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. @ srp 1984
    Per your request, the following is just the questions to you from my recent post.

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to so many posts from the numerous people posting on the Jeff Wise site. Your comments have increased the level of interest and educational level significantly.

    The questions (out of their longer context) were:

    You recently 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.
    Mr. Proud, what altitude did you mean by your words “typical cruising altitude”?
    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 the particulars.
    You recently 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.” You 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 can you describe to us generally of “high altitude” and ice clouds at this part of the world?
    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.”
    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. 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.
    Are you free to publish a link to the pertinent poor resolution images from the MODIS pass /CTH product /(MYD07?).
    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.” 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?”
    Regarding your comment: “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?
    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 to your comments that: “the changing sun angle should cause substantial movement in the 'contrail shadow' but this doesn't happen” , assuning there was no contrail to cast a shadow, but that there might have been a distrail, do you have any reasons to find the photos objectionable as proposed depictions of distrails?
    Thank you again for the past comments, and for joining the public discussion.
    Michael Molinaro, Esq.

  2. @Oleksandr,

    I think an easterly wind would compress a CCW turn contrail, not stretch it.

    Your smog theory is novel. I’ll think about it. My initial reaction is that it is unlikely to produce much signal contrast, but then again, we are only observing about 1 part in 1200 absorption averaged over the spectral bandwidth of the I4 image. That is only a very small fraction of a “typical” contrail, so other causes might be plausible.

  3. @Alex Siew (and @Orion):

    My apologies for the delayed reply.

    Thanks much for referencing the 03.03.14 Guardian article by Gwyn Topham (re Rolls Royce and Boeing). I hadn’t seen it.

    “Rolls Royce is refusing to comment on claims made by the Malaysian authorities on the last signal sent by the missing plane…. Hishamuddin Hussein dismissed a report in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the signals could have been sent out by the plane hours after it lost contact with air traffic control. He also claimed that both the makers of the plane, Boeing and the maker of its engines, Rolls Royce, backed this view. He said ‘ Since today’s media reports MAS has asked Rolls Royce and Boeing specifically about the data. As far as Rolls Royce and Boeing are concerned those reports are inaccurate.’ But when our transport correspondent Gwyn Topham asked Rolls Royce to confirm this, it declined. Earlier, the company said little more to the Wall Street Journal. It quotes an unnamed executive as saying: ‘ The disappearance is officially now an accident and all information about this is strictly handled by investigators.’”

    So, Boeing and Rolls Royce DENIED the WSJ story reported by Andy Pazstor and Jon Ostrower — which the WSJ then “corrected” — without an explanation. Then, Boeing + Rolls Royce DECLINED to comment regarding the same to the Guardian.

    When I first posted on this back in October, I asked:

    “Where did this story, written by two well-regarded aviation journos (who, it should be noted, DID NOT IDENTIFY THEIR SOURCE), come from?

    5. The source for the original WSJ story was neither Rolls Royce nor Boeing. If so, who was the source? And if there was a third source and if the source’s information was correct, why would Pazstor and Ostrower have needed to CHANGE the story?”

    Stay with me.

    You also mentioned an AP report (03.13.14) —

    “Messages involving a different data service also were received from the airliner for a short time after the plane’s transponder – a device used to identify the plane to radar – went silent, the official said…”

    — and your comment was:

    “The above reference to a ‘different data service’ could only be to the Rolls Royce’ EHM data system. (The Boeing service is known as the Aircraft Health Monitoring system or AHM system).

    This is further corroborated by the New York Times article of March 14, 2014 cited by you which reported as follows:

    ” 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…”

    YES. And as noted previously, that quote is from the “gem” NYT article @Orion first mentioned on this board back in February.

    Now, here’s where it gets interesting.

    After my response to Orion on this thread (April 28, 2015 at 4:36 PM), I was contacted by someone with a very extensive background in aviation. And that person said the following:

    – “Rolls Royce engine altitude data???”

    – “The NYT piece is INCORRECT. Because NO EHM data could be broadcast without ACARS operating.”

    – “Pressure altitude data would be included in the EHM data report.”

    – “Altitude data does not come from engine sensors. It comes from somewhere else in the aircraft systems.”

    So I responded: “OK. If not from the EHM, where in MH370’s systems would the altitude data have come from?”

    And the answer: “the Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU).”

    Now, I’m listening to what this person is saying and going back to look at the BYLINE on that NYT story at the same time. And then I notice something: the writers on that piece were Michael Forsythe and Michael S. Schmidt. Now, anyone who follows China closely (and I am one of those) knows that Forsythe is a major CHINA hand. Major. First Bloomberg and now the NYT. And Schmidt covers NATIONAL SECURITY for the NYT.

    So, I asked myself: why would these two guys (who are well-known for their muckracking skills) be on a BIG NYT story concerning aviation (and specifically, the RADAR path for MH370) when they’re not aviation reporters, and their likely go-to SOURCES would not be aviation/transport insiders (although aviation and defense are linked), but insiders related to CHINA and NATIONAL SECURITY?

    Then it hit me: the unnamed ‘officials’ mentioned in the AP and the NYT and the WSJ were probably MASKED by the journos. In other words, those officials likely weren’t from the MH370 investigating team, but were insiders out of or related to the NATIONAL SECURITY and or INTELLIGENCE arena. As it pertains to the US, CHINA or other.

