somehow important – and remember, EK343 is Emirates and the CEO is Tim Clarc, who got a lot media attention for his critiques and his well articulated assumptions.

    @Alex Siew
    May I ask for Your email?
    Mine is m dot helms at nordema minus logistik dot eu
    Thanks much.

  24. @srp1984

    I haven’t been able to convert the raw Electro-L data myself yet.
    If you have it, would it be possible to share the high-res. 0100 UTC image (including the Perth area) in tiff/pbm/bmp or alike format?
    Thanks in advance!

  25. Peter,

    “Alternatively, the identified targets (such as EK343) could have been removed with Photoshop for presentation purposes.”.

    In my opinion the “Lido image” is an overlay of a background image with the “blip data” from two (or more) radars. Military radars do not typically show waypoints, civil routes etc – this has been discussed many times. Yes, it is possible to track on display a target aircraft only, not only unidentified aircrafts. No need to use Photoshop to remove something. There is no proof that the image was faked, but there are many questions how it was composed, and why Malaysian authorities refuse to release digital data in the form (time, lon, lat, alt).

  26. I personally don’t ascribe to the theory that the Lido image is deliberately faked, but for those entertaining that concept- wouldn’t it be more likely to be a case of mistaken identity instead?

    The path through restricted air space prior to N571 would tend to rule out a commercial flight, however, what are the chances another plane was fleeing (or scrambling) from Penang as MH370 approached?

    To reiterate, Victor and others have pointed out that the BFO from 18:25-18:28 seems to confirm the bearing at the end of the trace, and the encroachment through Indo airspace is troubling, so this idea still may be far-fetched. However, in the spirit of going back through everything with a fine-tooth comb, I applaud the current efforts underway to find alternative paths which match the data.

  27. Does anyone have idea why

    BTO (18:25:27.421) = 17120 = 12520 + 4600 microseconds,
    while the next
    BTO (18:25:34.461) = 51700 microseconds?

    In other words, if the restart of AES occurred at 18:25:27 and 4600 microseconds is implied delay due to inherent hardware/software behavior upon restart, why the next BTO sample is much larger? One would expect it to be either ‘regular’ (approximately 12520), or ‘regular’ + 4600 (approximately 17120) at 18:25:34, right?

    Considering that additional 4600 microseconds delay is normal in certain circumstances, there only two abnormal BTOs, both of which are accompanied by abnormal BFOs:

    Time, BTO (microseconds), BFO(Hz),
    18:25:27.421, 51700, 273
    00:19:37.443, 49660, -2

    This gives a reason to suspect that these BTOs and BFOs are correct, just we don’t know how to interpret them. Perhaps BFO compensation terms were not properly computed in both cases.

    Victor, I guess you assumed 273 Hz as a regular BFO value, right? I’m asking this in connection with 0.7g ascent [Posted April 26, 2015 at 11:59 AM].

  28. Brock – call me petty but why did they stop announcing the search progress as a percentage once they passed 60%. It must be very close to completed but all the focus is on the coming season of towing – why? All eyes have moved forward six months while they are still towing! Now my impoverished mathematical brain suggests to me that the remaining area to be covered this season is the most “likely” place it will be?

  29. Oleksandr,

    Wish we had an FAQ – the question of validity of various BTOs comes up repeatedly. The following is from p. 7 of the Navigation article:

    “Each power up sequence starts with a Logon Request message that has been found to have a fixed offset of 4600 μs relative to the LOI message exchange by inspecting historical data for this aircraft terminal. The subsequent messages during the logon sequence were found to have unreliable delay and are believed to be an artefact of the terminal switching channel and frequency during logon and so are not used in this analysis. This means that the BTO data for 18:25:34 and 00:19:37 should be ignored, but that corrected BTO values of 12520 and 18400 μs may be derived from the Logon Request messages at 18:25:27
    and 00:19:29 UTC respectively.”

