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. @VictorI:

    You wrote on March 9: ” I have read that for a particular choice of CI, a tailwind of 100 knots causes a groundspeed increase of 6 knots. ”

    Do you have a source for that?

  2. From Boeing Aero Magazine, Fuel Conservation Strategies, Cruise Flight:

    “For example, in the presence of a strong tailwind, the ECON speed will be reduced in order to maximize the advantage gained from the tailwind during the cruise. Conversely, the ECON speed will be increased when flying into a headwind in cruise to minimize the penalty associated with the headwind (see example in fig. 3).”

    Figure 3: ECON Cruise Mach
    0 ————— 0.773* —— 0.773 ——– 0.785
    80 ————– 0.787 ——- 0.796 ——– 0.803
    Max** ———- 0.811 ——- 0.811 ——– 0.811

    *FMC will not slow down below still air CI =0 ECON speed.
    **At maximum CI , FMC will fly at envelope limit in all wind conditions.

    (if the table is badly formatted, it’s not my fault)

  3. a couple of thoughts:

    (1) spoofing BFO without a box

    “In the electronics bay you could cut the cable that runs from the navigation computer to the SDU, replace it with a custom-made box rigged up by our engineers that will feed it incorrect data. The frequency-adjustment algorithm will calculate a value that, when the hourly signal is received by the satellite and logged on the satellite company’s computers, will imply that it’s going in a different direction than it really is.” The directory is fully awake again. “How hard would it be to build this kind of box?” “Impossible for all but the very best engineers” (the spoof, part 1)

    Since it’s apparently very hard to build such a box, and it introduces additional uncertainty factors (1. hardware can malfunction, 2. could be discovered at airport security screening, and not the least 3. it must successfully be installed in the E/E bay without anybody preventing you from reaching it, without cutting the wrong cable, without damaging anything, etc.) perpetrators would certainly prefer to fake the BFO values without any physical device, if there were an alternative way. DennisW said “RoC is uncompensated by the AES. BFO is extremely sensitive to RoC – on the order of 3.5 Hz per m/s at the L band uplink frequency and satellite elevation angle. Yes, many paths can be made to work. […] I believe the plane could be anywhere on the 7th arc limited only by the fuel range.” The beauty of BFO-spoofing by adjusting in-flight altitude as needed would be that no such box would be required. The perpetrators could calculate the required RoC changes for their desired flight path comfortably at home in their couch, and on 8 March they just feed the resulting 3D flight path into the FMC, lean back and watch the show. Wouldn’t that be a workable scenario ?

    (2) SAR operation

    ”An Orion spotted objects but a ship on the scene could not relocate.”

    Why didn’t the Orion crew drop a tracking buoy which would drift together with the spotted objects and could not be lost ?

    (3) We should focus on the high probability scenarios
    If we exclude mechanical failure (for going dark and off course right after ATC handover, no mayday, multiple turns, 7 hours of flight, straddling Thai border, following N571, circumventing Indonesia, AES log on at 18:25, i.e. 3 minutes after disappearance from primary radar, etc.), we are left with an intentional act, and a cunning one at that. Maybe this cunning plan went south (literally) and that’s why it ended in the SIO. But I feel exactly like StevanG who pointed out that “someone with a cunning plan wouldn’t risk relying on [anything with] a low probability for success”. So if we try to uncover what this cunning plan was, we must actually exclude all action with a high probability of failure:
    – sneaking in and out of all those countries on the northern arc
    – sinking the plane in one piece in the Roaring Forties (he would have chosen a better location with less swell)
    – hoping that debris from SIO won’t ever be washed ashore
    I am not even sure, that crossing Malaysia undetected had a >50% chance, so if the rest of the plan had a similarly bad chance, the perpetrator(s) likely would have opted for something more promising.
    If we exclude all of the above, what would have been a plan with >90% of success rate after leaving Penang? Is there a flight path (even if not compatible with Inmarsat data) to a suitable landing place which would NOT cross military radar coverage?

    (4) Was the blackbox ping detection a diversionary manoeuvre ?
    One sentence from a recent MH370 documentary kept stuck in my head: “When the blackbox pings were detected, all resources were immediately redirected to that location.”
    question 1: Where were they searching just prior to the blackbox diversion ? A mathematically viable location ? Could they have been closing in on the real crash site and could the fake blackbox discovery been used to prevent that ?
    question 2: Has the source of the pings ever been disclosed ? What did emit a 33.3 kHz pulse sound at one second intervals right in the middle of nowhere ?

    (5) War game gone wrong

    ”I did not expect to have the ‘where is the debris?’ argument thrown in my face for the SCS scenario.” (Brock McEwen, March 5, 2015 at 10:12 PM)

    I am sorry in case you took it as an unfriendly challenge, it was meant to be merely a technical question only. Quite to the contrary, I really appreciate your thinking outside the box, because something is not right here. And your call to “investigate the investigators” has been an invaluable service to the search and NoK. And while my gut feeling is very open to your scenario “MH370 shot down shortly after 17:21 UTC in Gulf of Thailand (war games gone wrong) “, I am afraid that logic seems to contradict it, because
    (A) no debris found in SCS (would even have washed ashore a lot quicker than in SIO) and
    (B) shooting would have had to occur within seconds after handover (due to the recorded ATC check-out and missing check-in)
    The combined coincidence strikes me as too implausible.
    @ “it may have been easier to quietly fine-tooth-comb the calm waters of the SCS.”
    … like with a giant dragnet ? Debris of a shot down plane would be spread over miles. I think it would be next to impossible to be sure not to miss any floating piece, which would later wash ashore, thus revealing the crime.
    @ ”I can imagine types of ordinance which effectively disintegrate their target at altitude”
    Maybe, but remember, we are talking a military training exercise. They wouldn’t use live ammunition (military experts, please correct me) and even if they did, they would not have used this special “ordnance effectively disintegrating their target”.
    Now, if it was not an unintentional shooting but a deliberate one, this would solve both problems as they could have (A) used your special leave-no-debris-behind-ordnance I have never heard of and (B) listened in on the radio traffic and intentionally shot down MH370 right after the handover (to sow exactly the confusion we have all grappled with ever since). It would also explain Mike McKay’s eyewitness account: which, by the way, got him fired (also very strange):
    The problem of course is, I cannot see any motive for such a deliberate mass-murder.
    Regardless, there is another part of your hypothesis which seems unnecessary: “some Pentagon bigwig pops over to Inmarsat HQ, puts an arm around its CEO’s shoulders, and explains what happens next”. This is actually not needed to distract from whatever happened in the Gulf of Thailand. Radar images showing MH370 crossing Malaysia and leaving Malacca Strait westbound would suffice. Why additionally invent BTO/BFO data, which could easily catch them pants down, if they get the maths wrong. And there is plenty of room for error.