    And THAT would explain why Boeing and Rolls Royce denied that they were the source for the WSJ story. Because they weren’t.

    What did the CEO of Malaysia Airlines say?

    “We have contacted BOTH POSSIBLE SOURCE OF THE DATA, Rolls Royce and Boeing. Both had said they did not receive the data.”

    Now recall: from the SAME 03.13.14 WSJ story that Rolls Royce and Boeing denied:

    “But the huge uncertainty about where the plane was headed, and why it apparently continued flying so long without working transponders, has raised theories among investigators that the aircraft may have been commandeered for a reason that appears unclear to U.S. authorities. Some of those theories have been laid out to national security officials and senior personnel from various U.S. agencies, according to one person familiar with the matter.

    At one briefing, according to this person, officials were told investigators are actively pursuing the notion that the plane was diverted “with the intention of using it later for another purpose.”

    Let us also note: Stephane Berthomet (mentioned here previously) — who worked in terrorism security before he became a journalist — STANDS BY his story — even though the WSJ retracted. He said his information came from a DIFFERENT source.

    Now, how or whether CHINA plays into the disappearance of MH370, I don’t know — but I refer you to this (Guest Post: Northern Routes for MH370 Ending at Airports – By Victor Ianello):

    Posted April 30, 2015 at 12:57 PM

    ” ‘but the paths to Almaty and Kuqa Qiuci represent significant incursions into Chinese airspace. Any theory developed around these flight paths would need to explain why China did not act to stop this incursion.

    And now we return to this interesting comment:

    ‘Does China’s MSS currently have MH370? A DoD briefing would indicate the US Gov’t think they got to it first.’

    So here’s the question friends: IF the NYT is wrong (read: altitude data does not come from engine sensors) BUT MH370 ALTITUDE data would have come from the ADIRU, could data from the ADIRU have been transmitted from MH370 without ACARS?

    And if the answer is NO, but these unnamed “officials” are quoted in stories concerning MH370’s data — including ALTITUDE — then BY WHAT MEANS did that data (not transmitted because MH370’s ACARS was OFF) become known to those “officials”?

    Posted February 3, 2015 at 4:06 PM
    (Guest Post: Why Did MH370 Log Back On With Inmarsat)

    “The Malaysian Insider 03.26.14

    (Quoting retired BA pilot Eric Moody — from 03.24.14 Daily Mail By Richard Shears for MailOnline and Amanda Williams and Ted Thornhill and Chris Greenwood)

    ‘What I will say is that some agency knows something more than what they are letting on and I have experience in this.

    It took 11 years to find out how Boeing was able to ring a ground engineer in Jakarta who got to us after about 15 to 20 minutes after landing.

    A phone call was made just when my engines started going wrong. It meant they knew what was going on as they were monitoring us on satellites.

    “Satellite monitoring stations by Alice Springs [Read: Pine Gap] and Guam were following us as we found out from declassified files years later.’ “

  4. Nihonmama,

    Great investigating from you here as always.

    This brings to mind two things I questioned about a year ago and those were shouldn’t RR have some kind of a staff in England monitoring engine health data on all their engines constantly, and were the airworthiness and air mandates done to the ADIRU or ADIRS software on 9M-MRO after the Malaysian Flight 124 incident? If altitude can be determined from the ADIRU, can some type of positioning be determined as well? Maybe some of the technical experts here can tell us whether or not the ADIRU solely depends upon a functioning ACARS?

  5. @Cheryl:

    Thank you kindly. I recall some conversations way back about the ADIRU (on Duncan Steel I’m almost sure, and perhaps Tim Farrar’s blog too), but couldn’t begin to tell you what those entailed.

    But this — “If altitude can be determined from the ADIRU, can some type of positioning be determined as well?” — is the million dollar question.

    “Maybe some of the technical experts here can tell us whether or not the ADIRU solely depends upon a functioning ACARS?”

    Here’s an update: The ADIRU does NOT depend on ACARS. It’s a separate system.

  6. Nihonmama,

    Thank you. Very interesting. Then the next question I would have is: is the information that the ADIRU is providing exclusively available only to the pilots on a control panel just designed for cockpit usage or are the coordinates and information (i.e. altitude, etc.) transmitted to RR as well in some way? And what are the capabilities of this separate system and is it affiliated with classic aero?

  7. @Nihonmama

    Thanks for the pointer to your posts on this thread. I thought your investigative skills would wheedle something out of that story eventually, and indeed it looks like you’re really getting somewhere at long last. And it’s a complete game-changer if true. Top work, keep it up.

    As luck might have it, I MAY be able to help corroborate your (some elements of) theory in the next few days. No promises like, but we’ll see….

  8. Bobby,

    Yes, indeed, an easterly wind ‘compresses’ a CCW turn contrail. That is why the original shape of the hook could be slightly stretched compared to the shape observed in the image. I think the term “real shape”, I used, is confusing.

