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. The three DCA civil RADAR sites involved in FI data ate:

    ‘A 60 NM Terminal Primary Approach Radar co-mounted with a 200 NM monopulse SSR located to the south of Kota Bharu-Sultan Ismail Petra Airport runway.’

    Kota Bharu Approach RADAR head location: ​​6.163643N, 102.293686E
    Butterworth Airfield Approach RADAR head location ​​5.462352N, 100.387179N
    Langkawi International Airport, 60 NM Primary Surveillance RADAR head location ​​6.337165N, 99.746647E


    See para 1.1.4 & positions geo-located on Google Maps & Street View.


  2. @GuardedDon

    Thanks very much for your confirmatory ‘radar’ post [May 10, 2015 at 4.17PM]; yes, I recollect that is what I had deduced from your helpful tweets. Cheers muchly.

  3. @Niels:
    “Many thanks for sharing the GOMS tif. Do I need special software/plugin to use it? In PhotoShop it looks black”
    It’s a 64-bit floating point TIFF. We use our own software to work with these, but it should work in any remote sensing / GIS package.

  4. @srp1984

    Thanks a lot! I managed with Adobe PS after finding some new filter settings (grayscale) how to make it visible. Indeed it gives interesting reasonably high res. image of the Perth region.
    Meanwhile a friend managed to implement a C script to convert .L15 to .PBM. Now I have to find a way to combine the three layers in one RGB image, but at least we can download and convert the raw data, so I don’t have to bother you or others with these details anymore 🙂

  5. @srp 1984

    maybe you can tell us, whether distinctions can be made between conterails of different origins, like 777 as opposed to a military fighter jet, or a drone?

  6. Kate Tee now saw 2 planes? I revisited her site and the “orange glow” plane originally thought to be MH370 for a year, was probably one of a fleet from India used to patrol the Straits? Mike Exner and Don T. can clarify this much better as they worked with Kate on it. That fleet seems to fit into the white/orange/red color schematic similar to Air Asia/DHL/etc. we thought perhaps it could have been previously. The second plane she saw she now believes was MH370, flying at a normal altitude, and looking like it was going to the South Pole? Ok, if the India defense plane was out and about how did it miss MH370, especially if there was an albeit abbreviated loitering period for MH370 in the Straits. So they are patrolling the Straits but missed a rogue Malaysian plane in it? To Dr. Bobby’s point, what Kate had been describing originally for a year, with the orange glow and black contrail, then could not have been MH370.

  7. Cheryl,

    Wow, that is too much. IG (except Victor) has lost remaining credibility in my eyes. Citation from Kate’s blog:

    “They [IG] were reconsidering the BFOs, which are based on an assumption, on the basis that a fire event might have caused the frequency of the communication to have changed.”

    Kate saw another airplane, but she also saw MH370 at FL300, BFO changed because of fire, radar data are wrong, Indonesian radars were off, Bobby’s ‘hook’ does not exist, what is next?

  8. Hi Oleksandr,

    I still have the utmost respect for the IG, the bravely solo IG, and the ex-communicated IG, all brilliant men to be commended, as well as the IG peanuts. All brilliant folks here. This isn’t about egos and shouldn’t be, it’s about finding the flight that disappeared into thin air for the sake of aviation and the grieving families. No room for egos here.

    I guess the BFO’s were questionably “funky” from the get go.

    What changed in all that above I guess is Kate’s memory was jarred and the plane she was fixated on for a year she suddenly realized was not MH370. Make of it what you will but now Kate saw 2 planes, MH370 being at a higher, normal FL. Kudos to Mike E. and Don T. for working through it with her and determining what flight was out there that could have made the “orange glow” with it’s color scenario combined with atmospheric conditions. Bad, I guess that this defense fleet missed MH370, if it was there, but since I still agree the Inmarsat data is the best to go on, wasn’t it there?????????

  9. Oleksandr,

    Actually, this makes Dr. Bobby’s assumption correct, that he did not think Kate’s original sighting was MH370, which I believe he told me a few pages back here. Dr. Bobby please jump in and correct me if I am mistaken.

    So now I would ask how does Kate’s 2nd image, the real MH370 at a higher FL, fit in with the gybe of the yacht/7th arc/handshake data, etc.?