    (6) The connection between MH370 and MH17

    “Why would they have to be connected? […] these two incidents are unrelated IMO.” (StevanG, March 4, 2015 at 5:46 PM)

    As per Jeff Wise’s calculation: “The chance, given one Malaysia Airlines B777 disaster, that the next major plane accident would also involve a Malaysian B777 was less than one in a thousand.” … actually 0.7‰

    (7) The death of Stuart James Fairbairn
    • On March 8, MH370 disappears.
    • On March 17, Stuart James Fairbairn, “a key member of the operations team, one of the satellite controllers”¹ at Inmarsat, dies from an alleged heart attack, despite his young (does anyone here have a precise figure?) age … only 9 days after the biggest aviation mystery in history, which involves the company Fairbairn is working for. Has he unintentionally come across something he was not supposed to see, e.g. the falsification of BTO/BFO values from MH370 ?
    • Up until his death, the SAR operation took place in the northern hemisphere², but just on his day of death of all days, on March 17³, the search was moved to the SIO⁴ (where to this day not a single piece of the plane has been found) …
    … solely on the basis of satellite data produced in the company, in which Fairbairn occupied a key position as satellite controller at the time of his death. Coincidence ? One must not forget that perpetrators killing 239 people would have no qualms about killing 1 more.
    • On March 20 at 09:38am it is reported that “Inmarsat has appointed retired US Air Force General C. Robert Kehler as an additional[!] non-executive director”⁵. Which means that this decision must have been made at some time prior to March 20, either before Fairbairn’s death or shortly thereafter on March 17-19. “He served as Commander, US Strategic Command from Jan 2011 to Nov 2013. In that position he was directly responsible to the President and Secretary of Defence for the plans and operations of all US forces conducting strategic deterrence, and Department of Defense SPACE and CYBERSPACE OPERATIONS.”⁵ (emphasis mine). Why did they need an additional director? Was the General installed at Inmarsat for the US military to have a tight grip on the command and surveillance of the satellite data manipulation and to avoid any leaks (which would obviously immensely damaging to all involved) ?
    • The trace leading from Inmarsat to military intelligence is even more accentuated by the fact that Inmarsat was majority-owned⁶ by the Harbinger Group⁷, a front company for the CIA.⁷
    • On March 26, a fire mysteriously breaks out in the MAS Avionic Shop⁸, level 2, Hangar 2 in Subang. Up to now, the Avionic Shop had not suffered from a single fire during its entire existence of for more than 30 years.⁸ Was the building set on fire to destroy evidence related to MH370?
    There are a bit too many coincidences for my liking.


    (8) The path to X-Mas Island calculated by DennisW (it’s a pity that he was threatened to be banned and left):
    … does make sense to me, insofar as
    (A) it seems to follow Indonesia’s shoreline, always keeping a relatively constant distance to it, one would think to avoid radar detection;
    (B) the final approach is from the south, possibly also to avoid radar detection

  4. (9) BTO spoofing

    “I remain very confident of the BTO values (assuming they were not spoofed).”
    (DennisW, March 4, 2015 at 1:52 PM)
    ”While it would be difficult but physically possible to falsify BFO values, it is very hard to image how BTO values could be tampered with.” (the spoof, part 3)

    Why is that? BFO spoofing seems indeed difficult to me. I’m surely missing something, but BTO manipulation looks easy … of course you cannot speed-up the round-trip time, but you could arbitrarily delay it, thereby creating the illusion of being further away from the satellite than you actually are, e.g. for flying to Somalia while pretending to crash in the SIO, which would by the way corroborate both the Maldives sightings and Katherine Tee’s eyewitness account. In my opinion, this line of thought points to BTO manipulation: “The BTO data predicts either 1) surface debris hitting Oz shores by now, per expert drift analysis starting at the area the southern path ended, or 2) interception by one of multiple, non-allied nations through whose airspace the northern route runs. The fact that neither of these things happened calls the BTO data itself into question.” (Brock McEwen, March 4, 2015 at 12:12 PM)

    (10) The assumed end point within the current search zone does not make practical sense.
    As others have mentioned: If the goal was to sink the plane in one piece, one wouldn’t choose the Roaring Forties but a place with less swell. And if the plan was to direct the aircraft to a location as remote as possible, the path would have led more SW than S, thus farther away from Australia.
    There would have been lots of MAS flights better suited than the one to Beijing:
    If PFP wanted to reach the SIO, he could have picked KULPER and veered off course trouble-free somewhere over open water, simple as that.
    If PFP wanted to reach Kazakhstan or any other country on the northern track, he could have picked KUL–London which
    1. would naturally have led through the Strait of Malacca (instead of deviating there from the course to Beijing)
    2. would have crossed India and Afghanistan (inter alia) from where it would have been 100x easier to reach the “stans” than for MH370
    3. would have carried much more fuel than MH370
    Why pick a flight to Beijing, make a U-turn and risk radar detection on the way back, instead of a flight to Australia? That alone tells me, the pilot didn’t plan to end up in the SIO and therefore also didn’t plan to commit suicide there.

    (11) “Good night.”
    It’s so obvious, that it must have been mentioned before, but I couldn’t find any reference to this: Reading the ATC transcript, I couldn’t help but notice that at none of the multiple frequency switches, Shah failed to read back the frequency … except the very last time at 17:19. Two minutes later he disappeared. Psychologists would argue, that at all previous moments he confirmed the frequency because he actually intended to use it, but the last time, he forgot to confirm, because he didn’t intend to switch to Ho Chi Minh (either because he planned to go off-course or was threatened to).

