The Mysterious Reboot, Part 2

The discussion prompted by last week’s blog post raised some interesting issues that I think are worth discussing in further detail.

First, I wrote last week that “At 18:22, MH370 vanished from primary radar coverage over the Malacca Strait. Three minutes later—about the amount of time it takes the Satellite Data Unit (SDU) to reboot—the satcom system connected with Inmarsat satellite 3F-1 over the Indian Ocean and inititated a logon at 18:25:27.”

Commenter LouVilla earlier today laid out the issue with more clarity, writing:

MH370 flew out of radar range @18:22.12 UTC. All of a sudden @18:25.27 UTC, the AES sent an Login-Request to the satellite. This are 03:15 Minutes between this two events. When the AES is without power supply for a while and reboots after power is available again the AES needs approximately 02:40 Minutes to sent an Login Request (ATSB Report Page 33). 03:15 minus ~ 02:40 = ~ 35 seconds. So, the perpetrator must activated the left bus again at around 18:22.47 UTC, 35 seconds after MH370 flew out of radar range.

The close sequence of these events does, in my mind, raise the possiblity that they are connected. How would a perpetrator know that he has left radar coverage? Among the possibilites would be a) some kind of radar-energy detector (like that used by automobile speed-trap radar detectors) brought on board by the perpetrators, or b)  prior scouting by allied agents. This latter idea would be far fetched for a suicidal pilot but quite feasible for, say, Russia, which spends quite a lot of time probing the radar coverage of its NATO neighbors.

Of course the timing might just be a coincidence.

A second point I’d like to address is the idea that Zaharie or Fariq might have de-powered the satcom by isolating the left AC bus. One problem with this scenario, as I’ve previously mentioned, is that it would be difficult for a pilot to know just what else they would be taking off line in isolating the left AC bus. I later realized that I had underestimated the problem.

In a fascinating blog post on an airline pilot who goes by the handle “Ken” describes going through a simulated left AC bus failure in the course of a training session. He notes that among the systems lost were Window Heat (Left) and a Primary Hydraulic Pump (Left). “No biggie,” he writes, but adds that in addition:

…there are a whole host of ancillary services lost. Many of these are reflected by the amber lights on the overhead panel. Having looked at the roof – you later discover even then that it’s not the whole story. In this particular scenario we decided to return to KLAX. Part of the return process was fuel jettison down to maximum landing weight. Guess what? Without the Left Bus – the main tank jettison pumps are failed. You’ll be advised of this… when you start the fuel jettison. I didn’t give this a second thought… but the discussion we had afterwards that included a talk about this little quirk of the Boeing EICAS/ECL was interesting. There are no EICAS/STATUS messages to advise you of everything you’ve lost, and in many cases, until you attempt to use something that’s failed – you won’t know about it. Older aircraft used to publish a Bus Distribution List (Electrical and Hydraulic) so that you’d know exactly what you’d lost with a particular electrical bus failure – but not on the 777. My fellow pilots were vaguely disturbed by the lack of information.

It’s not impossible to imagine that one of the pilots cooked up a plan that involved switching off the satcom by isolating the left AC bus, but to do so they would have had to do intensive research into the issue. And even then, they would have to have grappled with the fact that in doing so they might disable other systems that they weren’t aware of. All told, this would be a complicated and risky strategy. And to what end? If the satcom was deselected for ACARS and the IFE was switched off (both of which are easily accomplished from the cockpit) then there would be no reason for a pilot to fear that the satellite would give away his position.

Another suggestion that has been made is the idea that the co-pilot, having been locked out of the cockpit, went down into the E/E bay and started pulling circuit breakers at random, hoping that in so doing he would succeed in de-powering the flight deck door lock, and instead power cycled the satcom by mistake. I don’t think this makes much sense, since a) this would require to know that such a circuit breaker exists in the E/E bay, but not know where it is, and b) I just can’t imagine a trained airplane pilot pulling circuit breakers at random.

In general I think we should resist any explanations that require complicated series of actions to take place as a result of a random series of happenstances. Boeing 777s are not Rube Goldberg contraptions; they are multiply redundant and extremely robust. Neither a fast-moving fire nor a panicked copilot are likely to remove the exact components at exactly the right time (and then replace them at exactly the right time!) by chance alone.