  30. @ Dr. Bobby Ulich, srp 1984
    More questions regarding distrails and cloud elevations, all in hope of further evaluating whether the three photographs posted by Dr. Ulich show a trail left by MH 370 ending roughly where the jet fell from high altitude. Mr. Proud, your emphasis on 6,000 feet puzzled me.
    As I previously posted, a publication I found on line at had an illustration, with a caption reading: “The dry air surrounding an airplane is blown down into a cirrocumulus cloud layer beneath its path, creating a distrail, or opening in the cloud below.” (Wikipedia states that cirrocumulus usually occur at an altitude of 5 kilometres (16,000 ft) to 12 kilometres (39,000 ft) and that ice crystals are their predominant component. )
    Another publication on dissipation trails that I found explained: “ . . . dissipation trails can form in several ways. Jet engine exhaust is not only moist, but also hot, and this heat tends to dry the atmosphere. If the ratio of added heat to added moisture is large enough, an aircraft flying through a cirriform cloud can evaporate the cloud in its path … Aircraft motion can also produce short-lived distrails by the turbulent mixing of dry air just above a thin cloud layer… Finally, aircraft flying through supercooled clouds can initiate glaciation of the cloud (and the production of ice crystals) along its path, and the resulting ice particles grow rapidly and fall out, leaving a distrail.
    It seems that determining the elevation of the clouds in the images, and the elevation of MH370, and finding they are consistent, are key inquiries.
    In response to my last post asking whether distrails would negate the critiques of the SIO images, Mr. Proud answered: “For the GOMS (Geostationary Operational Meteorological Satellite) images there’s no way to tell unless the altitude of MH370 is known. If it were at a typical cruising altitude then long distrails were not possible, no.
    I confess, I did not understand the conclusion, or any logic leading to this “no way to tell/not possible” set of conclusions, but believe that these issues must to be addressed to be able to determine if the three images show a distrail reliably enough that it the site is worth investigating.
    Mr. Proud, what altitude did you mean by your words “typical cruising altitude”? Impartial, unrelated on line sources I reviewed state that the average cruising altitude for long haul flights ranges from 30,000 to 40,000 feet. This seemed roughly consistent with Dr. Ulich’s previously published (roughly a month ago) comments that “There is also some evidence that the plane was at an altitude above FL350, perhaps FL390-FL410, because the necessary deceleration will be greater at higher altitude with one engine inoperative. By 00:11 the plane had slowed enough at its initial altitude that it probably had just begun to descend (at 0-700 fpm).”
    More recently, in explaining his “contrail” publication, Dr Ulich wrote “ that “For 9M-MRO to reach that location, its altitude would have to be at least FL390 (and possibly as high as FL410). If the cloud tops reached at least to FL390, then I would suppose it is more likely that we are seeing distrails. )”
    Mr. Proud, I also do not understand what you meant by “If it were at a typical cruising altitude then long distrails were not possible, no.” Are you suggesting that a jet at 35,000 feet could not make a distrail in a cloud at 6,000 feet. If you are, I think you are creating a straw man with no foundation. If you meant something else, I hope you can explain. I don’t like feeling unable to understand these posts, but hope that by asking, I give you an opportunity to clearly educate the many people interested.
    Mr. Proud recently and courteously wrote: “The closest sat overpass (a couple of hours later) shows Cloud top heights in the region were around 6,000ft. Some linear cloud formations were visible with altitudes up to 35,000ft within 100km of your theorized location.” Mr. Proud also recently wrote: “ . . . In the circled area the vast majority of cloud cover was low (< 10,000ft) with a few ice clouds at high altitude.
    These similar but not identical descriptions raised at least three clear questions for me:
    First, what do you know generally of “high altitude” and ice clouds at this part of the world? To me, the statement implies you believe, objectively, that the ice clouds in the circled red areas are in the high etage. Wikipedia tells me that “Clouds of the high-étage form at altitudes of . . . (16,500 to 40,000 ft) in the temperate regions and . . . (20,000 to 60,000 ft) in the tropical region.” Given that the three photographs Dr. Ulich posted of the suspected MNH370 trail begins at 32.44S, and leads to Crash site at 34.11S, I believe is is clearly in the south temperate zone, closer to the tropics than the pole. I am not even an amateur meteorologist. Can you clairify whether at 32 or 34 S, during the southern summer (March8) the high altitude clouds would be expected to routinely be found as high as 40,000 or 41,000 feet, or even higher, (if on average increasing in a gradient to up to 60,000 feet at points north beyond the Tropic of Capricorn?)
    Next, why the inconsistency regarding the lower levels, meaning 6,000 feet in one statement, and < 10,000ft in another? (10,000 seems to me it is out of the lowest etage.) What underlying data is this based on?
    Next, how do you know the cloud altitudes in the red circled areas. You explained you could not post a link to the information, writing: “Unfortunately not, this data is from a commercial satellite.”