    (12) The police officer at the petrol station

    ”suppose you were given two paths from FMT to 00:11 UTC:
    1) steady horizontal 500kt = cruising speed, constant bearing, zero RoC = acceptably small BFO error, or 2) steady horizontal 400kt = ??? speed, curving path which adds BFO errors of X, RoCs which add BFO error of precisely -X (i.e. happen to perfectly offset) = acceptably small aggregate BFO error.
    Which would you pick?” (Brock McEwen, March 4, 2015 at 4:43 PM)

    If there were only these 2 possibilties, I would choose (1). But there are multiple paths for (2). And actually this leads back to the discussion of whether a straight path down the SIO is more probable than any other path. Let’s say for some mathematical reason, MH370 could have taken only 1 out of 2 possible paths, one of them being a straight path down the SIO, while the other one is not straight, then I would say it’s much more likely (for all practical purposes) that it took the straight line. But if – as seems to be the case – there are countless paths which satisfy both BTO and BFO data, I don’t think the straight path has a greater probability than the cumulative probability of all others paths combined. (I actually suspect it to be quite less.) Think of the following scenario (which is by no means a valid comparison on all levels but is only intended to highlight one single aspect): A person who is on the run, refuels his car at a petrol station without (or broken) video surveillance, so that he cannot be traced (corresponding to the person trying to hide MH370 by switching off the transponder). A week later, the cashier sees a picture of the fugitive in the news and calls the police, saying he believes the wanted person has been in his petrol station (corresponding to the military saying very belatedly that they have seen an unknown radar trace but are not sure it belongs to MH370). The police officer looks into the station’s book-keeping (corresponding to the Inmarsat log), where only date/time and paid amount is logged but not the method of payment. Now the officer wants to determine whether the fugitive paid cash or with credit card. Let’s assume, just for argument’s sake, that we are dealing with a very remote petrol station with only 2 customers during the entire week: one refuelled for 36,73 £ and the other one for exactly 40 £. “Ha! That must be him! He sure paid cash. I have found my fugitive.”, the police officer cheers. Now let’s assume the very same scenario with the sole distinction, that the petrol station is a highly frequented one on a busy traffic junction, where 1000 customers have refuelled during that week. Aside from the 40 £ amount, all other 999 amounts were odd. Now the police officer is uncertain. Not only because there are now 999 other customers who could have paid 40 £ in cash (which lacks any analogy to MH370 I think), but also because the likelihood of 1000 bills including at least 1 coincidentally even amount is quite high. And this is of course our analogy to MH370, where at first glance the straight-line path seems very likely, especially when given only 2 options to choose from (as in McEwen’s quote above and as in the first petrol station example). But the likelihood of this straight-line path is dramatically reduced, when it’s just one within a huge array of mathematically viable paths. It’s a bit like looking only at a frequency spectrum of a (time-domain) audio signal, seeing a recorded frequency band of 30-40 kHz and saying “ah, we have found the black box”, just because its frequency is naturally included in that band. In terms of MH370, I suspect that for pretty much any path the perpetrators may have chosen, a straight line can be determined that fits the corresponding BTO/BFO values. Not necessarily a straight line into the SIO, but a straight line somewhere. Going back to the petrol station example, there is of course also the possibility that the fugitive stopped pumping at precisely 40,00 £ but didn’t pay cash, just to outfox the investigators – which in the case of MH370 corresponds to a perpetrator who is fully aware that his chosen path has a BTO/BFO sibling leading somewhere down the Indian Ocean … or who takes just the opposite approach by choosing a straight-line deep into the SIO, calculates the BTO/BFO values to see what other flight paths (with the same BTO/BFO values) that would give him. Then he continues to modify that straight line until he reaches a point where one of the sibling paths fits his intentions, whatever they might have been. Like CosmicAcademy has said: « When I first looked at the data, I was pretty much amazed about the neat series of figures. “Oh, well”, I thought, “someone draws a line on a map and tells his employee ‘give me the BFO and BTO figures for that.’»

    (13) Why the cellphone connection story was spread by CNN & co

    ”highly unlikely, especially since that story could’ve been documented and verified by the phone company immediately. […] Some faction must’ve been lying deliberately. It is indeed troubling that CNN spread the story about an anonymous US official source supporting the claim.The big question is why.” (littlefoot, March 10, 2015 at 6:37 AM)

    In “breaking news” stories there is almost always a lot of confusion, contradiction, unconfirmed rumours, claims attributed to unknown sources, etc. That’s somehow intrinsic to this kind of situation. And it only gets worse, when news media (such as CNN) try to be the first in reporting (thus neglecting double checks, verifying sources, relying on anonymous sources or hearsay etc.) and to sensationalize events … “pilot tried to phone for help” makes for a better headline than “pilot’s phone might have connected to cellphone tower, but still unclear”. While this problematic constellation concerns all breaking news stories, the disappearance of MH370 was even more complicated to handle for TV channels, because on the one hand, there was tremendous demand for information from the TV audience (read: ratings) and thus incredible pressure on CNN to explain what happened, and on the other hand the SINGLE official source of information made only very rare public announcements, because any official investigation tries to avoid speculation and to stick to facts confirmed with 100% certainty. So news media (especially the sensational news outlets, such as CNN) tried to fill the void with information from whomever they could get: retired air force generals, aviation experts, private pilots, SAR professionals, etc. and most of the time, they were speculating, since facts were few and far between, and in the sole possession of the one official source, who would not speak. This is why rumours, guesswork, speculation, hearsay resulted in hundreds of falsehoods that cluttered the airwaves, and in 99% it was just that, sloppy reporting. My guess is that the cellphone story was one of them. But that is not to say, that there could not have been 1% of deliberate falsehoods fed intentionally to the media for whatever purpose.

    (14) The big, dark shadow looming
    over all investigation efforts sometimes seems to be forgotten: maybe we won’t ever know what exactly happened, given that the crucial part of the flight (from “good night” to FMT) is not stored in the CVR. There is a good chance, that the last 2 hours of flight deep into the SIO are silent, so who did what and why might forever remain a mystery. That would be a truly devastating outcome. Not only for all investigators, but especially for NoK.


    “@Brock, Good questions from you. I asked myself the same: If the perps used the crash of AF447 as a blueprint and were clever enough to anticipate that BFOs could be used for determinating the direction of the plane, how could they not know about Inmarsat taking and stashing the BTOs?” (littlefoot, March 5, 2015 at 7:44 AM)

    +1 from me. It would be like school kids knowing how to integrate but not to subtract. So doesn’t seem plausible.