    With regard to the “smog contrail”, I was interested if there are any products of oxidation (fire) that emit/absorb in around 3.5 micron wavelength. Besides hard smog particles. And the answer appears to be positive. This would explain why the feature is the most visible in I4. As long as water vapor concentration above the aircraft was low, it was not sufficient to mask “smog contrail”. In addition, intensified fire and toxic smog could be the second event, which affected previous plans of the crew and ability of the crew/passengers to make calls, answer calls, or send sms upon the return of the link.

  9. @Nihonmama

    Very interesting posting.

    – If a pressure reading can be used for a estimate of altitude change. I think if it would be used to sense a 40000 feet change in a short timespan I would say yes this is technically possible.
    – Actually I would be surprised if there would not be any pressure sensors installed in the engines.
    – If this is the pressure-altitude data that is integrated in the EHM data is a interesting question. I can have a look what I can find.
    – The question if any EHM data could/was transmitted after 17:07 or after 17:21 is a separate one. The interim report (“factual info”) may help here.


    Related Quotes:
    {After my response to Orion on this thread (April 28, 2015 at 4:36 PM), I was contacted by someone with a very extensive background in aviation. And that person said the following:}

    – “Rolls Royce engine altitude data???”

    – “The NYT piece is INCORRECT. Because NO EHM data could be broadcast without ACARS operating.”

    – “Pressure altitude data would be included in the EHM data report.”

    – “Altitude data does not come from engine sensors. It comes from somewhere else in the aircraft systems.”

    So I responded: “OK. If not from the EHM, where in MH370’s systems would the altitude data have come from?”

    And the answer: “the Air Data Inertial Reference Unit (ADIRU).”

  10. Cheryl/Nihonmama – I had a similar bleat a fair while back and was told by a resident sat expert that the RR data relies on ACARS, so no deal.

  11. Michael Molinaro,
    Thanks for summarising.
    “what altitude did you mean by your words “typical cruising altitude”?”
    The altitudes range in which a jet aircraft would usually cruise – roughly FL320-420.
    “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.”
    Why? Distrails usually form in clouds close to the altitude of the aircraft. I’m unaware of distrails forming in clouds many tens of thousands of feet below.
    “First, what can you describe to us generally of “high altitude” and ice clouds at this part of the world?”
    I’d define is at clouds at a temperature whereby they cannot exist in liquid state: So anywhere with temperatures below around -35C. That’d be near 25,000ft according to the ICAO standard atmosphere.
    “Next, why the inconsistency regarding the lower levels, meaning 6,000 feet in one statement, and < 10,000ft in another?"
    There is no inconsistency, 6000ft is lower than 10000ft.
    "What underlying data is this based on?"
    An overpass from a commercial satellite. As previously mentioned, this can be confirmed from the (slightly later, but not much changed) MODIS overpass.
    "If you believe you are not free to publish the commercial satellite data/images…Kindly explain."
    Not relevant.
    "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"
    In these areas the cloud cover is all below 10000ft. The average is 6100ft with a standard deviation of 400ft. Put simply, the cloud top heights are determined by comparing cloud top temperatures to forecast atmospheric temperatures. There's a bit more complexity than that but this is the basis of the method.
    "Next, I wondered what you believe you see in the circled images on Page 7."
    Low cloud of natural origin and nothing else. There's plenty of lienar-type formations in the clouds (both in Dr Ulich's images and in the full GOMS images). Nothing special at all, I'm afraid.
    "Are you free to publish a link to the pertinent poor resolution images from the MODIS pass /CTH product"
    I do not have these products, they can be downloaded for free from the LADSWEB site (I think, otherwise LPDAAC), though.
    "Why “Intentional?”"
    Because you would have to fly directly above the high linear cloud. Otherwise you would not create a long distrail along the cloud, you'd create a small distrail going across the cloud.
    "And why is flying at an altitude that would create a distrail at the location shown “such a remote possibility as to be impossible?”"
    Because following a high linear cloud formation is difficult in daytime and impossible at night. Also, even if they could do it then what'd be the point?
    "Can you please explain why it matters if high altitude clouds are oriented in the same direction a plane is travelling?"
    "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?"
    See above. If the aircraft was not travelling in the same direction as the cloud then you wouldn't have a long distrail.
    "do you have any reasons to find the photos objectionable as proposed depictions of distrails?"
    Yes, to my knowledge there's never been any cases of aircraft causing distrails in cloud that was 30,000ft below them.
    Plus, there's many other similar features in the cloud in other parts of the image (and in the night-time thermal images too). In my opinion those in Dr Ulich's document were only highlighted as they fit the preconceived idea for MH370's path. Otherwise I see nothing to differentiate them from the many other similar features (you can even see some of these features on page 7 of his document).

  12. To whoever may find this illuminating:

    ADIRU stands for Air Data Inertial Reference Unit. It is a system that uses external and internal sensors to compute data in support of the main cockpit functions of aviating, navigating and communicating. It places those data on a databus where other systems can read them. To name just a few of those data: airspeed, vertical speed, altitude, air temperature, angle-of-attack, ground speed, wind speed, attitudes in pitch, roll and yaw, latitude and longitude, heading and track.

    To name just a few ‘consumers’ of those data:

    Aviating: the primary flight displays and navigation displays on the main instrument panel in front of the pilots, the flight control computers, the engine electronic control.

    Navigating: the flight management system, autopilot and autothrottle.