    I am an attorney, who routinely cites governing authority and evidence in writings for the court, but have never, in 20 years practice, dealt with data from commercial satellites as an information source. I presume the familiar laws of the United States that I know apply to what you can or can not publish, but I could be wrong. I presume that if the commercial satellite data/images are copyrighted, that you could republish them as a non profit, educational “fair use” – but if I am wrong, perhaps you might explain. I presume that if some type of confidentiality agreement is involved in some type of licensing, that you might at least identify the parties to it and the date, time, and source of the information without revealing anything confidential. (But then, I see no reason for a satellite photos of cloud formations a year ago should be confidential. ) If you believe you are not free to publish the commercial satellite data/images, perhaps you could explain the sanction you fear you might receive. It would not be as extreme as criminal prosecution for treason, I am sure, but a lesser punishment might still compel your reasonable compliance. Is is a civil liability you are mindful of, perhaps? A revocation of license? Something else? Kindly explain.
    I hope you can post the particulars of what you know and how you know it regarding the cloud elevations in the two accurately circled areas of Dr. Ulich’s publication (ignoring the inaccurate circle at the left) or explain the particulars regarding why you “unfortunately” cold not cite your source.
    Next, I wondered what you believe you see in the circled images on Page 7.
    I think that in the two intended circles, I see some towering vertical clouds, likely cumulonimbus, (I believe you call them ice clouds) rising to a likely altitude of 35,000 to 41,000 feet, which are not dissipating, and that I also see some lower clouds, perhaps altocumulus or cirrocumulus from their patchy patterns, which are clearly dissipating between the first (left) and last (right) image on Page 7. They are visible in greater numbers outside of the red circles, and if they were in the red circles, seem to have dissipated at the bottom 4/5 of the right circle to leave the view of the dark sea below.
    I hope you understand that identifying the particulars could really help the analysis. The devil is in the details, and your training seems far more extensive than that of most adults. Providing details of what is in the circle, via your best information if possible (rather than the MODIS pass /CTH product /(MYD07?) that you faulted for poor resolution) could be “huge.”.
    That said, are you free to publish a link to the pertinent poor resolution images from the MODIS pass /CTH product /(MYD07?).? The subject fascinates me, and any objective information /data you could publish by link to the source would help.
    Mr. Proud, you also recently wrote: “That would require MH370 to be intentionally flying in or above these linear cloud features – I consider that as such a remote possibility as to be impossible.” I cannot begin to understand why you consider “intentional” flight in or above the cloud features to be required. I am not in one camp or another as to whether I believe a living person was in the cockpit at the time the purported distrail would have been formed. But I’ve seen many theories suggesting that the jet flew without further human input after its final major turn. So why “Intentional?” And why is flying at an altitude that would create a distrail at the location shown “such a remote possibility as to be impossible?”
    Next, Mr. Proud, a few days ago when I asked: “Why did you pick the 6,000 foot elevation and lower set of clouds, not the 35,000 foot elevation, in making this argument” you promptly, courteously responded:
    “Because the high altitude clouds were very narrow and were not oriented in the same direction as MH370 (according to Dr Ulich) was believed to be travelling. As I say above, this would require MH370 to be purposefully flying in/above these clouds.”
    Can you please explain why it matters if high altitude clouds are oriented in the same direction a plane is travelling? To my mind, I can’t see that orientation matters at all to distrail formation. I believed that I saw a distrail precisely because it is going “across the grain” through what I believe are high altitude ice clouds. And I also believe that the literature clearly describes the formation of distrails in high altitude ice clouds.
    As far as the circled high altitude clouds being, in your words, “very narrow”, I don’t know that I agree with the characterization, but also do not see how narrowness matters. For example, I think I see a narrow, high altitude ice cloud, twisted by the distrail, in the middle of the dissipating area at the circled image on the right of page seven. I think a cloud of that shape was there, and a plane flew near enough to twist it as shown. I’m not trained at all at this. Can you elaborate at why the narrowness of a cloud feature oriented in a different direction from a jet’s travel makes a distrail less or more likely?
    Changing subjects from clouds to other reasons the conclusions from the photos are objectionable to you, you wrote: “The whole lot of them are objectionable, the 01z image just highlights the absurdity of it: The changing sun angle should cause substantial movement in the 'contrail shadow' but this doesn't happen.”
    My own belief is that the photos do not show a shadow, but rather show the darker sea through a crack in the clouds that the plane created. (An intentional Clash reference that I hope Duncan Steel will enjoy.) So I do not believe that movement of the sun with respect to the place a shadow of a contrail would fall on a cloud below matters at all. I don’t know enough to suggest Dr. Ulich was wrong to think he saw a shadow below a contrail or two, and am sure his intelligence exceeds my own. However, I do think some type of trail of the plane is there, and that it if it is a gap in the clouds, that the movement of shadows through the three photos should not be part of what to expect.
    Beyond asserting, in reaponse to Dr. Ulich’s shadow proposal, that “the changing sun angle should cause substantial movement in the 'contrail shadow' but this doesn't happen” do you have any reasons to find the photos objectionable as proposed depictions of distrails?