    (16) There would not have been any political gains

    ”He HATED BN and felt it was ‘his time’.” (spencer, March 6, 2015 at 11:52 PM)

    So far the BN party has not been harmed by MH370, and if it turns out that a BN opponent[!] killed ~240 people, why would that harm BN? It would probably do the opposite, namely creating a huge backlash against the opposition.

  5. @Peter N
    Item #4 Pings –
    Those pings in the SIO may be related to pingers attached to aquatic animal research as the researcher tried to clarify he was the source.

  6. @Peter: [slow, sustained applause]

    Re: shoot-down: I chose accidental shoot-down as my one indulgence in idle speculation. I have frequently bemoaned the counter-productivity of speculation, in that it distracts us from the more important task of holding search leadership accountable for the large logical gaps any rigourous audit reveals. But you are right: of the family of scenarios requiring superpower cover-up, accidental shoot-down near IGARI may be among the least plausible; I chose it because it was among the most INNOCENT.

    Re: Fairbairn: age 50-54 as of 2014, per UK electoral roll data publicly available online. I am in possession of e-mail communications (I tried to research this on my own) from someone who knew Fairbairn, who (his/her word) “confirmed” that someone even closer to him believed he WAS involved in the MH370 investigation. (I am doing my best to present the essence of this communication, while still respecting the privacy of its provider.) Also, a touching online tribute from his church referenced his devout character, which could be construed as supporting the speculation you offered (one can imagine, for example, a scenario under which he refused to sign a document). Hopefully, a public inquiry will be launched to set the record straight.

  7. @Bobby: can (acoustic expert) Kirill show us side-by-side graphs of the events he is triangulating compared to the only event Curtin U decided was worth investigating (whose source was west of Maldives)? It would be helpful to see the relative amplitudes (and signal:noise ratios) side-by-side.

    I’m trying to understand why Curtin U didn’t even bother mentioning these arc7 location indications. This is particularly perplexing in light of Dr. Duncan’s repeated public professions of TRUST in the signal data; why wouldn’t they have been predisposed to treat such potential sound sources with particular care?

  8. @Brock; I am with something happened at about IGARI… but more of a mechanical issue/failure.

  9. “(8) The path to X-Mas Island calculated by DennisW (it’s a pity that he was threatened to be banned and left):
    … does make sense to me, insofar as
    (A) it seems to follow Indonesia’s shoreline, always keeping a relatively constant distance to it, one would think to avoid radar detection;
    (B) the final approach is from the south, possibly also to avoid radar detection”

    it also fits BFO/BTO data if you remove assumption of constant altitude and consider matching with direct south path as a pure coincidence (and not anyone’s intention/conspiracy)

    (A) exactly, and maybe he’s flown at lower altitude to burn more fuel to land on CI as light as possible (the runway there isn’t really long like on bigger airports, no place for mistake)

    (B) I think the standard approach is from the south anyway since most flights are coming from Australia

  10. @Peter

    Great stuff.

    Without delving TOO deeply into political and personal motives and Zaharies intended fallout, I’ll state simply that we hardly know the entire story.

    Malaysia has been heavily engaged in a deep, profound campaign of disinformation, misinformation and suppression. There MUST exist a reason (and a quite good one) for this.

    Please keep in mind that they knew the a/c traveling through their airspace was MH370 AND Zaharie…not ‘some aircraft’ as Hishammuddin attempted to not so cagily word it. Then the SCS search and all the rest…

    Bottom line, IMO…Z was the sole actor very much motivated by politics and rage…towards BN and H.

    When (if) the next shoe drops and this cover-up is exposed, the repercussions for Najib and Hishammuddin, UMNO and BN will be real and swift. So perhaps it’s a bit premature to think Z miscalculated so gravely. China probably won’t be very happy with their Malaysian friends, nor anyone else.

    There’s also the damage inflicted to MAS (govt)…but that’s ancillary in a strange sort of way.


  11. Peter Norton commented, “There would have been lots of MAS flights better suited than the one to Beijing”.

    Not if the PFP would be limited in their ability to gain routine access to a flight deck in the near future.


  12. Lauren H ~ Posted March 16, 2015 at 7:36 PM

    “Any concern that 1.1.1 says “with a total of 239 persons on board (227 passengers and 12 crew)” but the manifest on page 574 of 585 says “TTL PASSENGER 228?” Who is the missing passenger? The highjacker?”

    Hi Lauren ~ I always enjoy reading your posts! I was thinking the same thing so I delved into the extra (1) pax and discovered that there was a “last minute change” cancellation by a woman:

    (228) – (1) = (227) = (225) seats filled + (2) toddler boys + (12) crew = (239).

    The details and links are on my Twitter timeline beginning March 9th and resolved by March 10th.

    Quick Side Note:

    I’d like to remind everyone the Tech Crew was comprised of (2) individuals. I think it’s critical that we consider ALL the known facts and avoid any prejudicial assumptions. I truly hope that neither of the pilots or any of the Cabin Crew had anything to do with the disappearance of 9M-MRO.


  13. @Gysbreght: I cannot my find source of the 6-knot change in ground speed with a 100-knot wind in ECON mode. It very well may be that the reference said there was a 6-knot change in air speed, which would agree more closely with the numbers you presented. Thank you for pointing this out.

    The northern paths that I presented were calculated for constant Mach number. No assumption about the performance of ECON mode was made.

  14. @Peter Norton

    “Was the General installed at Inmarsat for the US military to have a tight grip on the command and surveillance of the satellite data manipulation and to avoid any leaks (which would obviously immensely damaging to all involved) ?”

    I think there’s no need for a huge conspiracy there. It would probably only take one knowledgeable person in the right position to quietly insert additional data into the database at the right time. Depending on the original source of those data, minor adjustments (AES & satellite ID, timestamps, ..) might even have been sufficient.

  15. How the BFO May Have Been Spoofed

    Notice: The views opinions expressed in this post are solely mine and do not express the views of the IG or any other group.