Finally, I think it’s time to raise a very important issue regarding the search of the southern Indian Ocean. Last week, I wrote that the search had failed. Some people took umbrage at this suggestion, pointing out that the original 60,000 sq km area has not yet been searched. To that, I say fair enough. Perhaps I jumped the gun. I’m willing to go along with those who say that we need to wait until the entire 120,000 sq km are searched. But then what?

For many, the matter will have been laid to rest: if the plane is not there, then it did not go there. It will be time to scratch the “ghost plane” hypothesis off the list and move on to see what other options are on the table. Well and good–this is how scientific investigation moves forward.

However, I am concerned that some people might refuse to come along. Already some commenters have pointed out that there may be crevasses into which the debris could have sunk, or underwater hills in whose sonar shadow the wreckage may be lurking. Or maybe there was a gap between the search swathes. These are all valid points, but they are also points that the Fugro searchers are certainly well aware of. They know exactly what part of the seabed each sonar image covers. They can tell where the gaps are, and they can send UAVs to probe the shadows and the gullies. Their entire mission hangs on them covering every square inch of the designated area, precisely so that that when they’re finished no one can say, “well, you only covered 99.99 percent, therefore we don’t know it isn’t down there.”

We all have to be open-minded about the data, no matter how fervently we may believe that our personal hypothesis is correct. It’s unsportsmanlike to call on the ATSB to search a particular ocean, at great expense and effort, and then when they’ve spent the money and time say, “Well, I don’t believe in your result, you probably screwed it up.”

We can be skeptical about the authorities’ handling of the investigation–I’m sure none of us would be here if we weren’t–but at the end of the day we have to have some basic faith in the honor and competence of the investigators. Otherwise, we just have to throw our hands in the air and declare that nobody knows anything.


291 thoughts on “The Mysterious Reboot, Part 2”

  1. @gysbreght

    I posted the source, but I had two links in the post. I think that requires approval from Jeff before it shows up.

  2. @Gysbreght and @DennisW: As far as I can tell, the CB for the CVR is in panel P110 in the E/E bay. I don’t see a CB in the cockpit. There is an Erase button on the Cockpit Voice Recorder Panel, but as @Gysbreght has said, it only functions if the Parking Break Relay contact position is Brake On and the Ground Mode Relay contact position is Ground.

    The details are in the electrical maintenance manual. A good summary is here:

  3. We sometimes over-analyze words like “abruptly” as used to describe the end of the radar trace. My recollection is that radar displays are CFAR (constant false alarm rate), which is a method of dealing with detecting signals close to the noise floor (as would be at maximum range) without having a lot of “snow” on the screen. That is one does not want random noise causing random false echoes.
    So, at near the maximum range, where the signal strength is low, the last little bit of the track is likely to be a little ragged and to disappear “abruptly”.

    I strongly agree with the sentiment that a public effort ought to be made to secure more data from the “authorities” including clarification of the validity of the second BFO data point of the in-air log ins, confirming the absence of ANY radar data from ANY source after 18:22 and the like.

    One of the reasons that we explored the glide hypothesis is to emphasize the implications of the last two BFO values at 00:19. If one or both of them are invalid, there are significant areas that are not being searched.

    The importance of the BFO data is not dependent on your choice of hypothesis as to the mechanism for controlling the plane. Rather, the data, if we were confident in its validity, would suggest the most likely control mechanism.

  4. @Sid

    I strongly disagree with your last statement above, but you already know that. I will say that you guys do not give up easily.

  5. Below are some additional information requests:

    1) details on the story leaked to CNN’s Pamela Brown by U.S. officials, who confirmed that the co-pilot’s cell phone pinged a telco tower. If true, the primary radar track is false. If false, the U.S. Government is spreading disinformation.

    2) details on a) the “highest probability” path which ostensibly led the ATSB to s21, where two critical months were wasted searching a portion of arc7 profoundly counter-indicated by search officials’ OWN DATA (ISAT data, constrained autopilot dynamics, ATSB’s published fuel limit).

    3) details on the acoustic ping data in whose authenticity PM Abbott expressed great confidence. In particular, we’d be interested in the name(s) of the acoustic expert(s) who told him that the frequency of recorded pings were consistent with that of MH370’s FDR.

    If the ATSB cannot provide a proper scientific rationale for 2) and 3), the general public will be hard-pressed to conclude the search at s21 was anything but theatre.

    4) details on the performance limits the ATSB claims still to be working on, including its reconciliation to each of the dozen or so intersections such limits have made with Arc7 over these many months.