  10. Cheryl, Oleksandr

    Around the Str of Malacca the surveillance ‘eyes’ are mostly trained on the surface not the air.

    I’ve described the air defence surveillance RADAR assets of Malaysia in some depth & they’re matched by similar capability in Thailand and Indonesia. Apart from the ‘Beijing Lido’ image, official channels in Malaysia (Thailand and Indonesia) have not been open and forthcoming about what was seen in the air during the period 17:50 to 19:00 (and possibly later) over the Str of Malacca.

    However, the threat of maritime piracy & the global power plays with fleets of naval ships in this strategic waterway does keep people awake at night. The Information Fusion Centre, operated by Singapore defence forces at Changi and staffed by a multi-national operational team, maintains close surveillance on surface movements. Concerning airborne maritime surveillance & patrols, India deploys its Boeing Neptunes at Port Blair in the Andamans and Singapore operates a fleet of Gulfstream G550 CAEW aircraft. The Neptunes are primarily maritime patrol aircraft & the G550’s appear to get more use in a maritime surveillance role than air defence early warning. They’ll either look down or up but not do both at the same time.

    It’s an Indian Naval Air Arm Neptune that Mike & I believe is most likely to have descended to take a look at Kate Tee’s yacht during patrol activities.

    India had hosted a significant military exercise in the area in the weeks prior to 8th March & Indonesia hosted another exercise in subsequent weeks.


  11. Gysbrecht,

    Ah! Those Lockheed Neptunes are long gone.

    What other operators call the Boeing P-8 Poseidon has been designated by the Indian Naval Air Arm as its Boeing P-8i Neptune.


  12. GuardedDon,

    Thanks so much for the explanation. That pretty much sums up what Kate most likely saw, her original sighting anyway, and what their (naval plane) duties would be on maritime patrol and surface surveillance, not monitoring airspace.

    I guess whatever other flight Kate saw heading due south at a normal FL for now will remain a mystery.

  13. @GuardedDon (or indeed anyone else)

    If you have time, I would very much appreciate your thoughts on the ‘positions’ as presented on pages 28 and 29 of the FactualInformation.pdf Malaysian MoT report.

    Page 28 of 584 (labelled p10) displays Fig1.1E; top right is printed “Position: 002:33:05N 000:40:47E”
    Page 29 of 584 (labelled p11) displays Fig1.1F; top right is printed “Position: 001:44:24N 001:14:12E”

    If these are WGS84 coordinates, it places the locations in the Gulf of Guinea, off West African coast; clearly this makes no sense.

    Is it your opinion that we are to make no more of these labels than Mlysian incompetence, or is there some hidden conversion datum somewhere, to render this into useful information? Or has this topic been covered elsewhere? I could find no reference to it on the web.

    Thanks in advance.

  14. @BT-77: It could be those are relative coordinates. If so, it appears that the location would be relative to Medan in Sumatra. According to the FI, neither military nor civil radar at Medan detected MH370 as it crossed back west, although military radar did detect MH370 as it flew towards IGARI. It doesn’t make sense for Medan to be the reference location.

  15. Cheryl:

    “So now I would ask how does Kate’s 2nd image, the real MH370 at a higher FL, fit in with the gybe of the yacht/7th arc/handshake data, etc.?”.

    Cheryl, it seems you are also misled by N571, Fl350 assumption. Where do you get it that MH370 was at higher flight level? According to the radar data, the last known altitude was about 7 km or so, and descent would be even more consistent with the radar data. Moreover, if the ‘hook’ is a trace of smog, which appears to be very possible explanation, then it would match Kate’s description.


    “It’s an Indian Naval Air Arm Neptune that Mike & I believe is most likely to have descended to take a look at Kate Tee’s yacht during patrol activities.”

    It was night. If Navy wanted to conduct visual inspection, they would use projectors and likely flew around Kate’s yaht several times to make sure it was not pirates. If they wanted to remain unnoticed, they would switch off all illumination that was not essential. Thus it is very unlikely that it was a navy surveillance plane.

    Please note that I am not saying that what Kate saw was necessarily MH370; it could be some other aircraft. However, as long as what Kate saw is consistent with a few other scenarios, I believe it could be MH370. The use of another assumption as justification for AP+N571+FL350+FMT simply does not work for me.