    I explained previously that if the navigational data to the SDU of the SATCOM was intercepted and replaced to accomplish the BFO spoof, only the speed data (and not the position data) would need to be altered. This would allow the steerable antenna to still operate. However there are problems with this theory, including:
    1. The sensitivity of the BFO to speed is low at 19:41, requiring that the actual speed of the aircraft be replaced with one unrealistically high. This is because the plane was flying tangentially to the ping arc at this time and the satellite was at its point of peak declination.
    2. The complexity in designing the hardware, getting it on the plane, and installing it in-flight seems high.

    I have spent a lot of time thinking about simpler ways the plane might have flown north while leaving behind the BFO signature of a plane that traveled south. In particular, I explored whether there might be a parameter change that would accomplish this task.

    I discovered that if the AES estimated the position and velocity of the satellite using a model that included inclination, i.e., the orbit was circular but near-geostationary rather than geostationary, then by suitable choice of the inclination and ascension node time, a northern path would indeed look like a southern path. For instance, I find that for the path to Almaty Airport, if the inclination parameter was set to 3.4 deg and the ascension node set to 14:13 UTC, the rms BFO error is about 3 Hz, which is acceptable. This change in parameters would have to occur between 18:28 and 18:40 UTC, when we have previously assumed the plane turned south.

    This theory is predicated on two assumptions:
    1. The model for the satellite in the AES does include the effect of inclination, even though Inmarsat previously reported that the model assumed the satellite was geostationary, i.e., assumed it had no inclination.
    2. There is a way to change the inclination and ascension node parameters.

    I can report that, through private conversations with a knowledgeable individual, Honeywell’s MCS-6000 SATCOM does indeed include the effect of inclination in its model, so assumption (1) is satisfied. However, the SATCOM uses the value of inclination that is broadcast by the GES in Perth as part of the “System Table”. I have learned that the inclination that was broadcast was indeed zero during the entire flight.

    I have not discovered a way for the inclination parameter to be altered after it is broadcast as part of the System Table, i.e., to satisfy assumption (2). For instance, I don’t see a way to change this parameter via the SATCOM menus in the CDU in the cockpit. Perhaps there is a maintenance mode where this is allowed but not described in the documentation I have found to date. Because I have not found a way to change this parameter, I have not earlier reported these results.

    If there was a way to alter this inclination parameter, it would be a fairly simple way to spoof the BFO.

  16. @el_gato&all

    if this is done by people so powerful to corrupt a big company like Inmarsat and do it in a stealth way then we have much bigger problem than a missing plane

  17. @Victor !
    Great work on looking into the spoofing potential. Could the inclination parameter been centrally broadcasted by the Inmarsat infrastructure? Would be interesting if a number of aircraft received this broadcast that night and how they recovered to stay onward to their proper destination.

  18. Peter Norton – BTO’s – I have tried to float this before now. BTO’s became an almost biblical cornerstone of the location science and all discussion that followed. The way I see it – trying to think like a criminal – it was a known since AF447, and therefore the game had changed. To me it’s a far more logical way to create a false track. Had the BTO’s clearly revealed that the plane flew west in zombie mode for instance, right under the satellite, it’s likely that BFO’s would never have been looked at in a comparative way? If you had the time and resources to plan such a thing you would do both. The beauty of experimentation is it removes the theoretical, where we are stuck most of the time. Look at all the best guessing our best minds have to engage in right here on this blog?

  19. Spoofing – And there is always a shortcut. Bob Santamarta found his way into satcom units by bombing the inflight entertainment systems with text messages. Until you experiment you don’t really know anything.

  20. @Victor

    Re your 3.4 deg, I got something very close (for the 18:40 handshake) using Yap’ s Calculator.
    I found that I needed different values for each handshake (19:41 ….). What about you ?

    The simplest method would be to switch the output of the Honeywell device to manual mode.
    Using Yap’s Calculator it is simple to fake any path you want. Then change the Honeywell output manually.
    I am not sure if Mike Exner described this method a few months ago.

    Anyhow – I am not sure that the hijackers wanted/needed to fake the BFOs and certainly not to the SIO (It does not make any sense).

    Also, if the GES was actually sending the actual satellite position/data with each handshake, then the compensator
    could potentially provide ‘perfect’ compensation (BFOs constant). In this case – you would be unable to detect the south turn.
    Even if the GES sent these actual satellite positions with the handshake – would there be enough time for the Honeywell system
    to complete the change for the compensator and for the transmit frequency ? We may be a handshake behind.

    Actually, this is not a question of whether MH370 turned North or South at ~ 18:40, but whether MH370 continued in it’s current direction
    at ~ 18:40 or turned abruptly turned South (120 – 140 deg).

    I am not sure what triggered the Malaysian investigation to consider the South Turn.
    I recall at the time that Inmarsat was not sure of their algorithm.
    Also, the US had a ‘look’ and said that the MH370 made the south turn even before Inmarsat had finished their analysis.
    Somebody wanted it in the SIO – but forgot about the debris issue.

    It seems to me that for one or more reasons (not involving any faked BFOs) the BFOs were 30 – 40 hz less than they should have been.
    Hence the declaration of the “south-only route”.

    So until we can verify what the compensator was doing and that the BFOs were measured accurately – the north route is still possible.

    Good luck in your work !

  21. @VictorI,

    Great find regarding the BFO spoof possibility via (undocumented?) system functionality.

    One take away from that must be the propensity of discrepancies between Specifications of systems vs. their actual implementations.

    I can speak from personal experience as a (non-aeronautical) software developer, that our delivered systems provided capabilities that exceeded the original specifications, as possibilities were discovered during the design and implementation stages. More often than not, such capabilities did not find their way back into the Specification documentation.

    Anyhow, what this leads me to think, is that there may be possibly easier and subtler way to spoof BFO. Quite some time ago, we had discussions on DS of the different parameter inputs to the SDU. From memory these comprised altitude, but the spec said explicitly that altitude is not required for BFO compensation.

    But here goes: what if the developers thought during implementation, “this is silly, we have an altitude feed, BFO is highly sensitive to ROC, why don’t we derive the ROC from a dAlt/dT and have a much more accurate system”? If such a functionality existed in their system, one could spoof the BFO by manipulating the ALT input, rather than changing parameters on the fly.

    Maybe, its worth asking your Hoenywell contact, whether their system does such a thing.


  22. @VictorI,

    It just occurred to me, that if the ALT => ROC derivation is done, then all the BTO/BFO path modelling would be in error, as they assume the effect of ROC to be present in the BFO and not compensated out.