    @ Dr. Bobby Ulich: Dr. Ulich, Mr. Proud inquired: “Why are you not using the MWIR band-pass technique that you used above? It's harder to use in cloudy regions but not impossible. 3) Why is there no signature of the contrail in any of the thermal bands? If it's thick enough to cast a shadow then it MUST be thick enough to present a thermal signature in the LWIR bands. There is absolutely nothing in these bands, not a thing” and “. . . even if distrails were possible then you would still expect to see something in the I5 channel of VIIRS.”
    Do you agree? I assumed you did not, based on reading: “The plane’s exhaust heat is actually not even bright (much less brilliant) in the thermal infrared because the optical thickness of the exhaust plume is quite low. So the exhaust gas may be hot but that alone won’t produce a significant or lasting IR signature.” However, I don’t understand the science here. If Mr. Proud makes good points here, I wondered, are you intending, if time allows, to publish further on such subjects and address them thoroughly?
    And Dr. Ulich, I presumed that your publication regarding contrail images was “rushed” in order to possibly be reviewed in the somewhat crucial MH370 THIRD TRIPARTITE MINISTERIAL MEETING of 16 April 2015, meaning your publication date. Was it rushed for this reason, and/or possibly others? Are you planning to publish an amended Addendum 4, with greater accuracy added/errors removed?
    Finally, on the almost entirely different subject of the Infrared image of a final major turn, I confess, I did not know what to make of the numerous squiggly lines. You wrote “The weather at the FMT location was clear at that time.” SRP 1984 wrote: There was no cloud the VIIRS [Visible Infrared Imager Radiometer Suite] images . . . And yet my untrained eye saw numerous “worms” in the image. I am too untrained to know what to make of them, but as I was researching clouds for the first time in my life, I saw a picture of Cirrus fibratus clouds At
    Are all the numerous squiggly lines in picture (all of which seem wider than the purported FMT contrail line) possibly Cirrus fibratus clouds?
    If not, what are they likely to be?
    Michael Molinaro, Esq.

