Where Do We Think MH370 Went?

MH370 poll
Survey conducted by @Jay (Joel Kaye) via the comments section of “Guest Post: Northern Routes and Burst Frequency Offset for MH370.”


635 thoughts on “Where Do We Think MH370 Went?”

  1. @Spencer

    Like any ongoing investigation, information which might compromise or is believed might compromise the investigation is withheld. That might be the case here relative to the call. I really have no idea.

  2. @Victor

    We just simply don’t see things similarly, which is unfortunate as you could have really assisted the families, imho.

    That said, how do you explain the a/c dropping off PSR (Kota Bahru specifically) 4 times, each time being reacquired several minutes later. Surely an a/c at ‘cruise’ being ACTIVELY tracked (as Mr. Hishammuddin stated) would not be so difficult to track.

    Or is my understanding of PSR not knowledgable as well…this is quite possible.

  3. @Brock McEwen: “Nefarity” should be a word, and I would use it, but you have claimed it with your TM. Too bad.

  4. And why curiously is there NO altitude data included in the official accident report post 17:39, but there are multiple PSR paints.

    Were NONE of them sufficient to calibrate altitude?

  5. a) switch impotency & potency – whoops (there go my chances for that job at the fertility clinic)

    b) almost forgot: Nihonmama surely doesn’t NEED anyone to defend her, but surely DESERVES it. Jeff, with respect: I feel your use of the phrase “more often than not” distorts the quantity – and “misinformation” distorts the quality – of the work of one of our group’s most diligent and fearless researchers. Sure, crowdsourcing is inefficient and frustrating at times – but haven’t we all been guilty of “uncritically spreading misinformation” at some point – including both you (FDR battery) and me (Maldives time zone)? I don’t accuse anyone in this forum of any crime more serious than being hopelessly in love with their pet theory. And on that charge, nearly ALL of us are guilty.

  6. Victor,

    Would an airplane be considered to be ‘cruising’ while deviating several thousand feet in altitude over the course of 10 minutes?

    Since the PSR altitude data was later deemed inaccurate, how were those four data points determined to be credible enough to make it into the FI?

    IMHO, a significant portion of the scant radar data in the FI clearly indicates at least a brief descent at Kota Bahru- with at least three corroborating eyewitness reports.

    Does the apparent fast overall ground speed preclude any and all possibilities of other altitude changes during the portion of the flight which we all might agree was piloted manually?

    I am not trying to play the Devil’s advocate- as you can see by my other posts, I am genuinely interested in vetting what affect, if any, would altitude changes (and associated fuel burn) have on the current search area.

    Thank you for remaining open-minded and continuing to pursue other facets of the narrative.

  7. Asked Sunday by CNN about the newspaper report about a purported effort to make a call by the first officer, Acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: “As far as I know, no, but as I said that would be in the realm of the police and the other international (authorities) and when the time comes that will be revealed. But I do not want to speculate on that at the moment.”

    So the alleged call from the FO’s phone is a police matter and “when the time comes that will be revealed.”

    What did the Indonesian police chief learn from his Malaysian counterpart that made him say to media “I actually know what actually happened.” ?

  8. Just spinning yarns as a counterweight to the theory that “the captain did it” …

    To start with, for background and reference, a few quotes copy/pasted from the Factual Information report, but edited locally by me for continuity:

    Captain, aged 53 years, B777 captain since 1998, aeronautical experience 18423:40 hours.


    The Captain had signed in for duty at 1450 UTC, 07 March 2014 [2250 MYT, 07 March 2014]
    followed by the First Officer who signed in 25 minutes later. The MAS Operations Despatch
    Centre (ODC) released the flight at around 1515 UTC [2315 MYT].

    The Captain, an authorised examiner for the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA), Malaysia,
    was conducting line training for the First Officer, who was transitioning to the Boeing 777
    (B777) aircraft type from the Airbus A330.


    A Special Load Notice to Crew (NOTOC) was sent at 1606:15 UTC on 07 March 2014 [0006:15 MYT, 08 March 2014] direct to the aircraft printer and to be printed out by the crew.
    NOTOC from the ground station to the cockpit stated the special loads of total 4,566 kg of
    mangosteen fruit were carried on board.

    Pilot acknowledgement and confirmation of the final loadsheet was sent via ACARS at 16:09 UTC.


    Lumpur Tower cleared MH370 for take-off at 1640:37 UTC [0040:37 MYT]. At 1642:53 UTC
    [0042:53 MYT] Lumpur Departure cleared MH370 to climb to Flight Level (FL) 180 (the
    aviation term for 18,000 feet [ft.]) and to cancel the Standard Instrument Departure (SID)
    clearance by tracking direct to waypoint IGARI.