  16. @VictorI

    Thanks for your reply. Yes, I too had thought they might be relative coordinates, hence my ‘datum’ comment, but I cannot make deductive sense of the numbers as published.

    For instance, taking Medan (as you suggested) as a datum (3°30’16.53″N, 98°36’27.43″E) and adding Fig 1.1E’s 002:33:05N
    000:40:47E to that, I end up in the briny somewhere between Pulau Perak and Langkawi. Subtracting that vector (granted albeit only roughly, using my trusty pencil against my monitor’s image of Google Earth) from any of the pertinent points in Fig 1.1E doesn’t seem to take me anywhere ‘useful’ or noticeably significant. Then again, my geographical knowledge of Malaysia etc can hardly be said to be extensive.

    Nevertheless, I feel like I’m missing something obvious…. (Perhaps I’ve read Hergé’s/Tintin’s ‘Secret of the Unicorn’ too many times!)

  17. Just following up on my pledge of a couple weeks ago to look into the probability that MH370 debris could be scanned over, yet overlooked:

    I’ve been distracted by other matters, and hadn’t got much further than reading the helpful responses on pp.23-24 of this thread (thanks, all!).

    In my view, it’s a good thing I didn’t spend too much time on pixels and probabilities, because the effectiveness of Fugro/ATSB’s stratified approach seem to be on full display today (ref: shipwreck photos).

    It seems anything reflective gets elevated to “check it out with the AUV” status, whose resolution appears to be spectacular.

    Circumstantial evidence, I admit, but it has convinced me that the probability of missing a jet engine is pretty remote.

    So other than to join others in lamenting the chasm between the promised degree of search transparency (full) and the number of Fugro scan images thus far released (zero), I personally consider the matter resolved.

  18. @Oleksandr,

    I have attempted to make contact with the INAA P8i squadron by unoffocial channels in order to, at least, determine if they had an aircraft on patrol on the night of 7-8 Mar. If I get a result I’ll certainly let you know.


  19. @Brock,

    (Warning: bordering on conspiracy theory)

    Interesting points to note re latest ATSB update:

    The update states no date for the ship wreck discovery. The “Key developments THIS week” section makes NO reference to that discovery.

    This begs the question of WHEN was the shipwreck discovered. If not this week, WHY is it reported now, the exact week of scaling down the search activities for winter.

    It almost looks like some kind of “insurance” against the powers to be making a U-turn re continued search decision during the winter lull.

    Furthermore, if the ship wreck was found some time in the past and not reported then, what else have they found and not told the public about?

    That niggling feeling again: is there another unreported reason for the earlier expressed certainty (later mallowed to mere confidence) in finding MH370?


  20. MuOne – I thought Brock’s comment – “SIO theory is not being tested, it is being sold” – summed it up very well. They are protecting themselves from outbreaks of widespread skepticism.

  21. @BT-77, For the composite, I used the vanilla Lido image and overlaid the timestamp from the other analysis:

    Haven’t yet verified timing in that analysis of the Lido portions, but hope to do so in the future.

    Also, very interesting observation on the FI plots. Those figures do appear mysterious in many ways.

    @Don, thank you kindly for the information on the radar installations.

    While looking closer at that info, I found another interesting tidbit in the Kota Bharu plot. The ‘cone of silence’ appears off-center. Can this be used to help determine approximate Altitudes where it is crossed?

  22. @Matty,

    My (cynic’s) thinking is more along the lines of securing a big fat budget for perpetuation a long and so far fruitless search operation. Lot of secure public servant’s and search boat positions, private enterprise assets’ utilisation, etc. at stake here, if the search were to be called off or scaled down.

    The “insurance” being something up the sleeve to pull out if, or rather when, the decision makers come to the point of pulling the plug.

    Something of the sort of “we went over the old data again and have found something that may be relevant. Let’s make one last push”. (Didn’t something of that nature happen during the AF search?).

    Reason for suspicions: the early near certainty of finding her, the spaghetti tracks months ago, reported comms black out for ship’s crews, officially explained as technical difficulties or escape from weather, etc. My excitement at the time was, they found something!

    Maybe they did, and if, its up someone’s sleeve, ready to be pulled, when the scepticism starts outweighing the optimism.

