How the MH370 Flaperon Floated — UPDATED

1 JTD CD Boat hull surf 2 Pleus 061512 small
Fig. 1: A population of Lepas goose barnacles growing on a skiff carried out to sea by the 2011 Tohoku tsunami.

Goose barnacles of the genus Lepas live exclusively on debris floating in the open ocean. Like other barnacles, their larvae spend the early part of their life swimming freely and then, in a final larval phase called the cyprid stage, search out a floating object on which to settle. Once they find a suitable object, says marine biologist Hank Carson, “cyprids in general do do a fair bit of exploration for that cementation spot” upon it, and with good reason: they’ll spend the rest of their life there. Among the criteria they assess is how crowded a spot is, what the underlying substrate consists of, and how deep it is. Once satisfied, they glue their heads in place.

In general Lepas barnacles like to spread out, and prefer a spot in the shade; they grow best away from the top of the water column. The reason is that close to the waterline, the rising and falling of waves periodically exposes the animals to the air, which interferes with their feeding. It’s unhealthy for them in other ways, too. “The uppermost centimeters of water are normally a quite harsh environment with strongly changing ecological parameters, like water temperature, salinity (heavy rains or intense evaporation in tropical areas). Moreover they are subjected to intensive UV radiation,” says Hans-Georg Herbig of the Institut für Geologie und Mineralogie in Cologne, Germany. “From several organism groups it is known that they avoid the uppermost centimeters of the water column.”

Given a healthful environment, Lepas barnacles are notoriously fast-growing. The animals evolved to live on floating organic debris which after a time will break apart and sink, so time is of the essence. Whereas a species of goose barnacle that lives attached to a rock might take five years to reach sexual maturity,1 Lepas can do it in mere weeks. Japanese researcher Yoichi Yusa and his colleagues raised L. anserifera barnacles on tethered debris in a bay in Japan and found that “individuals on the average grew from 3 mm to more than 12 mm in capitulum length within 15 days and some were brooding.” Thus, in less than a month after settling onto a piece of debris, Lepas can begin producing new generations to further their colonization.2

As a result Lepas-settled flotsam can become extremely crowded in short order, with individuals crammed onto every available surface right up to the uppermost limit of what they can survive. Pictured above in Figure 1 is a Japanese skiff that was swept to sea after the Tohoku tsunami in March, 2011, and made landfall on a beach in Washington state in June of the following year, meaning that it floated capsized for about 15 months. If you think it’s remarkable that the barnacles could have grown so huge in so little time, think again. “They grow really fast,” says Cynthia Venn, a professor of oceanography and geology at Bloomsburg University in Pennsylvania. “That boat could get covered like that in six months, even.”

Venn has studied the genus Lepas intensively for more than twenty years. For ten of them, she collected specimens from NOAA’s Tropical Ocean and Atmosphere array of research buoys dotted across the central Pacific Ocean, carefully preserving material that the maintenance crews considered pesky marine fouling. “It was basically a 3-D time series of barnacle settlement,” she says. “I couldn’t find anyone to take the project so I just did it myself. I was able to go two cruises, for the rest I sent my studentsand they then shipped the barnacles back to me so I could work on them. I’ve got hundreds of thousands of barnacles in my garage.”

Looking at the skiff more closely, we see that the upper part of the hull is ringed with a very well-defined boundary below which the Lepas are cheek-by-jowl (orange line in Fig. 2, below). Above that lies an intermediary zone, extending to the waterline (green line), where algae predominate. While some barnacles are visible, they are small and few in number. “They get a better shot at what they’re going to eat if they’re a little bit below that,” says Venn. “I don’t know if it’s too much UV or just they don’t like the temperature changes, or what.”

waterline and Lepas line
Fig. 2: A close-up view of the skiff in Figure 1, showing the waterline (green) and “Lepas line” (orange)


A Lepas line is also easily seen in the picture below (Figure 3), which shows meteorological research buoys before (“a”) and after (“b”) a 26-month deployment in the North Pacific. “The waterline is at the center (max diameter) of the buoy, where there is a seam in the hull,” says Jim Thomson, a scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography who studies the buoys.3 “The barnacles appear to start about 10 cm below that line.”

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Figure 3: A deep-ocean buoy before and after 26 months in the North Pacific.


Here’s another piece of tsunami debris, this one a refrigerator that made landfall in Hawaii in October, 2012, meaning that it was in the water for just over a year and a half. Both the Lepas line and the algae zone are clearly visible. The waterline, Venn says, would lie about where the green algae shades into black:

Fig. 4: A Japanese refrigerator that washed up in Hawaii after the tsunami.