    I guess, the “ground truth” calibration would have found whether or not such a compensation component is present. Or is it possible that for example the fixed bias could be the result of a misinterpretation of an actually non-present ROC component?


  23. The ADS-B data provided “ground truth” validation of the BFO and BTO models and bias terms in flight, including the climb to 35,000 feet.


  24. @alsm,

    Thanks for that clarification! It sort of occurred to me just after pressing “enter” on the first post.

    That would then only leave a somewhat remote possibility of keeping this avenue for spoof alive, i.e. if the ROC comp is implemented but inactive by default.
    The remoteness of this avenue is then that there would have to be some way of activating it during the flight plus the manipulation of altitude data.

    In that sense, this becomes now less likely than the method stated by Victor.


  25. @Brock,

    Kirill is on Twitter at @kprostyakov.

    I think you have Kirill’s latest 18 station plot. Five stations have high SNRs.

    I have not seen a “Curtin University” plot of the earthquake signal recorded at 01:30 UTC. I have seen the media reports, but I have not seen any data or any report. Does anyone have a link to either of these?

    My suspicion is that perhaps they did not look at the appropriate time for a 40S impact because they were expecting the event to occur much farther north. The one event they pursued may have been the only one that occurred in the time interval they searched.

    I share Dr. Duncan’s general trust in the acoustic and seismic data. A few stations are noisy because they are poorly located and pick up waves breaking in the surf zone, but most are fairly quiet.

    Here are some relevant notes:

    1. Signals, potentially from 9M-MRO, are being found in many existing data records.
    2. The signals have noise characteristics similar to expectations.
    3. For instance, at 15,000 fpm descent rate (from the last BFO), the vertical speed was -76 m/s. Since the approximate size of a B77 is about 60 m, one would expect that a fairly steep crash into the sea would have a duration of ~ 1 second or less. For a controlled ditching the duration could be several to 10 seconds, but who would descend at 15,000 fpm if attempting a controlled ditching?
    4. The 18-station signals have approximate durations of 2/3 – 1 second.
    5. The noise frequency content would be very roughly the speed of sound in seawater divided by the aircraft dimension = 1470/60 = 24 Hz. Kirill thinks maybe 10 Hz is a better guess.
    6. The best frequency band for optimizing these signals appears to be 10-20 Hz. Some stations are band limited to lower frequencies.
    7. Because the seismometers are 3-axis sensors, one has to combine the 3 signals in an optimum way for a rough assumed bearing before making any judgment except in a few high-SNR cases.
    8. I am working on a method for searching long time records for potential events. I would suppose the “experts” have similar software, but I have not seen this described as a tool so far.
    9. The uncertainty in a crash site location determined from multi-station records depends on the uncertainty in the sound propagation speed in water. This can be different to individual stations.
    10. One way to significantly reduce the size of the error box is to conduct a controlled experiment. Set off a depth charge at the predicted location and at a precise time. Then analyze the records from many stations. You will find out very quickly how the sound speed varies with direction, and you can use the measured sound speeds from the depth charge event to calibrate the MH370 events. That should reduce the error bars on each path from say 10 seconds (=15 km) to ~2 seconds (3 km). Of course, there will be some variability of sound speed with time and season, but a lot of the systematic location errors can be removed. In the end, such an experiment would demonstrate that an impact event could be detected (and by which stations), and the localization accuracy would be significantly improved. I believe this type of acoustic/seismic analysis offers the promise of superior localization accuracy compared to all other methods invoked to date (including SDU data).

  26. Bobby – I suggested a controlled detonation in the search zone a couple of months back for the same purpose. It might be revealing but there are some politics about. At the moment my impression would be that they do not want to introduce doubt over the data. Could yet happen though.

  27. @Victor,
    Thanks a lot for putting this out for evaluation. That is gutsy.
    @Peter Norton,
    You took the time for a long essay that touched many points of importance. And it shows that you also took the time to read a lot of our earlier comments and evaluated them. Thank you.
    Quite a day… although it’s 02:30 in the morning here I will go and walk my dog in order to digest all this.
    Just a few weeks ago most thought spoofing the satellite data is pure science fiction. Now we have possibly three different methods of spoofing the BFOs. Wow…

  28. Nobody spoofed the BFO. I can understand how enticing it may be to play around with this idea–attempting to assume the role of a perpetrator and get in his/her mind..And I can understand how exhilarating it may be to delve into the extraordinarily technical aspect of this mystery and unravel new information about the possibility of tricking the world through elaborate misdirection. However, there are a few very important things here at play which I must mention.

    With an unprecedented mystery such as this, one can clearly see how easy it is to get lost in fantastical theories. I get the sense that there is somewhat of a romantic connection that some have to the spoofing theory. It’s so romanticized that I get the distinct feeling that some almost wish this is what happened. There is certainly something tantalizing and attractive about the diabolical genius that would be necessary in order to concoct such a plot. Unfortunately, this is why humans are so fascinated by the realm of the devious and the mysterious–UFOs and James Bond movies. People are fascinated and intrigued, so much so that they want to believe. Confounding this is the fact that there is classic “groupthink” at play here. Groupthink is a term used by social psychologists to describe the phenomenon when a group values harmony and coherence over accurate analysis and critical evaluation. It causes individual members of the group to unquestioningly follow the word of the leader and it strongly discourages any disagreement with the concensus.

    The fact of the matter is, spoofing the BFO is a fantastical theory. For those of you who continue to discuss this theory, each new piece of information added to the discussion effectively narrows the focus of the theory more and more. As this theory is continually fleshed out with more detail, the overall, big-picture is lost–It seems to be that some here are losing rational perspective. There are 2, maybe 3 inherent and unavoidable problems with the spoofing theory which more or less make the theory not consistent with any reality in which I am aware of:

    1) Take a step back and think about the big picture, from the perspective of a “complex hijacker.” Consider for a moment all of the risks and assumptions that would have needed to be made in order to accurately predict that BTO/BFO would be the only means authorities would have to track this plane. Consider the sheer amount of minor occurrences that potentially could have completely spoiled the need to spoof the BFO. Consider the guts it would take to assume that fighters would not be scrambled. Assume the confidence it would take to assume that ATC would not be more alert. Consider the balls it would take to assume that JORN would not be on, that certain radars would be off, that satellites weren’t tracking them, and the list goes on and on.