    5) details on the August, 2014 GEMS study underpinning the ATSB’s decision to downplay the likelihood surface debris would hit Australian shores.

    6) full path data on ALL search ships, so that the general public can independently verify that sea floor mapping has been both efficient and arc7-focused.

    The advantage of THIS list is that it asks the “good guys” – all those open, accountable, honest governments to whom most of us on this thread pay our taxes – simply to deliver on the transparency they promised, and thus stands a far greater chance of bearing fruit.

  6. I don’t think there is necessarily a conspiracy there, just a proverbial government clumsiness and ineptitude.

  7. @StevanG: I trust you join me, then, in demanding answers to these questions, in order to PROVE these governments’ fundamental innocence…?

    That’s the beauty of full accountability: it vindicates whoever was right all along.

  8. @Brock

    Until the supposed ongoing criminal investigation concludes, it is but a pipe dream to believe ANY govt. or agency will be further forthcoming or amenable to more transparency.

    I (surprisingly) share in your concerns what with a number of items, paramount being IMO the incomplete/false primary radar track as produced in the FI.

    But further clarity from official channels will not occur prior to the criminal investigation being wrapped up…and this may well be in perpetuity.

    More leakage is surefire bet. however.

  9. @Gysbreght

    Very interesting find. Just thinking out loud- wouldn’t somebody with that amount of technical knowledge know that the CVR records on a loop?

  10. Jeff, I disagree that it is futile, and I believe you could be highly effective if you mounted a media campaign to get more info and data about the MH370 issue from the Malaysian authorities. You have the media connections, you now have the pulpit due to this blog and your e-book, and as everyone agrees that this info would be helpful, you would have the support of many, many people internationally. This deadlock cannot be allowed to continue.
    How about it?

  11. @StevanG: agreed.

    @spencer: we’ve sparred, but I appreciate your fair words. A concession in your direction: the smaller the conspiracy, the easier it is to keep mum, so I must admit that your theory’s “conspiracy of one” does have that going for it.

    Re: disclosure: I share your skepticism, but not your hopelessness:

    – we don’t know whether we can ferret out the truth unless and until we actually TRY. I want to be recorded by history as having TRIED.

    – if we can get a major news organization to back us, we should be able to shame politicians into SOME degree of disclosure – or at least make their secrecy (more) obvious to the general public.

    – we should be able to shame a major news org into backing us – or at least make their sycophancy (more) obvious to the general public.

  12. orion posted July 18, 2015 at 7:12 PM: “wouldn’t somebody with that amount of technical knowledge know that the CVR records on a loop? ”

    Yes, I would expect the Captain to to know that the CVR only retains the last two hours and overwrites older recordings.

  13. The solid state cockpit voice recorder (SSCVR) has a recording capacity of at least two
    hours in standard quality and thirty minutes in high quality.

  14. I expect investigation around the maintenance or otherwise of Malaysian and Indonesian civilian radars could reveal major issues in them meeting their ICAO obligations… Was anyone paid to maintain allegedly unmaintained radars? Reason for cover-up? If so, my view is that it simply muddies the waters and makes it harder to get to the real MH370 story.

    In my earlier post on the relationship between the disappearance from primary radar and AES logon @18:25.27 UTC, I opined that it seems highly likely that a deliberate aircraft manoeuvre (rapid decent) was used to break radar detection. In pondering the aircraft’s movements in and out of radar and other anecdotal evidence such as the fisherman sightings at Kota Bharu, I get a strong feeling that the whole series of MH370 aircraft manoeuvres were intended to evade and or mislead until the perpetrator was relatively confident they were clear. The aircraft’s disappearance after IGARI coincident with the early claims of a rapid climb would be consistent with this.

    I don’t think this is revealing anything new… but I think the number of likely aircraft manoeuvres performed by MH370 which are consistent with evading or breaking radar detection mean that perpetrator had done some meticulous flight planning (which had to be coordinated with the range of other activities taking place on board). The range of manual manoeuvring and other tasks indicate a well-coordinated and implemented plan by more than 1 expert – given my perception of the workload and accuracy required. In order to manage flight deck workload and cabin / E/E Bay technical tasks, plus back end tasks indicates to me a minimum of 3 perpetrators.

    That level of planning/coordination would likely require either good simulation time and/or dry run; and military like precision. Where and on what was this work up practiced? If by Z or FO, surely there would be an indication of such planning – even if not in the disclosed official story.