    As @nihonmama has put a few times in the past: follow the money…


  23. Oleksandr,

    You are confusing Kate and me. SHE stated SHE thinks she saw the “real MH370” at a normal level, NOT ME. I never stated I buy into that or even believe her second visual WAS MH370 at ANY FL without concrete proof to back it up. I was merely questioning if anyone was working with her on it since she specifically states she now saw 2 planes. I don’t “get” as you say that MH370 was at any FL, let alone go on what Kate is saying, and that is no offense meant to Kate, it’s just her assumption of a FL from a visual while standing on the deck of a yacht that’s hard to prove. She believes her 2nd image was the real MH370, I have no idea what or who she saw and certainly am not that gullible to take her word for it, and again, no offense to Kate. I do believe her that she saw things that night that were disturbing and impressionable to her, but who they both were is yet a mystery.

    Curious though, why would the naval plane descend on Kate all illuminated? Good point.

    As far as any FL for MH370, what I know is they were maintaining FL350 circa IGARI as stated in the recording and after that I have no idea what FL they did or did not attain.

  24. MuOne – That too, the contractors are managing perceptions as they go. If that gets away from them the whole game could evaporate. Not my preferred outcome, but an ongoing danger when you have to press on in vague circumstances.

  25. @orion
    Thanks for your further comments, and recent ‘cone of silence’ report. Very interesting. I look forward to input from others as to the feasibility of the cone angle helping to determine entry and exit altitudes. For what it’s worth, I’m not
    HUGELY hopeful, insofar as it seems to me that the radar trace being on or off is a bit hit-and-miss – I’m bearing in mind the ‘coasting’ premise.

    I am currently (slowly) working on my own analysis (such as it is) of both the FI Kota Bharu and ‘Lido’ information sets; doubtless neither as cogent nor imaginative as yours, but I hope they might still support or inform one another a little.

    And thank you for your comments re Kate Tee etc. I read Kate’s update a few days after she posted it (so late March 2015), and whilst it probably makes more sense that the low-flying craft WASN’T MH370, nevertheless as I see it, her testimony now seems regrettably virtually valueless. A shame, but there we are.

    Yes indeed, expectations are being managed. At least we are aware of that possibility/likelihood. Forewarned is forearmed?

  26. @cheryl “Oleksandr,

    You are confusing Kate and me. SHE stated SHE thinks she saw the “real MH370″ at a normal level, NOT ME. I never stated I buy into that or even believe her second visual WAS MH370 at ANY FL without concrete proof to back it up.”

    what I don’t understand is WHY the officials didn’t recreate the situation again with another malaysian 777 in the same livery, put her on board of her yacht at the same place and give her the radio to communicate directly with pilot, she will recognize much easier if that is what she saw if she can see it again, and if there are some doubts about her just put her on lie detector I can’t see why she wouldn’t accept it

    if her statement is found to be true that the plane was flying lower than cruising altitude that would mean the probability of it being in SIO would be much much lower and they would have to move the search to a northern area of the southern arc

  27. Cheryl,

    Ok, I see what you meant.

    Actually it was not even Kate, who said she saw MH370 at normal FL.

  28. A long while ago I promised to present a technical note on the trajectory of MH370 in the “Constant thrust settings” mode, which fits BTO and BFO data. Finally, here it is:

    The modelled terminal locations generally tend to be in the area 99-101E for this class of trajectories, subject to various parameterizations. One of them is presented in the study.

  29. Ok if Putin were to steal the plane as you have said it would make sense for a emp attack disguise as a common plane big enough to go into the u.s and explode it’s making sense

  30. Hi Jeff,

    I just listened to the podcast “The plane that wasn’t there” on UnFound, with great interest by the way. There is a part where you talk about that a deliberate disappearance at this scale would require state level involvement by, for instance, the Russians, and you compare it to landing on the moon and all the practicing that required – which makes a lot of sense.
    So maybe this question has already been asked, but does anyone know any prior travels of the two Ukrainian and the Russian passengers in 777 machines? And in such case, did any of those planes log any sudden and unexplained technical problems, even little ones? The same question for any other passenger who could have accessed the EE bay on MH370..?

  31. @ONiels, Thanks for your note. I’ve done a fair bit of research over the past years, and with the help of researchers I was able to find out a fair bit about the travels of the Russian from Irkutsk, I was able to find out very little about the Ukrainians. I’m continuting to look into it, however.

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