MH370: Anatomy of the SIO Search

Here’s a video that niftily recapitulates 15 months of search activity into two minutes. It was produced by commenter @orion, aka Dustin Thomas.

19 thoughts on “MH370: Anatomy of the SIO Search”

  1. @Orion & Jeff

    THAT has been the most enlightening post on the search effort, & flight paths yet. Should have named it MH-370 for Dummies….like me. Had NO IDEA that during the last ACARS transmission that she still had 43800 Kg of fuel on board.

  2. @Orion: really great tool. Can I use it in future presentations/publications (with attribution, of course)?

    Re: [39.72s, 86.00e]: it’s understandable you’d plot this (to my eye) directly on arc7, since the other 3 coords I provided WERE right on it, but that bathy limit is actually quite a few nmi SOUTH of it. However, this is a quibble, as any correction for precision would move it south only a small handful of pixels.

    While on the topic of precision: the same birdie who gave me [39.72s, 86.00e] just gave me the latest as of June 10: [39.97s, 86.1e]. I haven’t yet reimputed drift distance, but expect it to go up yet FURTHER beyond the range of physical possibility (unless they’ve changed their performance limit without disclosing why, or by how much).

  3. I’ve re-imputed the required glide:

    If the ATSB’s Oct.8 fuel limit (the most important calc they had (8 months…) to complete) is to be respected, then they are now bathy surveying…

    [21nmi south, inside arc7] +
    [133nmi southwest, outside arc7] =
    154nmi of assumed glide. (Or more, if the right turn was gradual.)

    This proves they are now assuming MH370 disrespected either their own published fuel limits or the laws of physics.

  4. @Orion – Great job on your slides! These might be one of the few places to see all of the activity on one map.
    It seems there were many sightings of debris around 45S 90E in the 10 days to two weeks after the crash. Is this the same debris that the search ships were unable to locate? To me, it looks reasonable for the MH370 debris to have drifted there from 84E to 90E along the 7th arc in that time period. (I think the drift speed works out to about 1 – 4 knots.)

  5. Thank you Orion. This is brilliant work.Bookmarked! In your next iteration for YouTube is it possible to increase the duration by 1 second of portions whenever a large amount of text appears? You can also correct the spelling of one of the vessels – Fugro.

    Which brings me to a sad data point to be added – this Friday will see the last of Go Phoenix in this search as per this report:

  6. Orion, with the all the recent speculation reciting that no MH370 debris has been located, it’s nice to see it recalled in your slides that quite a bit of debris, rationally suspected of being from MH370, was photographed by satellites a few weeks after the disappearance.

    We may never know the source of that debris because no one bothered to retrieve it, but I wonder if the same satellite search over the same area had been conducted every 8 days for the past year, we’d ever see debris as large and as numerous as what was found between March 16 and March 24.

  7. Bruce – those rubbish patches were investigated but nothing really turned up. They may have been refuse tossed over from shipping that sunk or dispersed. The sub trackers using delicate surface scanning radar hit those areas for no return.

  8. IT’S NOW BEEN 10 DAYS since Jeff posted this video. Apologies for the delayed commentary, but I wanted to highlight just how long 10 days really is.

    That’s how long it took for the first SAR aircraft to arrive in the vicinity of the current search area- giving quite a large head start for any debris to sink and disperse.

  9. @Amit Thanks for correcting me on Fugro. Until reading your comment, I had always misread (and pronounced) it the other way!

    As soon as I get a chance for an update, I’ll be sure to edit the name and slow it down a tad. I’ve also received a request for a weather overlay which I have been tinkering with.

  10. @Chris Butler. Thanks for the comment! I was initially just curious to see how all of the SAR areas related over time, but the research has led me to noodle more about other aspects such as debris drift and fuel consumption.

  11. @Lauren H. @Bruce Lamon. Thanks- I’m glad the slides are helpful. I’m not a drift expert, but regarding the debris comments- here’s a quick study showing an example drift radius from the approximate center of the current priority search area:

    To ‘cover all the bases,’ I simply used a radius (unrealistically) expanding in all directions over time. Even with this generic example, it’s quite easy to see how an initial debris field in the vicinity may have been overlooked.

  12. @Brock. Feel free to use the video- but there’s no need to credit me. The photos and text were pulled from the public realm, but I can help provide sources if you need them.

    I had intended to show your points more precisely, but as you mention, I was toiling over a few pixels at the scale of the diagram. The points might be better illustrated on the lower half of birdie’s map.

    I think I read somewhere that the expanded search area includes 100nm at each end to account for glide scenarios- but I might be mistaken as I can’t seem to find that statistic again. If accurate- maybe that’s the reason they are pushing well past June’s southern fuel limit?

    Also, regarding the spread of debris, I overlaid the current priority search area on top of an Animated GIF from the NYT showing weather conditions at the time:

    Winds are shown in Blue on the Left, and Waves are shown in Green on the right. Both the center gyre and sweeping SE current are clearly seen around the priority area. To me, it looks like the most probable debris locations would be still circulating in the gyre, strewn across the beaches of Southern Australia, or circumnavigating the globe in the currents of the Southern Ocean.