    If I were the perpetrator, I wouldn’t count on being able to press gang Z or the FO into implementing a well-executed plan given precision required. I’d be bringing in my own pilot.

    I therefore consider that:
    1. The MH370 disappearance was well planned and executed by at least 3 perpetrators
    2. For the first manoeuvre to occur just after IGARI, the perpetrators were by that time well entrenched in executing the plan
    3. Somewhere there is prior evidence of that plan.. Where?
    4. Unless Z or the FO were part of that plan, It’s hard to conceive that they took a major part in effecting the plan

  15. early claims of a rapid climb were just erroneous radar readings, one man could and probably did all of this, no need for more people

  16. StevanG:….early claims of a rapid climb were just erroneous radar readings….

    There is no prove either way.
    From the beginning we have had eroneous reports to a lot of things like sightings, seismic events, sat pictures, radio calls, sat phone calls, radar data, pingers, Debris fields, passengers passports, simulator activities of Shah, and there are still more. I even can’t recount all of them anymore. In fact we have more later corrected statements than true ones.
    This is not uncommon in mysterius accidents, except that those eroneous data normally originate from rumors and journalistic neglicence. But in case of MH370 it is different, some of those later withdrawn statements originated from official authorities and their initial press briefings, like those radar data.

    Why should we believe the later statements more than the initial ones without forwarding the original data and the reason for correcting those? We still do not know the origin of the radar data from the Lido Briefing or what radar information was used to determine the initial turn back.

  17. StevanG

    “early claims of a rapid climb were just erroneous radar readings” — Or so we are told by the official investigation…

    The only official explanation given was that the radars were found to be “out of calibration” and therefore “their altitude readings unreliable”.

    I am no expert on radars, but I’d say there is a huge difference between measuring absolute altitude versus the rate of change, or the derivative of, altitude readings.

    I would think that calibration errors would introduce a kind of constant bias/error of measured altitude. However, if significant altitude changes were recorded, than we should consider that those would be, at least qualitatively, if not quantitavely, correct.

    In this context, it is interesting to note, that the earlier ATSB reports showed the sharp corner at the turn back in the radar track, while the latest completely ommits it. (See for example the multiple turnback track options in oriondt’s slide show).

    Given Ron Black’s work on turning radii, the only way to reconcile the early radar tracks of the turn back with the assertion that the later radar tracks are that of MH370, is some kind of aerobatic maneuvre, involving some positive or negative altitude change, to create that sharp corner in the 2D projection.

    On the other hand, if we accept the radar tracks to be those of MH370, we have the problem of the very high speeds, which could not be achieved at significantly lower altitudes as many experts here have stated.

    I’d like some more detailed explanation from the officials (or our resident radar experts here) as to how altitude measurements are calibrated and how that relates to altitude change measurements, before I “buy” the official’s dismissal of the radar indicated altitude CHANGES as unreliable.


  18. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll try to keep my thoughts on radar brief.

    IGARI: I haven’t found any confirmation that the turn was seen on PSR. The Thais claim to have seen it ~17:28, a few minutes before the Kota Bharu track. The sharp turn, RR EHM report, and Ketereh businessman sighting (descending towards sea near Bachok) all point to a climb/steep dive at the Turn Back after IGARI.

    Kota Bharu: The FI indicates altitude and flightpath ‘anomalies’ directly over Kota Bharu. The FI states the two tracks were sourced from both military and civil PSR. I would assert that Gong Kedak and Kota Bharu are the source radar installations, and their overlapping, intersecting, cones’ of silence provide a fairly reasonable metric to determine altitude- even with the heads being ‘uncalibrated’. IMO the radar reports of extreme changes in altitude are describing that section of the flightpath. With TCAS likely off, a brief descent could have occurred there to avoid the busy cross traffic at higher cruising altitudes. There are at least 3 witness reports, DIRECTLY under what is now known to be the flight path. One of these reports is from the fisherman in a boat 14.4 km offshore of Kuala Besar. All three of these eyewitness reports near Kelentan describe a very low flying jet, so it’s quite possible the aircraft descended even lower than the 31,100ft mentioned in the FI.

    As others concluded earlier in this thread, other radar track ‘inconsistencies’ around Penang and through the Straits could also imply altitude changes there as well, however, most likely consisting of dives and climbs instead of a sustained descent.