    Communicating: the Aircraft Communications Adressing and Reporting System (ACARS), and the satellite communication system (SATCOM).

  13. Thank You, Dr. Proud, for the point by point responses.

    I’ll be trying to learn more about the subjects in coming days (while not refereeing in a weekend soccer tournament)but know the main points I did not understand in your responses were:

    “There is no inconsistency, 6000ft is lower than 10000ft.” and “the cloud cover is all below 10000ft. The average is 6100ft with a standard deviation of 400ft.”

    I didn’t know if the use of “cloud cover” refers to something entirely different than the descriptions of the visible ice clouds. I assumed it does, and that the cloud cover are not ice clouds. Could you elaborate?


    :That’d be near 25,000ft according to the ICAO standard atmosphere.

    You had previously stated you saw ice clouds with altitudes up to 35,000ft within 100km of the theorized location.

    I wondered how far above a cloud at 35,000 feet a jet could pass and still leave a distrail.

    I wondered if there were ice clouds at 35,000 feet, or even higher, 41,000 feet perhaps, in the red circled area.

    When you used the figure 25,000 instead of 35,000 referring to the ICAO standare Atmosophere, I looked it up. I just read, regarding the standard model of the atmosphere adopted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) that you referenced, that its principal features include the assumption of a standard mean sea-level pressure of 1013.25 hPa and an overall lapse rate of 6.5 deg C km−1 from the surface to the tropopause, which is taken to lie at a height of 11 km. I converted this 11km(hopefully correctly) to a troposphere used in the ICAO model to an elevation of 36,089.2388 Feet, or FL360.

    I did not know if that is accurate from 31S to 38S. Do you know the elevation of the tropopause at those latitudes on the day in question? I do presume the elevation may be different at the point in question than from the presumption of the ICAO chart, as I read: The tropopause lies higher in the tropics than in the poles. The troposphere ranges in height from an average of 9 km (5.6 mi; 30,000 ft) at the poles, to 17 km (11 mi; 56,000 ft) at the Equator.

    I didn’t know if this creates all manners of ways that the ICOA standard atmosphere information must be modified to have rough accuracies at various different latitudes.

    Thanks again for your recent post, Dr. Proud, and those prior. From my perspective, it has been, and I trust will continue to be, quite educating.

    Michael Molinaro

  14. @srp1984

    Many thanks for sharing the GOMS tif. Do I need special software/plugin to use it? In PhotoShop it looks black (all the layers)


  15. @Gysbreght

    MH370 at BITOD?

    Further to your post April 28, 2015 at 4:42 PM, you asked: “Are you sure that the Factual Report states that Vietnamese radar saw MH370 at BITOD?” and I replied that that information was to be found on page 97.

    Since then, it has been bothering me as to whether that location for MH370 was feasible, so I thought I’d do a little overlay on orion’s splendid radar analysis (I hope you don’t mind me re-using your work orion).

    See for a link to a JPG I have exported from my graphics package.

    So: We know (and I presume everyone is in agreement) that MH370 reached IGARI at 17:20:31UTC. [FI.pdf p6]
    Moreover, the FI.pdf tells us:
    A) HCM ATC “saw” MH370 at BITOD [FI.pdf p97] (I calculate at some 37.1nm from IGARI, courtesy Google Earth);
    B) Military radar picked up MH370 at 17:30:33 heading south-west [FI.pdf p28 and @oriondt radar analysis)

    I calculate the shortest distance possible from IGARI, via BITOD, to the 17:30:33 radar point to be a total of some 114nm (Route C on my diagram), to be achieved in a mere 10mins 02secs. IF (and it is by now a big IF) items A) and B) above are to be taken at face value, this yields an average speed of around 684kts GS, surely way above the max speed of a B777 (assuming light winds aloft).

    Thus Gysbreght, it seems, by inference (or perhaps it was your instinct?!) the FI.pdf brings yet more flaky information to the table in this respect.

    My own take on this is that HCM ATC saw MH370 approach BITOD (in an approximate fashion) and assumed it was a little off-course to hit it exactly. I believe they used a little descriptive licence in saying it was actually AT BITOD.

    Finally, @oriondt’s most direct route (Route A on my diagram) adds up to around 69nm, which yields a much more favourable and achievable 415kts. This then makes one wonder at the following increase in speed for the first “radar leg” at 496kts…. Perhaps orion’s other route (I have labelled it Route B) might be a little longer, and therefore require a correspondingly higher velocity.

  16. Gysbreght,

    Thank you. If the FMS is a primary consumer of the ADIRU data, would I be correct in saying then that the IFE/moving map or Airshow gets those same ADIRU coordinates or data through the FMS? Could you clarify “external sensors” and where do the GPS satellites come into play trasmitting info back to what, if anything, on the plane?

  17. Cheryl posted May 2, 2015 at 12:47 AM: “would I be correct in saying then that the IFE/moving map or Airshow gets those same ADIRU coordinates or data through the FMS?”

    Yes, that is essentially correct.

    “Could you clarify “external sensors” and where do the GPS satellites come into play trasmitting info back to what, if anything, on the plane? ”

    Air data external sensors provide pitot pressures, static pressures, total temperature, and angle of attack. The ADIRU also receives GPS data. It calculates aircraft position primarily from its internal inertial sensors (IRS), but since that system is subject to a small amount of long-term drift, it updates the IRS-calculated position with the GPS position at regular intervals.