    At 1646:58 UTC [0046:58 MYT] MH370 was cleared to climb to FL250 and subsequently to
    FL350 at 1650:08 UTC [0050:08 MYT]. MH370 reported maintaining FL350 at 1701:17 UTC
    [0101:17MYT] and reported maintaining FL350 again at 1707:56 UTC [0107:56 MYT].

    At 1719:26 UTC [0119:26 MYT], MH370 was instructed to contact HCM ATCC on the radio
    frequency of 120.9 MHz.

    At 1719:30 UTC [0119:30 MYT], MH370 acknowledged with “Good night Malaysia Three
    Seven Zero”. This was the last recorded radio transmission from MH370.

    (End of edited Factual Information)

    So far almost entirely business as usual. The only deviations from the normal routine were a last minute load change after the crew had boarded, a change to the standard departure flight plan when the flight was cleared to proceed “direct to IGARI”, and the repeat of the report “maintaining FL350”.

    Then came the first indication of serious trouble: The Mode S symbol of MH370 dropped off from radar display at 1720:36 UTC [0120:36 MYT], and the last secondary radar position symbol of MH370 was recorded at 1721:13 UTC [0121:13 MYT].

    Let’s assume that after the airplane was established in climb, checklists completed, the pilots started to chat, the conversation drifted to politics and, because of their different allegiances, quickly degraded into a serious altercation. Around about 17:30 – 17:31 the captain had had enough and started to get up from his seat, preparing to leave the cockpit to relieve himself, emotionally or physiologically, or perhaps both. On return to the cockpit he found himself locked-out and, despite repeated requests, denied access.

    Let’s first consider the FO’s emotional state. Would he have continued like that to Beijing? Or would he decide to return back home? Let’s assume he impulsively chose the latter. Then it gradually dawned upon him what he was going to face at home. He would be arrested, would have to face trial, his pilot career ended forever, a disgrace to his family and to his future wife, reportedly also an airline captain. Would that prospect have been enough for him to take the decision to put an end to it all, to vanish into obliteration? Despite official denials, could he have contacted someone, who told the police, and that information prompted an Indonesian police chief to tell media that he actually knew what actually happened?

    Next to the locked-out captain. Naturally, he would spend the first 10 – 15 minutes trying everything to gain access to the cockpit, first by voice, then by force but, like his collegues at Ethiopean and Germanwings, finally would have had to give up. Then what? He may have thought that in the underfloor electronics bay he might find a way to disable the cockpit security provisions, or at least a circuit breaker to cut the power to the CVR, because he wanted to preserve the recording of the events in the cockpit. I don’t know if the cockpit security can be disabled from the EE bay, but even if it can, perhaps he was unable to find out how. What else could he do down there? He couldn’t control the airplane from the EE bay, nor deny flight path control to the cockpit. But he could rob the cockpit of most of the electronic goodies that normally facilitate the piloting task. Ultimately, the pilot in the cockpit would have to ‘aviate’ with the most elementary flight controls, and to ‘navigate’ with only the most basic standby instruments.

  9. @Orion: An altitude change of several thousand feet over 10 minutes (especially descending which is not limited by engine thrust) would be considered normal, if intended.

    We should try to better understand how the altitudes presented in the FI were determined so we can evaluate their accuracy, especially since earlier altitude reports indicating high rates of descent/climb were later dismissed.

  10. @spencer

    radar readings are not really precise when it comes to altitude, especially at distance

    regarding Fariq phone call, others have said those were just unconfirmed rumors, you shouldn’t rely on that

  11. The fact that we are still fumbling with the veracity of the phone call smells a bit, like a lot of stuff but we do know that many stories were pulled out of thin air in those early days. Shameless really. Editors calling journo’s demanding copy on MH370 – even if they had to make it up. And they did often. If the English press had of stayed home it would have been for the better.

  12. @Victor,

    Plotting the 4 altitudes in a section profile reveals that the plane descended from 35,700 ft (494 kts) to 31,100 ft (525 kts) in approx 1 min 40 seconds.

    Diagrams of the flight events surrounding 17:36:

    As you can see from the diagrams, the location of this descent corresponds exactly to the slight turn in the radar path at Kota Bahru, just before the first gap.

    The radar doesn’t tell us exactly how low the plane flew in the gap, but there are at least 3 different eyewitness accounts describing a very low flying plane in the immediate vicinity of the flight path at the time. I also believe that the ‘errant blobs’ shown on the radar plot are the result of the plane ‘skirting’ the radar cone of silence as it descended.

    IMO the altitudes reported in the FI were determined by the overlapping radar coverage of both Kota Bahru and the military installation at Gong Kedak. Interestingly, their cones’ of silence also intersect over Kota Bahru- providing another possible metric for measuring altitude there.

    3 mins 19 secs later, at 17:39:59, the plane is reported to have ascended back to an altitude of 32,800 ft (529 kts)- which is the last officially reported altitude I could find.