    2) Think about how unknown, in the grand scheme of things, Inmarsat was. Ask yourselves how ludicrous it would be to base an entire plot on something so unknown.

    3) Ask yourselves, rationally and logically, what spoofing the BFO really would accomplish. Keeping in mind the above 2 points, what goal could the spoof possibly achieve? I have yet to hear any goal that sounds reasonable.

    So why do I even care? Why do I bother writing this. The reason is two-fold. First, I do believe that a number of you are falling into the trap of your emotions getting the better of your rationality. I feel as though some of you have not taken a step back in a while, from the perspective of the overall big picture, and this is in effect clouding your judgement. Quite possibly, the amount of time and effort being put into the spoof theory could be better put to use dealing with reality. And that brings me to my second point. I believe that the IG is a very very highly respected group, and are undoubtedly considered experts on the case of MH370. I also believe that these forums are considered by many to be the words of the IG. Especially in light of Jeff’s recent media exposure, lots and lots of people visit these forums to get information, including family members. I STRONGLY believe that the extensive discussion about spoofing BFO is harmful to the IG’s image and overall respectability. A lot of people who come here to read these forums take your words as gospel, and I think it’s a bit damaging to have the spoofing theory now almost synonymous with the IG. Many people now no longer think the plane is in the SIO, but instead favor the theory that some sort of complex, dark, devious, mysterious hijack took place. Based on the known facts, I think that is a damn shame.

    @ Jeff Wise–This in no way was meant to be confrontational. I highly respect and am in awe of your knowledge, imagination, and writing ability.

  29. @Jay

    Much needed wisdom, IMHO.

    Maybe, just maybe, Jeff would be willing to begin a topic on H and Z. Whether sexy or otherwise, the truth lies there within…Malaysia knows virtually every last detail about the goings on that morning, all of which had nothing to do with Russia, spoofing, America, Inmarsat and all the rest.

    How those interested in the truth allowed for themselves to arrive at where we presently are is truly mystifying…but what do I know? Just blue in the face.

  30. @Jay, Spencer,

    Don’t agree a bit.

    “Gedankenexperiments” are often the key to new discoveries. Questioning the current state of wisdom every so often is the key for progressing the state of wisdom. That’s how science works.

    The spoofing discussions are essential to arrive at an informed conclusion that spoofing is or is not possible.

    You seem to have arrived at the “is not possible” conclusion already. I haven’t yet, and apparently a lot of other people have neither.

    I think it is a discussion that we have to have.


  31. Jay – spoofing has been one of the things on the table here since the middle of last year. it’s a rejuvenated topic because there is no plane yet, but if discounting it has been done via your own rule of thumbery then there was no need for such a long post. In rebuttal though:

    This isn’t an IG forum and has never been projected as such to my knowledge.

    Malaysia has never scrambled jets – ever.

    Jorn is not primed for runaway 777’s, and if it didn’t go south it’s irrelevant. Jorn is more likely to have seen in the Malacca Strait than off the west coast.

    Signal data is the “only means” to track the thing because they switched everyhing off.

    Inmarsat was an unknown in the loungerooms, anything but in the industry. Their role in AF447 is widely known.

    “Groupthink” needs no explanation here. Many of the people delving into it do so almost uncomfortably.

    Lost in fantastical theories? Or lost in a spreadsheet.

    Any electronic trace left behind was always going to get the full intl forensic treatment. This would have been fully anticipated.

    Spoofing would create a false track which would be handy if you were taking a plane for a reason other than crashing it.

    Noone thought we would still be here a year later with nothing, and noone complained about the search parameters when they were set.

    I think much is made of the difficulty factor with spoofing but if it’s doable then I’ll reiterate – there will be agencies out there who could do it sipping a Martini.

    Did it happen, I don’t know. The more they say the data is “excellent” the more likely a spoof becomes ironically.

  32. @MuOne

    Quite sure that Inmarsat has by now explored this possibility in a depth and detail that far exceeds what has been accomplished by our tweakers and scientists.

    I personally trust that they remain confident in the integrity of the data.

    The ‘esteemed’ Gerry Soejatman himself has vouched for Inmarsat BFO values being ‘spoofed’ during integrity testing over 2 years ago (I personally believe his story is just a conveniently contrived fiction, but whatever).

    If you guys (and gals) seriously believe Inmarsat is complicit, well, that’s a whole different matter..and even more preposterous than are present spoof obsession.

  33. Spencer – “Quite sure that Inmarsat has by now explored this possibility in a depth and detail that far exceeds what has been accomplished by our tweakers and scientists.”

    I doubt it, and they wouldn’t guarantee the data either. They don’t even guarantee the analysis. On the balance of probability they looked at it and decided that it’s well out on the periphery.

    As MuOne seemed to allude to, it’s only when you seriously start playing around with these equipments you see what can be done. I doubt anyone has done that since MH370 went missing – in the civilian realm.

    You have closed the book on Shah and have tied the noose, so we know what to expect, but most people’s minds are still open.

  34. @Matty

    Unlike some here who ‘hope’ for this or that, my mind remains open to wherever it is lead. And at every twist and turn it is led back to Zaharie.

    There has not been one shred of evidence produced in over 12 months now that I have found compelling enough to potentially exonerate him. Nothing. Not the slightest hint (other than fantasy) that some ‘group’ or ‘agency’ or govt. stole the a/c for some truly incomprehensible and still to be determined purpose. LOL.

    Whereas just about everything points to Zaharie…you just seem not to like the unpleasantness of this reality, but that’s your concern, not mine.

    Cheers mate


  35. Spencer – you could say the same about spoofing. It’s so unpalatable some won’t look at it, but if it turns out to be a manageable scenario it puts a new complexion on everything.

    And if Shah is cleared at some point……

    Looks like we just lost a week of searching through weather.