  31. SK999 & Oleksandr,

    BTO timing: following a few online conversations concerning understanding/otherwise of the the BTO (and BFO) measurements I went back to the AMS(R)S spec and reviewed the encoding and framing process.
    The issue of the BTO for the GES received Log On Request (requiring ‘correction’ of 4600us) and the subsequent Log On Acknowledge is certainly associated with the a) channel frame timing and b) the switch from the P-R Station Management Channels used by the AES to execute Log On and the allocated P-R Data channels.
    I’ve attempted a number times to follow the above with a succinct but ad-hoc explanation but I’ve found it pretty much fruitless without some illustrations. I remain confident that the BTO measurement is credible. The key to the BTO differences/exceptions during the GES Log On exchanges is the frame timing of the P/smc and R/smc channels vs the allocated, full rate, P/d and R/d channels.
    As Orion states above, it’s a worthwhile exercise to review what one accepts as ‘fact’. I don’t have much time to spare at the moment but will attempt to draft a more complete explanation over the coming days.


  32. @Don, SK999, Oleksandr

    I was actually going through the same issue, looking critical to BTO values as well these days. As it is described in the JoN article the 4600 us correction looks pretty ad-hoc, given the fact that we are not sure that there was a power-up cycle going on.

    So from a neutral point of view (as long as the 4600 us is not well substantianted) one should say that we have two incompatible BTO/BFO sets:

    A: 18:27, 18:28, 19:41, 20:41, 21:41, 22:41, 00:11 (channel 4)

    (Where there is an issue with the 22:41 and 00:11 Rx power levels)

    And B: 18:25:27, 00:19:29 (channel 8, 10)

    (Where there is also an issue with the Rx power levels vs. BTO)

    A supports the Southern (around Indonesia) route

    B possibly supports a more Northern route; in one of the scenario’s (based on the 18:25 data point ) I would call this the “Tiger” route, with possible end points from roughly NW China to across Java in the SE (based on the 00:19 data point).

    I hope the 4600 us can be really well substantiated (including showing the historic data on which it would have been based). Only then option B can be discarded.


  33. Sk999, Don, Niels,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Re: “The subsequent messages during the logon sequence were found to have unreliable delay”.

    – In my understanding there were no such large delays (exceeding 40000 microseconds) recorded at around 16:00. Either ‘regular’ or ‘regular’+4600 microseconds.
    – No BTO available after 00:19:37.443.
    – Both abnormal BTO values are of similar magnitude: 51700 and 49660 microseconds.

    Was it really ‘unreliable’ delay (in stochastic sense), or a result of abnormal, but predictable, hardware/software behavior? If the latter, how can we make sure that respective BFO values of 243 Hz and -2 Hz were not affected due to the correction term?

    I am again reiterating this because:
    – It appears that BFO of -2 Hz can be quite reasonable value if the correction term is set to zero. Airspeed has to be smaller (subject to heading), but sufficient to keep the aircraft in the air, without steep dive.
    – As Victor has shown, BFO of 243 Hz does have a significant impact on the maneuver 18:25-18:27. However, it is not ‘consistent’ with anything: previous heading, subsequent BFOs, logic, Bobby’s contrail, etc.

    As long as both abnormal BFOs are associated with abnormal BTOs, perhaps these two BFO values have to be also adjusted.

  34. Michael Molinaro,
    I don’t have time to read huge amounts of text. Could you summarise in a few short questions?

  35. @Matty: if we know everything search leaders know about MH370’s fate (i.e. if the “indicative” search area expansion accurately describes where they truly think the plane lies), then yes: each pass is statistically less likely than the last to turn up anything.

    And yes: that puts any shift in focus to next season somewhere on the [prematuresuspicious] spectrum, depending on where you’re at re: trust in the search leadership.

    And you know where I’m at re: trust in search leadership.