You may have noticed that while the hard part, called the capitulum, is of similar sizes in all these pictures, the fleshy, goose-neck part (called the peduncle) is dramatically smaller on the Hawaii debris. Like other fleshy appendages, peduncles can change in size fairly dramatically, especially when they’ve been pulled from the sea. “How long they are kind of depends on how long they’ve had to dry out,” says Venn. So when scientists talk about the growth rate of barnacles, they usually talk about the length of the capitulum.

How Composite Objects Float

According to reader Gavin Grimmer, The upper and lower surfaces of 777 flaperon are “made of  honeycombed composite – presumably carbon fiber” while “the leading edge is mainly made from high tensile aluminum (2024-T3) apart from the fibreglass doubler.”4 As a general rule, things made of composite material exhibit excellent buoyancy. The honeycomb materials which makes up most of the volume of the composite skin weighs only about 5 percent as much as water.5 Composite aircraft parts, therefore, tend to float fairly high in the water, like this:

Fig. 5: The vertical stabilizer of Air France 447.


Mike Exner, one of the leading members of the Independent Group, conducted his own study of how the flaperon must have floated, building a model out of plastic poster board. After the interior compartment was flooded it settled into the water like this:

Mike Exner flotation test
Fig. 6: Mike Exner’s model of the Reunion flaperon.


Another example of a composite floating object is this motor boat, which  capsized in a storm off the northwestern coast of Australia and then was carried for eight months by waves and currents across the Indian Ocean to the island of Mayotte, near Madagascar — a very similar route that the MH370 presumably took on its journey from the 7th arc. Though the resolution is too low to discern the Lepas line from the algae zone, you can clearly see which part was above the water and which part was below:

Fig. 7: An Australian motorboat that journeyed upside-down across the Indian Ocean.


Now let’s turn our attention to the 777 flaperon that washed up on a rocky beach on Reunion Island. More than two months later, the French authorities still haven’t released a report detailing what they’ve learned about the piece, which now resides at a facility near Toulouse. Fortunately journalists took photographs of the flaperon from every angle shortly after it was discovered so that just by gathering publicly available images from the web we can assess the whole surface.

As a general observation, we should note that the general shape of the flaperon is plank-like: rectangular when seen from above, with an airfoil cross section. In referring to the part, I will use the nomenclature shown in Fig. 8, below.

Figure 8. The parts of the flaperon.

Note that the geometry of the piece is essentially planar, by which I mean that the faces do not bulge outwards. As a result, if one point on the edge of an end-cap is underwater, and the corresponding point on the edge of the far end-cap is under water, then the surface between them will be immersed, too. (You can get a sense of this “flatness” in Figures 10 and 14, below.)

To begin with, let’s look at the outboard end cap. Barnacles, either individual or in clumps, are circled in green. I have not necessarily circled all of them, but at least those necessary to show the range of distribution. (To see the full-resolution version of this and all subsequent images, click on the link in the caption.)

Outboard end cap
Fig. 9. The outboard end cap. For full resolution image, click here.


Given that the end-cap is rimmed in barnacles, it must have all floated below the waterline. One could argue that a small portion of the strip marked with the red line could emerge from the water, but to my eye it lies between the outer edges of the barnacle clusters marked “A” and “B,” which would not grow up out of the water.

Moving on to the leading edge, we see in Figure 10 (below) that there is a substantial accumulation of barnacles on the outboard end of it, as well as some growth on the inboard side. Though there is little or no growth between these areas, that portion must have been submerged by virtue of lying between those two submerged areas:

Outboard leading edge marked up copy
Fig. 10. The outboard end of the leading edge. For full resolution image, click here.


This view offers more detail of the inboard end of the leading edge. Growth is quite heavy, though only the tips of barnacle clusters extend outward beyond the plane of the leading edge:

Leading edge inboard marked up copy
Fig. 11. The inboard end of the leading edge. For full resolution image, click here.


It’s fairly self-evident that the top surface was immersed:

APTOPIX Missing Malaysia Plane
Fig. 12. The top surface. For full resolution image, click here.


As well as the trailing edge, where the flaperon was evidently severed along the line of a transverse spar. Here we see the top edge, along with some of the bottom:

Malaysia Confirms Debris Is From Malaysia Flight MH370
Fig. 13. The trailing edge. For full resolution image, click here.


Here’s the rest of the bottom part of the trailing edge:

Aft bottom edge copy
Fig. 14. Another view of the trailing edge. For full resolution image, click here.