    Back to the take-away questions:

    Does the high overall ground speed indicated by the radar preclude other possible altitude changes during the time which the plane was flown manually?

    If more fuel was burned during that time, would it have any significant impact on the current search area- or does the current modeling include a variable for the fuel remaining at the FMT?

    Liow said on 4/16/15 that the extended search area covers “95% of the flight path”- yet I wonder what assumptions this eyebrow-raising statement was predicated on.

  13. @orion

    “Does the high overall ground speed indicated by the radar preclude other possible altitude changes during the time which the plane was flown manually?”

    pretty much yes

  14. @StevenG

    “pretty much yes”

    If my loved ones were on the plane, I would find it difficult to accept that as an answer.

    If high ground speeds and significant altitude changes are indeed mutually exclusive, then how were they both officially ‘on the table’ and driving the search areas last April?

  15. @orion

    it’s pure math, if the airplane had avg speed not much slower than optimal cruising speed (achievable only at cruising altitude), then it’s theoretically not possible it was flying much lower

    the lower you get the slower you become because of dense air

  16. If there was some kind of external RADAR jamming (from another aircraft(s)) happening while MH370 cross back over Malaysia but the jamming was not perfect, maybe the RADAR stations picked up targets of MH370 and/or the other aircraft providing the radar jamming. This might explain the various flight levels.

  17. @StevanG

    I agree that a sustained descent (which would be expected under many emergency scenarios) is not supported by the evidence of overall high radar speeds, as well as the single data point at 17:39:59 – which shows an ascent back up to 32,800. This is one of several major hurdles for an emergency theory.

    However, recent discussion was centered around a capture, hijack, and/or suicide theory. In many of those scenarios, evasive flight maneuvering might even be expected. In addition, extreme aircraft motions could also be used to thwart attempts to breach the cockpit door.

    As it’s been mentioned before, maneuvers such as power dives and zoom climbs can be employed by heavier fighter jets to maintain a speed advantage while changing altitude rapidly. I’m no pilot, and have no idea if it’s possible to maintain a high overall speed and do any of that in a loaded 777, so I can only raise the question.

    Furthermore, while the overall average speed from 17:21 to 18:22 does compute to be quite fast – even after accounting for radar coasting – there are quite a few speed fluctuations still evident between the time-stamped gaps and segments of the FI plots.

    This is all rendered moot if the search area isn’t impacted, so I’ll set the radar aside for a moment and pose the question a different way:

    If 10,000 kg of fuel were dumped while the plane flew over the Malacca Straits – would it still be possible to reach the 7th arc?

    How about an 8,000 or 15,000 kg dump?

    Is there a margin at which the 7th arc can still be reached – but which places solutions outside of the current “95%” search areas?

  18. @StevanG- What are you saying regarding cruise speed and altitude? At 17:07 it had 43,800 kg fuel and a GW around 218,000 kg. According to the FCOM it could have flown at 10,000 feet at around 320 kts for about 6 more hours. It’s LRC at 25,000 ft was about 453 kts.

    The GW affects efficient cruising much more than altitude. Dropping from 37,000 feet to 31,000 feet only increases the fuel burn rate by 1.5% while LRC speed actually increases about 1%.

  19. @Orion – I believe most of the models have 9M-MRO flying with AP at a constant altitude. If a pilot were to increase the altitude as the flight progressed, it could have gone past the 7th ARC or gone further southwest on the 7th Arc. As you move to the northeast less fuel might be required to reach the 7th Arc but also requires heading changes to meet the BTO rings.

    In any case, without doing calculations, I’ll guess it could not have reached the 6th Arc if they had dumped 8,000 kg fuel.

  20. @Lauren I was talking about period covered with radar (17:21 to 18:22)

    I know military jets achieve around 60-70% higher maximum speed at altitude than at sea level, the difference is certainly smaller for airliners but at half of cruising altitude its maximum speed should be around 15-20% less

  21. @ Brock

    There is a difference between a pet theory and an obsession. The Maldives is absolutely a non-starter. It is a case of the wrong place, at the wrong time, and the wrong direction. It is hard to understand how anyone could possibly embrace the notion.

    I like Nihonmama, but she had a very thin skin relative to any criticism of her theory. Questions were met with riddles rather than answers. No place for that, IMO. If you are serious, then be serious.

  22. Dennis – specifically, I don’t have a Maldive theory and I don’t think Nihonmama has either, it’s more a case of a lingering question – for some. For some the BTO’s are an integral plank of their thinking but noone will guarantee the data, and the absence of debris is problematic for both data sets, not just the BFO. The one and only morning these Islanders have an episode with a large low flying jet was the same morning the MAS bosses were bracing for one hell of a press conference. Why that morning? Some would feel virtually naked if they started to question the BTO’s now but they could be wrong. No one will guarantee they aren’t. I know if I was planning to manipulate data and I had resources I would start with the BTO’s. We know the plane jinked SW to line up with the Thai/Malay border, then jinked NW as it was geographically bounded up the Strait, but if you removed these two issues which way is the plane going? What was the motive for the dash to the IO?