  18. BT-77 posted May 1, 2015 at 6:22 PM: “Thus Gysbreght, it seems, by inference (or perhaps it was your instinct?!) the FI.pdf brings yet more flaky information to the table in this respect.”

    No, I don’t agree that the FI is at fault. It faithfully reproduces what was said (see Appendix 1.18.G):

    1739:30 KL ATCC “At what point you lost contact?”
    1739:33 HCM ATCC “BITODS”

    The HCM controllers response must be seen in the context of the stressful situation that existed. He was speaking from memory about something he had seen on his screen 19 minutes earlier.

    Radar recording showed that MH370 passed through waypoint IGARI at 1720:31 UTC.
    The last secondary radar position symbol of MH370 was recorded at 1721:13 UTC
    IGARI to BITOD is 37 NM, or 4 minutes 26 seconds at 500 KTAS.

  19. @Gysbreght

    “It faithfully reproduces what was said…” Yes, that’s a fair point, I readily admit. And your comment about the HCM controllers is also very fair; I’m glad I was not in their shoes (or indeed many others that night).

    My only point is that it was not possible for MH370 to cross IGARI at 1720:31, then cross BITOD (as HCM attest) AND then get to the military radar trace by 1730-odd. It’s too far to travel in 10 minutes. Surely the FI.pdf should have alerted the reader to this discrepancy? Or maybe not, maybe that’s not it’s job….

    But ultimately, I feel we can most probably take the “MH370 at BITOD exactly” concept with a pinch of salt, so to speak.

    OR, MH370 DID cross BITOD, and we throw out the military radar trace (timings).

  20. @BT-77:

    “Surely the FI.pdf should have alerted the reader to this discrepancy? Or maybe not, maybe that’s not it’s job….”

    Well, they chose the title “Factual Information” for a reason. At this stage of the investigation, the interpretation of that information is left to the reader.

  21. Bobby, Victor,

    I overlaid “Lido image” with Bobby’s contrail-hook:
    (add https:(slash)(slash)www(dot) in front).

    I have also compiled an image showing overlay with the trajectory digitized from the ATSB June report and approximate heading (visual fitting) of the “Lido” trajectory after the gap:

    If I did not make a mistake in my estimations, MH370 could be expected approximately 10 km south of NILAM by 18:25. Furthermore, GDAS1 shows wind of approximately 4 m/s from the north at this location at 10-10.5 km altitude, meaning that the ‘beginning’ of the ‘contrail’ would travel approximately 7.2 km by the time when NPP image was taken (30 minutes later). However, in my experience GDAS1 often underestimates wind speed, and hence it is very possible that the beginning of the ‘contrail’ was at the extrapolated location of MH370 by 18:25. In other words, no major turn at 18:25.

    Moreover, as I see, the BFO of 273 Hz likely means nothing but the absent correction term, especially if a reasonable descent is considered. Mathematical formulation is simple: two equations to determine unknown airspeed and heading from two BFOs (with and without correction term) assuming the descent/ascent rate is known. I am getting pretty reasonable results at 340 deg heading. In summary, I think there was no steep climb.

    Perhaps pieces of the puzzle start making sense for the very first time:

    – There was a second major event at 18:25, such as intensification of fire or blast by hijackers.
    – The smog resulted in a trace of 170 km length detected by NPP/Bobby/Kirill in IR spectrum.
    – The event has rapidly changed the previous plans/intent of the crew. They attempted to land at Maimun Saleh (the nearest suitable place) or Aceh ASAP.
    – The event ‘distracted’ the passengers from sending SOS by sms or e-mail.
    – The crew was either incapacitated shortly, or they were busy in attempt to land, and hence they were unable to pick the call 18:40. The former explains Bobby’s scenario. The latter explains my constant thrust scenario (approach/descent from the NW to Maimun Saleh at roughly 200 knots makes it possible to fit BFO 18:40). However, to complete this sad scenario I still need to find an explanation where the aircraft was after aborted landing, and how it got to the place, where Kate presumable saw it.

  22. @Oleksandr

    Interesting hypothesis! Where would in this scenario the a/c have been @18:40? And what would have been the estimated time at the end of the “contrail-hook”? I’m trying to connect possible 18:40 location to possible 19:41 location. In this scenario an important question would be if there has been only one landing attempt, i.e. did it really (only) fligh south between 1840 and 1941 as in the “leading” hypothesis.


  23. Niels,

    Thanks. I think in such a scenario MH370 was between IGEBO and Maimun Saleh by 18:40, and it was flying, for example, at 200-300 knots and descending at 1000 ft/min.

    Assuming the same lenght of the original ‘hook’ (it is deformed due to wind) and the last known airspeed, MH370 would be at the end of the visible hook by 18:36, but it could be a bit later due to the drop in altitude and airspeed. The sudden ‘switch’ in BFO from 172 Hz at 18:27:08 to 143 Hz at 18:28:05 could indicate the drop in the airspeed.

    As I mentioned earlier, I think the anomalous BFO 273 Hz is the result of ADIRU/INS failing to supply data. It would be consistent with other BFOs in the cluster 18:25-18:28 at heading 342 degrees and descent, again, 1000 ft/min.

