Guest Post: Some Observations of the Radar Data for MH370

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by Victor Iannello

[Note: While attention has been focused on the definition identification of the Reunion flaperon, there remain many other elements of the MH370 case that still require careful attention. Here, Victor delves into what the data that has been released, in particular in the Factual Information (FI) report, to clarify what we know about the first hour of flight after the turnback at IGARI. — JW]


This work analyzes the position and time data derived from the publicly-available radar data for MH370. Some of the findings are:

  • After the turn back towards the Malay Peninsula, the flight path recorded by civilian primary surveillance radar (PSR), civilian secondary surveillance radar (SSR), and military radar are consistent with a flight at a Mach number (M) equal to 0.84 at an altitude of FL340.
  • If the aircraft did fly at a steady M = 0.84, then the timestamps for some of the PSR contained in the Factual Information (FI) are offset by about 35 s.
  • After the left turn at around 17:23:38 UTC, the aircraft might have descended from FL350 to FL340 and accelerated from a ground speed of 473 kn to a ground speed of greater than 500 kn.
  • In the FI, the PSR data between 17:47:02 and 17:52:35 UTC is attributed to the radar site at Kota Bharu, but more likely was collected by another radar site. The PSR data between 17:30:37 and 17:44:52 is correctly attributed to Kota Bharu.
  • In the FI, it is stated that Indonesian military radar recorded MH370 as it traveled toward IGARI but not as it traveled back over Malaysia. One explanation is that Indonesian radar site was powered down after midnight, local time.
  • The sharp turn to the left at around 17:23:38 UTC is unexplained, and could be due to either an inaccurate graphical portrayal of the radar track, or crossing radar tracks from two aircraft.
  • The curve in the radar path close to Kota Bharu can be explained by “slant range” due to high altitudes and close distances.
  • The fuel consumption models which assume that MH370 flew near Long Range Cruise (LRC) speeds and at cruising altitudes between 17:07 and 18:22 are likely accurate.

You can read the whole document here.

54 thoughts on “Guest Post: Some Observations of the Radar Data for MH370”

  1. Oil rigger Mike McKay, and boater Katherine Tee, both reported sighting aircraft resembling 777s, in more or less the right areas at the right times to be consistent with the radar data, and appearing to be ablaze, and possibly trailing smoke.

    If the starboard wing of MH370 suffered an electrical fire, then the appropriate pilot responses would have included:

    (1) banking hard to port to prevent the flames from propagating inboard towards the wing fuel tanks
    (2) accelerating and flying fast to extinguish the fire and/or prevent the fire from re-igniting
    (3) de-activating all electrical circuits associated with the wing
    (4) aiming towards the a/c towards the nearest well-known airport to attempt a landing

    According to the pilots of JAL750 and MH88, copilot Hamid was active circa 1:30am as the a/c was inbound towards Kota Bharu airport, the hometown of the copilot which area he would have been intimately familiar with, helpful also if he was relying on visuals in addition to instruments.

    Somebody may have been active at 1:43am, after missing (?) Kota Bharu airport and heading towards Penang, reporting something about cabins disintegrating.

    Copilot Hamid was still active, attempting to place a cellphone call at 1:52am near Penang, the second airport overflown.

    And, circa 2:30am, the a/c overflew the airports of Banda Aceh & Maimum Saleh, the third airport overflown in about one hour.

    Banking hard to one side, and flying high & fast, and de-energizing electrical systems, are all indicative of fighting an electrical fire in wing wiring outboard of the wing fuel tanks. Most simply, Captain Shah remained at the controls, whilst he & Copilot Hamid first tried to extinguish the electrical fire, then keep it contained, then attempt to contact authorities… Somehow, in the mix, the passenger cabin & a/c became depressurized and or otherwise inhospitable… The flight crew became incapacitated after managing one last turn towards the next nearest airports (BA, MS) but could not regain control before succumbing to hypoxia and hurtling past onwards into the night towards the SIO…

    The above scenario appears plausible if unexceptional.

  2. Why does FI identify MH370 on Malaysian civilian & military radar plots, with transponder-like codes, e.g. P3362 ?

    Was MH370 transmitting Pressure Altitudes (FL336, 340, 341, 343) with their alternate transponder ??

    Although blurry, the radar track westbound out of Penang also seems to have plotted transponder-like codes, some of which could even be construed to begin with the letter “P”. Who was assigning the on-screen images the 5-alpha-numeric character codes??

  3. alleged emergency radio contacts, at 1:30am & 1:43am, both happen to coincide with the 60nm range circle around Kota Bharu, the former as the a/c reached 60nm range inbound, the latter as the a/c retreated to 60nm range outbound. If so, then all alleged emergency radio contacts seem associated with proximity to Kota Bharu

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