  23. If it looks like criminal intent and the SDU isn’t behaving quite the same after the reboot, and some data is indeed discarded then the data isn’t guaranteed? BTO’s are the best measure we have but has it become convenient to treat it as a gold standard?

  24. @Gysbreght and all.
    Your theory about the FO and others put forward about the Captain are plausible but thinking this event over from another angle, perhaps fairly unlikely:
    I have a lot of trouble believing that the Malaysians, neighbouring countries, Australia and the US had no idea where that plane went in realtime. If that was the case it was gross incompetence IMO. So if someone knows something (as the story of the Indonesian police chief would indicate) then we are most likely observing a cover-up. If cover-up, then would a pilot-did-it scenario such as suicide, hijacking for political reasons (e.g. with intent to land plane and passengers safely anyway) be so embarrassing to Malaysia that they would cover it up, with Australia and China in the dark? I am guessing that if this is a cover-up then it is because something unspeakably awful (over and above mass-murder) or something politically disastrous has occurred or perhaps been thwarted… In which case is it best if we never know? If cover-up, then no doubt some or all of the satellite, radar data etc. is probably fabricated so it is not surprising that various scenarios away from the 7th arc are being considered here.
    Saying all that, I still hold some hope that it was incompetence and that the current search in the SIO will be successful. I hope I am wrong about the cover-up… someone please convince me.

  25. @AM2

    Keeping the name of the culprit out of the newspapers doesn’t affect the search for the wreckage.

  26. As acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said: “ when the time comes that will be revealed.”

  27. @Matty

    “What was the motive for the dash to the IO?”

    Political reasons, if you want to request asylum you are going to do that in a 1st world country, islands under australian jurisdiction were his only chance.

    And the known path (until FMT) is the best possible one to reach Australia unchallenged.

  28. @AM2

    “I have a lot of trouble believing that the Malaysians, neighbouring countries, Australia and the US had no idea where that plane went in realtime.”

    95% of the ocean isn’t covered with radars.

  29. if the intent was to get to Australia, I don’t see the reason for keeping this as tight as a cover up as they are making it so…

  30. @LaurenH

    Thanks for your reply. I do notice that in the Oct. 8th report, the Data Error Optimization paths primarily comprise the Northern half of the current search area, while the AP set lands more Southerly.

    As less fuel is available at FMT (say… 4,000 kg less), do you know if shifts the DEO solution set any further to the NE? Or is the fuel remaining accounted for as a variable in the modeling?

  31. @Orion – My bad. I was thinking of a single straight line AP track, heading, etc., after the FMT rather than left turns at each ring to hit a selected speed. If you used IGOGU as the start point of the FMT, the closest point on the 7th Arc is 800 NM to the east or a point just off the coast of Indonesia is only 1200 nm away. Either of those could be reached after dumping half of the remaining fuel.*

    It is difficult to pinpoint a location using remaining fuel because range is affected by gross weight, speed and altitude. Pick the last two and you can get weight and range.

    * I am using 35,600 kg fuel at 18:22. Per the FCOM’s “Check Point” table, around 17,000 kg of fuel are required to travel 1200 nm at about 400 kts at 28,000 ft.

  32. @Lauren H

    Wow. That is not the answer I was hoping for, as it would seem to push possible solutions well beyond feasible search limits.

    If I understand correctly, taking away approximately half of the estimated remaining fuel at a late FMT (IGOGU) would shift the entire set of Oct. 8th DEO solutions (heading changes) a few thousand km to the NE along the 7th arc, using a slightly lower and slower flight (~400kts @FL280)?

    This shift of the DEO solution set is on a level of magnitude more than I had imagined.

    Like many, though, I feel the AP assumption is a little more probable for the majority of the flight post FMT.

    Therefore, would the Oct. 8th AP solution set also shift to the NE with a reduction in estimated fuel at the FMT?

    I understand that the AP model “breaks down” more quickly as fuel is removed from the equation (you mentioned 8,000kg is too much) – but is there a margin of reduced fuel which would still leave the 7th arc reachable and plausible for AP?

    For example, what would a 2, 4, or 6,000kg fuel dump do the the AP model? Would it make the 7th arc unreachable and/or start to require heading changes not consistent with AP?

    Thank you again for taking the time to provide your helpful explanations on the flight path calcs. Unlike the DEO set, hopefully the AP model “breaks” before possible solutions shift too far up the 7th arc.

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