    Most of my ‘explorations’ have been posted both here and on Reddit. I’ll be happy to re-post links if anyone would like to pursue that avenue further. Unfortunately, without the complete radar data, we seem to be at a deadlock with reconciling this concept. The speeds are high overall, but seem to swing between fast and slow when looking at the individual radar segments.

    If the radar swings are even somewhat true, the plane would have burned more fuel, and likely reached the 7th arc North of the Broken Ridge.

  19. @orion: At the risk of asking you something already posted, are the descriptions of low flying aircraft consistent with a B777? Is it possible the radar track was a military aircraft with much more maneuverability?

  20. @RetiredF4 & @MuOne

    It’s not reports being the problem here, reports are OK but radar data is everything but precise at long distance, longer the distance less precise it is.

    And it’s not physically possible for a fully loaded 777 to reach reported altitude anyway.

  21. @orion: I understand that there are witness reports consistent with the proposed radar track for MH370. I am not debating this. My question is whether there are witness sightings that are consistent with a B777. We have to consider whether the witness sightings were not MH370. I am just trying to consider all options, especially since there are potential maneuvers and speeds that are not consistent with a B777.

  22. @StevanG
    I have to object your statement.
    30 years ago our mil controllers could tell the altitude of a target 150NM away with primary search radar alone close to +/-2.000 feet. With asociated height finder antenna they could frame the target to +/-500 feet. And this equipment was old compared to the Malaysian one. For the sake of the argument they at least could tell wether MH 370 was maintaining altitude or changing altitude.

  23. @Victor I agree. It’d be interesting to see the translations of his interviews to see if they add any more context.

    I see there’s another thread started, so I’ll wrap up my thoughts on the Turn-Back.

    According to the chart on DS, BITOD at FL350 would be at around 82% max range for Koh Muang.

    It’s reported detection, at around 17:28, was approx 300 km from the station at Koh Muang. A quick look at the DS chart shows that at 300 km a large airplane would likely be detected at around 15,000 FT and above.

    According to the chart on DS, BITOD at FL350 would be at around 55% max range for Bukit Peteri (Gong Kedak).

    It’s reported detection, at around 17:30, was approx 150 km from the station. The DS chart also reveals that at 150 km, a large airplane would likely be detected around 5,000 FT and above.

    IMO, for these two stations to have been turned on, and not recorded radar for the Turn-Back, would really seem to call into question the consistently flown FL350 assumption.

    See you all in Part 3!

  24. this was further than 150 NM I think and without the exact type of the radar and its resolution we can just speculate

  25. that article nowhere mentions the precision of the radar, only range

    btw it’s not accurate too because there are no(active) primary radars on Cocos and Christmas Island

  26. @AM2: Dr. Duncan got back to me: here it is verbatim:

    “We did a thorough search of 8 hours of CTBTO data, starting just after 00:00:00 UTC on 8th March.”

    While I see that this doesn’t precisely answer your question (I believe Scott Reef is IMOS, whilst Cape Leeuwin is CTBTO), it does suggest to me that a wide temporal net was cast.

  27. @Brock. Thanks a lot.
    Maybe I should have phrased the question more clearly for Dr Duncan. If we suggest that the plane may have crashed in the ocean somewhere near Christmas Island (maybe to the SE), is it a correct assumption that Rottnest and Cape Leeuwin recorders would not register an event in that direction? And despite Scott Reef (and Dampier?) being IMOS recorders and only recording 5 mins out of every 15, has Dr Duncan looked at these recordings in an earlier timeframe (e.g. the two recording intervals before ~1:00 UTC – which was the earliest time mentioned in the Scott Reef paper) to see if there is any such event registered. The timing and location of such an event could still perhaps satify the ISAT data, i.e. 7th arc and around 00:19 UTC. I am assuming the plane cannot have crashed in remote NW Australia as it surely would have been discovered by now…

    Do you think it’s worth asking Dr Duncan again? and if so would you or should I contact him?

  28. don’t even mention CI to DS, he rejects it as totally impossible since he believes the plane can move only in a straight path over the ocean

  29. @StevanG. BTW in my message to Brock above: Dr Alec Duncan, Curtin Uni.. Not that I’m totally convinced about CI but still its a possibility.

  30. My heart breaks when I heard about the wreckage part might be MH370? I hope not I kind of new Pouria he was a lovely boy and his friend Reza. Hope this is not MH370 God no not Pouria? My heart sunk for the families God bless them. I cry and cry

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