    However, in case of the descent the difficulty is to restore the original shape of the 3D trajectory as to make it consistent with BFOs and 3D wind fields.

    The interesting thing is that in case of aborted landing the crew could make another attempt. If I am not mistaken, Kate supposedly saw the plane at NOPEK at 19:25 – just the right time to get there moving in counter-clockwise direction after missing Maimun Saleh runway.

  24. @nihonmama – great as always

    being silent for a while, I have another idea about primary target – first, when plane u-turn happened, if flashed in my mind that its some kind of military operation, then quickly I thought its pointed to Putin, then quickly realized its nonsense, rather that its done together against peoples fear and hate and arrogance and stupidity while (not)fetching info from data around, but few days ago, thinking about really usefull consequences, it may be that primary target is “7th empire”, so MEDIA itself… because there is really lack of deepness and real truth seeking (not to be confused by conspiracies) generally, which is simply unacceptable for future life… (take it easy, its crazy, I know)

  25. @Oleksandr

    Thanks, it gives some ideas for estimates towards 1941 position.
    Did you calculate the drop in speed needed to explain the BFO difference between 1827 and 1828?
    About the ADIRU data: isn’t it also needed to direct the satcom antenna system?

  26. Niels,

    Welcome. Right now I lean to give priority either Bobby’s hypothesis (but the feature is smog) or, indeed, mine. My revamped constant thrust model (assuming the stability system adjust the rudder and elevators to keep slip and attack angles constant through the flight) predicts location 93.51E, 4.27N, 5484 m at 19:41. This location is also consistent with Kate’s observation. Interpretation of Bobby’s contrail as the trace of smog would also be consistent with her witnessing.

    The drop in BFO from 172 to 144 Hz could correspond to the descent at 6.04 m/s (=1189 ft/min) based on my calculations and 6.38 m/s (=1255 ft/min) using Yap’s V2 calculator. To explain the difference: I am using interpolated ATSB tables for all the input data in contrast to Yap’s V2 calculator; also WGS’84 ellipsoid.

    With regard to ADIRU data. Yes, in my understanding it is needed, but provided that the antenna was tuned just 7 seconds earlier, and assuming no major difference in the heading, I believe it would still be able to transmit/receive data.

    I did a small experiment: I assumed the descent rate of 6.04 m/s in the 2 equations for BFOs I mentioned in my post [May 2, 2015 at 7:12 PM]. Heading of 341.08 deg and ground speed of 267.04 m/s (=519 knot) result in BFO = 142 Hz with the compensation term, and BFO = 273 Hz without it. Another coincidence?

    I think the major issue now is to reconstruct the original shape of the ‘hook’. The heading of 340 deg is a bit misaligned with the first section of the ‘hook’, which btw coincidently points to Car Nicobar, if I am not mistaken.

  27. Bobby,

    The weight of tires:
    266 lbs = 120.66 kg (main),
    156 lbs = 70.76 kg (nose).

    There are two tires in the nose landing gear compartment: would 100-140 kg of rubber, nylon, and composites burnt in roughly 11 minutes be able to leave the 170 km-long trace detected in IR image?

    Source of tire data:

  28. @Oleksandr

    The reason I asked about the ADIRU data feed is that I have suspected for a while that a misfeed of positional/orientational data could have led to the lost satcom connection for roughly an hour. Some pressing questions of course: why would it start working again? Why wouldn’t it work properly at 18:25:34 while at 18:25:27 the compensation seemed ok?

  29. Niels,

    It is a good question, and actually I was already thinking about it. The answer I can suggest is probably not very convincing, but plausible: several systems were rebooted or switched on at 18:25:xx. I guess it is quite a random process as FMC/FMS is busy with a lot of stuff upon reboot. AES successfully acquired position and velocity data at 18:25:27, but the response to its request 18:25:34 was delayed. Upon time out, AES proceeded with sending message with the application of default parameters.

    To reiterate again: both anomalous BFOs of 273 Hz and -2 Hz are associated with anomalous BTOs of similar magnitude, which makes me think of such an explanation. This appears to be consistent with the data in terms of anomalous BFOs to be in line with other BFOs after correction, perhaps coincidently. I think Don has appropriate knowledge to comment on such an explanation.

  30. @All

    I have been making some progress with the “BFO-only” analysis. The error analysis turns out quite positive: As it seems now the latitude uncertainty at 00:11 UTC due to unknown longitude displacements should be less than +- 4 degrees for the typical case we are considering.

    Under the assumptions that:
    – The published Inmarsat data is complete and correctly represents the received/measured BFO values.
    – The AES was located in 9M-MRO
    – The AES was functioning correctly (including frequency compensation)

    and a level flight,the preliminary results indicate a 00:11 UTC latitude of 34S (based on a initial position 0.3N at 19:41, ISBIX). This would indicate that the ATSB strategy to consider extending the search area in all directions is wise.

    Actually I’m more worried about the location of the 7th arc, based on issues I see in the BTO data.
    Also the possible unknown dive or glide scenario’s are troublesome.