  36. @Matty, some great comments!
    @Jay, I liked your long essay about groups getting carried away with an idea. There is some truth in it. Unfortunately you then have not a single solid argument against a spoofing scenario besides your gut feeling that there exist no perps who would risk such a thing. That’s not good enough. Let’ s first find out if and how it can be done. Let’ s evaluate the technical merit of Victor’s idea. If spoofing is not possible, we can drop the idea. But unfortunately it looks more likely every day that it can be done one way or another. That’s why we have now to evaluate we which group of perps might be willing and capable to do such a thing. Yes, it was a risky thing to do, but the possibility of electronically misleading pursuers and investigators it becomes actually less less risky.
    This discussion should’ve taken place a year ago. You could as well blame group thinking that nobody touched it back then.
    @Spencer, could you please stop with your insinuations against Gerry Soejatman? The guy had – like Victor now – the guts to present a technical idea. And we should give both of them the curtesy to evaluate the merit of those ideas.

  37. @Nihonmama,
    This disclaimer of Inmarsat is very telling. Basically they said: “We only analyse if the data point north or south and narrow down the search area. But we are not in the business of doing a criminal investigation.” They are right and wrong about that, IMO. While they are not in the business of catching perps they should’ve taken a harder and mote critical look at their hardware and software, which produced the pings.

  38. Onya Jay, someone had to say it.

    The Inmarsat data says unambiguously that the plane is in the SIO, near the 7th arc.

    It’s a huge search area, so let’s wait till it’s exhaustively searched before we start making up absurd theories about terrorists with more knowledge of satellite communication than even Inmarsat had at the time.

    Just a thought from a level-headed scientist.

  39. @Littlefoot:

    “This discussion should’ve taken place a year ago.”

    It did take place. On Pprune, Duncan Steel (well, a few of us attempted), Reddit, Twitter, on this board (later), and elsewhere. Rough going for those who had the temerity to raise the issue. Some even saw their posts on the subject of a spoof deleted. Repeatedly, in fact.

    “Clearly topics that PPrune doesn’t want people to discuss. Like possibility that someone spoofed (fooled) Inmarsat’s satellite #MH370”

  40. “This disclaimer of Inmarsat is very telling.”
    It tells whatever you want to hear.

  41. >While they [Inmarsat] are not in the business of catching perps they should’ve taken a harder and more critical look at their hardware and software, which produced the pings.

    Inmarsat validated their hardware/software and their interpretation algorithms on the Amsterdam flight data reported in their paper. Any possible mis-performance of the Honeywell terminal on 9M-MRO on this particular flight is a matter for Honeywell and the Investigation, not Inmarsat.

  42. @Sunny Coaster, Indeed, we all agree that the Inmarsat data unambiguously says that the plane went into the SIO. That’s why we’re examining a spoof scenario–it seems to be the only way out.
    The search area will never be exhaustively searched, so in effect you’re suggesting we never look at alternative scenarios.
    If the ATSB/IG analysis is the best that we can hope for, and the plane doesn’t turn up on the seabed by May, then the mystery will remain unsolvable. The question I would put to you as well as @Jay is: if you consider it frivolous to examine a spoof alternative, what would you consider a more profitable line of inquiry?

  43. I know nothing of technicalities, but I just recently had an interesting thought regarding MH370. Why blame Russia? Highlighting the presence of a couple of burly Russians on board seems like a B grade spook novel. And what motive would Russia have to steal an aircraft? Perhaps to use in some future, apparent, suicidal terrorism attack? And why would Russia go to so much trouble to steal an aircraft in pitch darkness and then a few months later shoot another one, ironically, of the same livery and exact same model, out of the sky in broad daylight? Smells like a setup to me.

    I wonder if Russia was fed false intelligence from one of its allies regarding MH17 to the effect that it was in fact MH370, branded with a new ‘S’ transponder code and laden with explosives on its way to crash into a Russian target, 911 style. Just in case the Russians dispatch fighter jets to examine MH17 they are told that the deceased passengers from MH370 are strapped into their seats and made up to appear alive; this ruse would have inhibited a shoot down till the last possible moment. The Russians dispatch the appropriate missile system, with technicians, into Ukraine and shoot down MH17. They soon realise that they have been duped and MH17 is actually MH17 and they have just killed 298 innocent people. They hastily bring the missile launcher back home and destroy it.

    Russia cannot admit to their failure because that would be tacit acknowledgment that they knew something about MH370 all along, but didn’t tell. Russia is now a tool of whoever stole MH370. My guess is that these planners are globalists; no ethnic, religious or national boundaries exist in their mind, hence the pointlessness of introducing ‘good nation vs. bad nation’ delusions; that nonsense died with 007.

    But what of the real MH370? My guess is that it will be used to finish off 911, which was an obvious failure. The planners weren’t happy about that. Those pesky US military messed with the plan and shot an unarmed missile into the number one engine of United 93, which upset the hijackers and caused them, in part, to ditch the aircraft. Luckily for us the low pressure spool, less the low pressure turbine, fell out and landed 600 yards away from the crash site. The flight data reveals these simple observations; erratic N1 and N2 engine revs and erratic throttle resolver angles, both at 10:00:25 EDT. And the curious drop in left engine oil pressure, recorded at 10:02:00 EDT; and its miraculous recovery, recorded 64 seconds later! And those stupid jihadists thought that switching off the ECS packs would stop the smoke from the air bleed getting into the cockpit; how dumb can ya get!

    But don’t worry; I’m sure there’s something in the constitution about hiding engine fans… isn’t there? Anyway, when it turns up you’ll see the fan, basically intact, the low pressure turbine blades, bent over, and the low pressure shaft, sheared, just forward of the spline that provides the fitment of the low pressure turbine. The turbine was jammed by the unarmed missile and went down with the ship.

    I am sure that we will see MH370 again, as it erupts into a fireball of explosive justification for a new war…

    Happy hunting:-)

  44. @Richard Cole,
    You’re right, if someone tampered with the hardware it was not Inmarsat’s hardware. But Inmarsat’s spokesmen repeatedly denied the possibility of a spoof, thus influencing the public opinion about such a scenario. Maybe they should’ve just stuck to their disclaimer that the data undeniably point to a southern route of the plane. I’m not implying any nefarious tendencies. It’s more like an expert witness overreaching in a courtroom.

  45. The Inmarsat data says unambiguously that…..

    What would be unambiguous is one lousy piece of plane.

    You could also say that the reboot coincides with an unambiguous change of course for MH370? I’ve always wondered how “level headed” scientists could be so comfortable with that.

    Criminal exploitation of Inmarsat’s own systems is not something I expect they would have spent much time on. That’s the problem with criminals – they seem to have a lot of time.

    A level headed question but:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.