Now let’s look at the inboard end cap.

French gendarmes and police inspect a large piece of plane debris which was found on the beach in Saint-Andre, on the French Indian Ocean island of La Reunion
Fig. 15. The inboard end cap. For full resolution image, click here.


Onward to the object’s final face, the bottom surface. It does not exhibit the same degree of encrustation as we see on the top side. In Figure 16, below, we see the underside of the flaperon with the trailing edge at top. We’ve already noted the presence of barnacles on the bottom of the trailing edge and the bottom of the inboard end cap. We haven’t seen as much yet of the bottom of the outboard end cap, so I’ll focus on that area in this image:

MH370 search: Debris found on Reunion being sent to France
Fig. 16. Bottom surface, outboard end. For full resolution image, click here.


Barnacle growth is much less profuse on the bottom than it is on the trailing edge, but there are enough individuals present on this portion to suggest that the entire bottom edge of the outboard end cap must have been submerged. So, therefore, must have the entire underside. Note that the numbers “1,” “2,” and “3” correspond to the clusters of barnacles marked likewise in Figure 9.

How did the Reunion flaperon float?

The contrast between the Reunion flaperon and other floating debris we’ve looked at is quiet stark. The piece that came off MH370 does not have a Lepas line. There is no significant area that could have protruded above the waterline. The entire surface resembles the deeply submerged areas seen on the other flotsam.

This fact evidently did not escape the French investigators who took custody of the piece. On August 21, the French news outlet La Depeche reported in August that “According to a Toulouse aeronautics expert who requested anonymity, the element of the wing would not have floated for several months at the water’s surface but would have drifted underwater a few meters deep.” Similarly, an article that ran in Le Monde on September 3, 2015, stated that “Les études de flottabilité du flaperon ont quant à elles confirmé que le débris flottait légèrement en dessous de la surface de la mer.”: “Studies of the flaperon’s flotation have… confirmed that the debris floated slightly below the surface of the ocean.”

This seems a reasonable assessment to Venn, based on the distribution of barnacles visible in photographs of the flaperon. “I think it was probably floating just barely subsurface,” she says.

This presents something of a paradox. “It is very hard to build something that will float slightly below the surface,” wrote David Griffin, an oceanographer with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), in an email. “The probability that an aircraft part does this is miniscule. The only way it can do this is if some of the object breaks the surface. If it does not break the surface AT ALL it must sink.”

One could just about imagine that, by sheer good luck, the flaperon might have wound up taking just enough water to give it an overall density almost exactly that of seawater, so that it floated with perhaps a minuscule portion above the water. But such a situation would not be stable. Objects floating with only very slightly positive buoyancy can be pushed below the surface by the action of large waves, says Sean Kery, a hydronamicist at CSC Defense Group who has extensive experience modeling the impact of waves on floating objects. If storm waves push down an object being held afloat by open air pockets, the increase in depth would cause those pockets to shrink, reducing their buoyancy and causing the object to sink further, a phenomenon well-known by recreational scuba divers, who must learn to keep inflating their BCDs as they descend. Of course, without an active compensation system like a BCD a flaperon that was neutrally buoyant at the surface would become negatively buoyant below it.

What’s more, even if an object did manage to float just barely touching the surface, it would eventually sink lower as marine life accumulated. “Things never stay statically neutral,” says oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer. “It’s a dynamic situation. It has to do with infiltration of water, it has to do with the weight of barnacles growing on it.”

Thus, the distribution of barnacles on the Reunion flaperon is difficult to understand. Because they are found all over its surface, the flaperon must have settled into the ocean with a buoyancy exactly identical to that of seawater. And somehow it remained there, floating in a stable manner. Yet this is close to physically impossible.

How could the flaperon have remained underwater?

Given the seeming impossibility of the flaperon floating free across the ocean while submerged, is there another way it might have arrived in its current barnacle-encrusted condition? Since the piece must have been completely underwater, it might have become colonized on the sea bottom. That explanation, however, is problematic. The 7th arc passes through an area of the southern Indian Ocean that is thousands of feet deep. In order to have become colonized by Lepas on the seabed, it would have had to have floated thousands of miles to shallower water, sunk, then refloated to the surface and almost immediately been washed ashore. Also, while Venn says that while she has collected specimens from as deep as 100 meters, “that was not on the bottom or anywhere close to the bottom. It was simply 100 meters below the surface where the ocean was probably more than 5000 meters deep. I have never heard of Lepas colonizing anything on the sea bottom.”