    PS: A possible systematic error in the translation from BFO in D (fup + fcomp) is dramatic. 7 Hz offset in all data points gives more than 15 degrees shift in 00:11 UTC lat (and unrealistic values for v_lat). But I guess that is a problem all methods suffer form.

    I’m now sending the paper out to a few people for reviewing. After that I will send it to the ATSB and make it available to all.


  31. Niels,

    I think you came to a possible terminal location estimated long time ago by Yap and myself:

    I am looking forward to seeing your paper.

    1. It sounds like you discarded BTO data. Why?
    2. Did you account for 23:15 cluster of BFOs?
    3. Did you use an assumption with regard to the flight mode or interpolated BFO data?
    4. Did you find a plausible explanation (in terms of both logic and data) how MH370 got from its last known position to 0.3N by 19:41?

    As a matter of fact the latter is a primary reason that immersed me into the world of AT models (27-29S stays).

  32. @Oleksandr,

    I don’t have a model capable of predicting the infrared signature of a HCN smog trail.

  33. @Oleksandr

    Thanks a lot for asking.
    1. Yes I didn’t use the BTO data (except implicitly to estimate the 19:41 initial position). I think it is good to look at the same problem from different perspectives. So the more independent “tools” we have the better. Also, so far I have focused on BFO analysis and just started to look in detail into the BTO analysis (assuming before it would be straightforward, but it isn’t). Contrary to many others currently I trust the BFO data a bit more than the BTO data.
    Of course ideally they should be combined. The BFO-only analysis hopefully can provide the N-S position data. The BTO is then used to fix the E-W positions. In theory this would give a unique flight path, including info on possible changes in track. However, because we have a sparse sampling of BFO there is obviously a practical limit.
    2. I’ve used the 23:14 value from the JoN article. It is an average for this cluster.
    3. I’ve used a third order polynomial for interpolation of the BFO data. I’ve not assumed anything concerning flight mode, except level flight.
    4. The 0.3 N input is actually the main variable input to the model. It is an example which is based on estimated 1 hour flight time from IGOGU at about 420 knots if I remember well.
    – If you start south of ISBIX you will soon get unrealistic high speeds at later times.
    – If you start for example at 0.7 N the model gives a very constant southerly velocity component in the 450 -460 knots range. Ending at 33S at 00:11 UTC.
    – If you start at 5N the southerly velocity drops to very low values at later times, indicative for a strongly lateral displacement and endpoints north of S30. However, the model in this case can no longer be fully trusted (at least the errors introduced by ingoring x,y velocity components could become considerable).


  34. Bobby,

    I understand that it is quite a difficult problem, if possible at all. But generally, having the set of images from NPP, is it possible to make some conclusion with regard to whether the feature you found can be smog and products of oxidation by fire or it is certainly related to water in whatever phase (i.e. clouds or contrail)? I guess one of the ways is to check images taken by Suomi NPP VIIRS against known fire/smog events.

  35. Wouldn’t any tire fire burn it self out by IGARI or BITOD? i understand no contrails were noticed there but would like to know if a smoke trail was captured near there. If a turn back was a result of mechanical or fire issue its been suggested IGARI is where this turn back occurred.

  36. Myron,

    Within my “technical failure” framework, there was no major fire at IGARI, but rather tire burst that punched fuselage, knocked down communication, and perhaps affected the whole fly-by-wire system.

    There could be another scenario: hijacking with the tragic culmination at 18:25.

  37. Just some random musings and thoughts:

    Is there any statistical information in past known hijacking cases of what time frame the hijackings would occur in and is it in the cruise portion of flights where it would be most likely to occur? Would they have been pushing the food carts prior to or close to the IGARI waypoint?

    I revisited Tim Pardi’s Facebook page, saw a new photo of her and a child both holding signs outside somewhere that say MH370 We Miss You. Can’t figure out why she says BoycottCNN though, CNN was excellent with the story, very unbiased and informative, and kept it alive for a very long time and they said nothing negative against Captain Zaharie so I don’t understand her reasoning there.

    I watched a video clip on YouTube of Anderson Cooper interviewing Peter Chong from awhile ago. Mr. Chong states Captain Shah made plans to meet up with him in a few weeks after the flight so there you have a “future social engagement” planned, that kind of negates the “no social things planned on his “calendar,” but perhaps he planned that prior to the court ruling and wigged out completely after it, we just don’t know.

    If there was a tire burst at IGARI, how could the SDU get back on an hour later if it was “knocked down” with the other comms and not manually disengaged via the left bus?

  38. @Cheryl, @BT—77, @Myron, @Niels, @MichaelHelms, @Matty, @Orion:

    Re my last post — (April 30, 2015 at 7:36 PM — thank you for your comments.

    Three things:

    1. Excerpts from Ben Sandilands (@planetalking) latest:

    May 06, 2015
    Crucial deep sea mini-sub suspended from MH370 search

    “Australia is withdrawing a crucial automated deep sea search vehicle from the search for MH370 in the southern Indian Ocean for the duration of the winter.

    This creates the possibility that the reduced search activity that will conducted during the winter months discovers objects that merit close up examination as possibly coming from the missing Malaysian Airlines 777 that will have to be deferred for final verification.

    Just what sort of fiasco are the fools in the ATSB that botched the Pel-Air crash inquiry cooking up in relation to confirming or dismissing the discovery of potential wreckage from MH370 during this winter semi-recess?”