  36. @Michael Molinaro,

    Your post asks many relevant and important questions. I shall respond to some of those addressed to me below and to the remainder in the near future.

    With regard to the cloud altitudes along the route, I, too, was a bit confused by Mr. Proud’s description and a lack of any original source material for verification. Hopefully he can clear this up.

    You are correct that my goal in putting out the contrail/distrail report on Apil 16th (coincident with the minister’s meeting), was to have something available, even if rough and incomplete, that would stimulate a closer look and a continued search program.

    It is very unfortunate that whatever contrail work was done earlier, and paid for, has never been made public. Negative searches for relevant information can have considerable value, and I don’t understand why those results have never been made public (at least as of today).

    I have accomplished my intention of focusing attention on the possibility of contrails/distrails. It remains to be seen whether the features Kirill Prostyakov and I have called contrails actually turn out to be caused by MH-370. My current view is that one can make arguments for and against it. Some of their observed characteristics are consistent with expectations, and some, at least at first glance, are not. It is quite possible that the most convincing argument for or against our conjecture will be the location of 9M-MRO when it is found.

    It is possible the SIO dark lines are not contrail shadows or distrails, but, if they are not, then their accurate alignment woukld indicate a very low probability if by chance.

    It is also possible that the feature(s) we called a FMT contrail are actually due to multiple effects. The arc portion of the proposed FMT contrail is visible in both MWIR and LWIR. The contrast is very low (on the order of 0.1%) and roughly equal in both bands. The linear features behave somewhat differently, indicating to me at least the possibility of a different causation. My work on this possibility is continuing.

    I have not yet looked at the SIO images in the thermal IR bands. I hope to do that in the near future. They may help us understand the fetaures and if they could have been caused by a passing aircraft. Do not interpret my comments about the invisibility of the hot gas exhaust alone as implying anything about distrails. I was simply pointing out that the emission of the exhaust plume is very weak and would not be seen from space by itself. Condensation or dissipation of clouds is required to be seen.

    There were optically thin clouds in the FMT area when MH370 passed through. They are visible in the infrared nighttime images and also in the visible images after daybreak. I do not know the cloud type nor the altitude. One has to be careful in assessing cloud types in the spatially-bandpass-filtered images because they eliminate all the low-spatial-frequency content. The classification is probably best done in the unfiltered raw images.

    Yes, I will produce a revised report with corrections and additions once the analysis of all the possible contrail features is complete.

    For those interested in looking at satellite images for themselves, here are two links. The table of sensor wavelengths is here:

    The folder with all the satellite imagery up to 4/28/15 (including DMSP) is here:

  37. @brock
    I didn’t understand any of that, could you please clarify? We don’t know the probability distribution of the location of the aircraft across the search area, and the search is probably not even going from high to low probability within the original area – the logistical needs of the ships seem to be just as important in ordering the search across that area. So how can you say “each pass is statistically less likely than the last to turn up anything”?

  38. Bobby,

    As I see the data from GDAS1 show nearly eastern wind of 10 m/s at 14 km altitude in the beginning of your ‘hook’. Thus if the hook is a feature associated with an aircraft (MH370 or any other) and the direction was CCW as indicated by blue arrows in your report, the real shape of the ‘hook’ would be slightly stretched in the longitudinal direction.

  39. Bobby,

    Some days ago I asked whether the ‘hook’ could be traces of smog rather than a usual contrail. As long as there were no comments, I googled a bit on this topic. Outcome is interesting.

    A typical tire (I don’t know specifics of B777 tires) contains nylon fiber. Citation from Wikipedia:

    “Various nylons break down in fire and form hazardous smoke, and toxic fumes or ash, typically containing hydrogen cyanide”.

    The latter has a spike in its spectrum at 3.6 micron. See, for instance:

    I think there might be many other products of fire that have spikes in their spectrum around 3.5 micron wavelengths.

    I hope astronomers and specialists in remote sensing can comment more on this possibility.

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