  13. @Nihonmama. +100. Thanks for quoting that Bradshaw article. I think it is one of the more telling articles, because it contains several very interesting passages describing early shifts in search area of several hundred kilometers.

    One of the first things to point out is the date of the article: June 23, 2014.

    It would seem that Bradshaw was reporting on the upcoming “Definition of Underwater Search Areas”, which was published 3 days later on June 26, 2014.

    This June 26 report provides a framework for the shifting areas as shown in the Timeline video above. Here are excerpts from the report regarding fuel consumption estimates between 17:07 and FMT, compared to the search areas in the video:

    On 27 March (D20), the JIT advised they now had more confidence in the increased speeds
    provided by primary radar near Malaysia. This increased the aircraft fuel burn and the most
    probable track moved north to the S3 area.

    [SAR moves from blue to purple area on 3/28]

    On 1 April (D25) the JIT advised AMSA/ ATSB of further aircraft performance and path analysis
    starting at a distance further NW of Sumatra that had the effect of shifting the most probable area
    NE within S4 and into S5. Probable impact areas red, yellow and green were defined within S4/S5.

    [On 4/3, SAR moves from purple to brown area, then specifically into the Red, Yellow, Green areas- which were then searched for acoustic underwater pings.]

    “At 1707, the last ACARS transmission from the
    aircraft provided the total weight of the fuel remaining on board. Between that time and 1822,
    while the aircraft was being tracked by primary radar, the aircraft’s speed and consequently fuel
    burn could be estimated.”

    [The result of the June 26 report determines the initial Orange and Blue priority search areas. Bathy shifted from the Red, Yellow, and Green areas down the arc to this new area, in preparation for Sonar mapping – which subsequently never happened in that area]

    Did you get that?
    That’s all the mention there is of the revised high/fast mantra from 1707!

    “the aircraft’s speed and consequently fuel burn could be estimated.”

    Yet Bradshaw gives much more information regarding this new ‘fuel burn estimate’ :

    “The altitude readings from the radar now appear to have been inaccurate, officials said.”

    “Mr. Houston said in a telephone interview that it was clearly possible that at some point during the tracked part of the flight, the plane flew at 23,000 feet. But he said he doubted whether anyone could prove that the plane had soared and swooped the way the initial reports suggested.”

    “If the plane did not soar and swoop, but maintained a steadier altitude, its fuel would have lasted longer, letting it fly farther south across the Indian Ocean before its tanks ran dry. So the dismissal of the radar altitude data prompted a change in the focus of the search.”

    “Now the search will move hundreds of miles southwest along the arc, consistent with an aircraft flying steadily at a high cruising speed”

    Why wasn’t any of this fuel burn ‘back-peddling’ elaborated on in the June 26 report?

    To me, the radar in the Factual Information hints to at least some ‘swooping’ and ‘soaring’ – which would burn more fuel and move the priority area a little more NE up the arc. The big question for me now is how much?

    Is there a general consensus about how much fuel was remaining at 18:25?

  14. @Orion – The factual Information said 41,500 kg at 17:21. Gysbreght and I separately calculated an aircraft GW of 210 metric tons at 18:22 (time of last radar). That would leave 35,600 kg fuel remaining at 18:22. Depending on speed and altitude, it would have burned 300-375 kg over the next 3 minutes.

  15. Re: Factual Information (FI)-implied speed/altitude during MH370’s primary radar-tracked leg:

    I’d thought Jeff’s “What we know now” article positioned Dr. Ulich’s analysis as pretty definitively stipulating cruising speed (& thus altitude) throughout.

    So when the “Factual Information” package was pored over, and thought to include significant (in some cases implausible) changes in speed &/or altitude, I’d assumed this was a misread of the report &/or an artefact of imperfect measurement (e.g. measurements taken so close together that small rounding errors introduce large errors in imputed speeds). Accordingly, I hadn’t even bothered to study it all that hard.

    However, the rumblings seem not to have gone away, and implications for fuel limits (not to mention cause/motive discussions) are being considered.

    My question to the experts: did ANYTHING in the FI invalidate Bobby’s imputed speeds (& altitudes)?

    I’m not “going anywhere” with this; just trying to understand what, if anything, the FI changed.

    Thanks in advance.

  16. Just some book estimates for fuel

    (Aircraft weight and temperature deviation included in calculations)

    43,800 kg at 1706:43 (ACARS report)

    42,250 kg at 1720:31 IGARI / Mach 0.82 / 35000 feet

    38,520 kg at 1752:35 South of Penang / Mach 0.85 / 31000 feet

    34,730 kg at 1825:20 NILAM / climb from Penang / Mach 0.84 / 40000 feet

    0 kg around 0017:00 Mach 0.84 / 40000 feet

    If aircraft flies over Banda Aceh in Alternate Navigation mode, aircraft would end its flight in SIO around 7th arc near 86 degrees East Longitude.


  17. Isn’t it time for the ATSB (and the IG) to admit that they have got it wrong?

    How many of the proposed ‘endpoints’ have been excluded by the current search, and how many feasible possibilities remain?

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