    I’ll just leave that there.

    2. @Oleksandr:

    On April 28, 2015 at 4:18 PM

    You’d mentioned Simon Gunson’s overlay on th Butterworth image, which includes this comment underneath:
    “Proof that the the so called so called military radar screen image was a hoax.”

    I have a little caveat emptor story re Gunson and this image, which I’ll share tomorrow.

    3. @All:

    @Orion has a new post on Reddit. You may want to read it.

    “Upon further scrutiny of the radar information available, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a strong case suggesting that MH370 descended around Kota Bahru.”

    More later.

  39. Thanks to @Nihonmama for showing @Orion’s radar analysis. This kind of work will help find which way MH370 went !! And thanks to @Orion for working on this topic.

  40. @orion, @ nihonmama

    Thanks for both your posts. Julie, I can’t help thinking that Ben S is being a little harsh in his criticism of the ATSB re pulling the AUV ops. Bad winter weather cannot just be magic’ed away.

    ‘Lido’ radar image
    Julie, I look forward to your comments re Gunson ‘caveat’. Orion, thanks for your two recent posts (KB theory and ‘Lido’ image). Nice work, very thorough and thought-provoking. Regrettably, I am not familiar with Mt Jerai. But have you seen this quick analysis from nearly a year ago? I got there through Paul Sladen’s excellent ‘github’ resource.

    It seems to me there are several potential reasons for this ‘rogue’ point (020706):
    1. Gunson rightly points out there are no other aircraft plotted on the image. But surely they have just been deleted, to simplify the display? (Or not copied across, since the traces look as if they have been pasted onto a SkyVector-type display.) BUT, maybe this rogue point is just that, another craft that got caught up with the image-editor’s copy/paste knife. Or worse, a point that got copied and misplaced, from somewhere else entirely.
    2. My limited understanding is that radar is not necessarily THAT accurate. Could it not be a dodgy return? Perhaps others could comment on what to expect of a radar return at that range.
    3. I note with interest that if you back-track an extended line from MEKAR to VAMPI (along that section of N571), it passes pretty much through this rogue point and ends up at Western Hill (Penang) radar. Probably just a coincidence. Like so many other things on this whole subject.
    4. Finally, we have to bear in mind that the Mlysns may have made the whole thing up, a fabrication. Highly unlikely yes, but surely on the table, lurking at the back.

    Orion, would you be able to post the origin/source of your edited ‘Lido’ image with its timing markings and ‘020436’ mark-up? Thanks in advance.

  41. Orion, BT-77,

    I am not a radar expert, but could the errants be results from a radar ping reflection of some other large object, maybe shipping?

    If the radar burst goes from antenna to ship to plane to receiver, that detour could result in an incorrect distance measurement.

    If that theory holds and is technically feasible, it could suggest a method of calculating an accurate altitude by simple geometry.

    Are there any AIS geeks here, who can find candidate ships which were accurately placed in the radar’s line, or rather plane, of sight at the errant’s time stamps?


  42. Don has informed me that the towers at the top of Mt. Jerai don’t appear to show any radar equipment. Work is ongoing to find other clues to the Lido source.

    BT-77, The two raw image files I used for the analysis are here (without http):

    MuOne, I’m not an expert either, but remain convinced that there are still clues hidden in the radar.

    Especially around Kota Bahru:

    Would anyone like to weigh in on this forum with regards to the possible veering flightpath at Kota Bahru, and the plausibility of at least the 3 eyewitness accounts?

    It would be much appreciated, Thanks!

  43. I think even CNN reported about fishermen seeing the plane over kota bharu going at a bit lower altitude, I don’t know why would they lie after all.

  44. For clarification – “on this forum” means here, on Jeff’s blog. Cheers 🙂

  45. @orion; I get the strange feeling (otherwords JIMHO) the descent was a landing at Kota Bahru while the ascent was a decoy aircraft/drone/etc taking off

  46. BT-77, Thanks for the informative link. Lot of stuff on there. Hadn’t seen that image yet- I may have tried to “connect the dots sooner”.

  47. @orion (and all)

    Thank you for posting your image links. I already had a good plain vanilla ‘Lido’ image; but who was it who added the measurement graticules and timing labels to your zoomed-in image? Just curious.

    Don Thompson has confirmed some useful radar sources and info on twitter, probably enough to piece together where the lines came from on Fig 1.1E and 1.1F. I am working on digitising these at the moment, to see if I can replicate some more sensible speed labels (<512kts) using the airway lines underneath to 'corrupt' the numbers so as to look different. Not sure at the moment.

    Re – approach to Kuta Bharu; I imported Fig 1.1F into Google Earth, to me it looks very much like MH370 was either turning to avoid the airport (for whatever reason), or (as per Myron above [May 8, 2015 at 6:16PM]) actually in preparation for a left-hand-down 180° turn to approach the runway heading ESE. Tight-ish turn, not sure if it's feasible yet. EITHER the craft didn't land after all (and it would be interesting to plot the point at which that decision was made), OR (as per Myron) it DID land and something else took off. Again, not sure if that lines up yet. Timing tight too.

    Interesting stuff to chew on.

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