Another possibility is that the flaperon was positively bouyant but remained beneath the ocean surface because it was tethered to the seabed. As it happens, in the past researchers have successfully managed to raise Lepas on substrates anchored offshore. In Yoichi Yusa’s experiment noted above, he collected Lepas specimens growing on pieces of driftwood and floating plastic and attached them to tethers in a bay in Japan. There he monitored their progress as they grew over the next month and a half.

The view of the flaperon seen in Figure 17, below, might provide evidence of how the tethering was accomplished. On the inboard edge of the upper face one can observe a peculiar strip where the surface appears considerably less weathered than the surrounding area:

APTOPIX Missing Malaysia Plane
Fig. 17: A mysteriously clean rectangle


When this was first pointed out to me I  figured it had to do with the missing piece of rubber gasket along the inboard edge of the top surface, which might have been knocked off by contact with a reef. But now that I look closer I see that it isn’t actually that. I’ve marked the “white area” on a photo of a new flaperon below (image reversed to make a left flaperon look like a right one):

new flaperon mystery patch location small
Fig. 18: The location of the mysteriously clean rectangle depicted on an intact flaperon.


It seems that something was clamped to the “lighter patch” that isn’t normally attached to a flaperon, and which was detached after the part spent some time in the ocean. Since it’s hard to imagine this happening without human agency, perhaps it was part of a tethering/untethering operation. Perhaps an anchor line was attached there.

Duration of immersion

Up until now, it has been assumed that the flaperon was deposited somewhere along the 7th arc soon when MH370 impacted the southern Indian Ocean on March 8, 2014. If it was actively tethered to the seabed, obviously, this timeline is no longer relevant. Instead, we can turn to the barnacles to provide some indication of the likely duration of the flaperon’s immersion.

“Assuming they have enough food, and the temperature is good, barnacles will follow a steady growth progression,” Venn says.

The clock starts running the moment the flaperon hits the water: So long as the water is warm enough, Lepas will begin to colonize an object almost immediately. (Yachtsman who make long oceanic passages report that after spending a few weeks heeled over on a single tack a section of hull that is normally high and dry can pick up a colony of Lepas; Venn says she has seen cyprids attach to material as ephemeral as floating paper bags.) While the precise growth rate depends on water temperature and food availability, a rough notion of these parameters is enough to yield a ball-park figure for how long immersion has continued. Earlier this year, Venn co-authored a paper in which she and her colleagues ascertained that a human body found floating off the cost of Italy must have been in the water at least 65 to 90 days, based on the size of the Lepas barnacles growing on its clothes.6

We can do something similar for the barnacles on the flaperon, using the Mayotte boat as a reference. Since both traveled through a similar stretch of the southern Indian Ocean, their growth rates should be in the same ball park.

By comparing features on the flaperon to reference objects of a known size (e.g., the rear door of a Gendarmerie Land Rover Defender in Figure 16) we can estimate the capitulum lengths of the largest barnicles on the flaperon. They turn out to be approximately 2.3 cm.

Applying the same technique to the Mayotte barnacles yields capitulum lengths of about 3.5 cm.

Yusa’s paper on Lepas growth rates states that “Individuals <5 mm long (mean ± SE = 3.09 ± 0.19 mm) grew rapidly, reaching 12.45 ± 0.54 mm on day 15 (Fig. 2). After that, their growth slowed and finally reached 16.26 ± 0.49 mm on day 42.”

The Lepas anserifera that Yusa studied are somewhat smaller than the Lepas anatifera that predominate on the flaperon, but if we use Yusa’s growth rate as a conservative lower bound, and suppose that the largest flaperon barnacles were 16.3 mm at day 42 and grew at 0.1 mm/day thereafter, that means it would take them another 67 days to reach 2.3 cm, for a total growth time of 109 days, or about four months.

If they proceeded to grow at 0.1 mm for the following four months, that would take them to 3.5 cm, which is what the Mayotte barnacles achieved.

Interestingly, when I asked Yusa via email how long it seemed to him that the colony had been growing on the Reunion Island flaperon, based on photographs I sent, Yusa answered: “I would guess that they had been there for a short time (between 2 weeks and a few months).”

Venn’s seat-of-the-pants estimate was “less than six months.”


Photographs of barnacles living on the MH370 flaperon discovered on Reunion Island, combined with expert insight into the lifecycle and habit preferences of the genus Lepas, suggest that the object did not float there from the plane’s presumed impact point, but spent approximately four months tethered below the surface.

UPDATE 10/10/15: Could the distribution of barnacles be explained by continual flipping?

Since I posted this piece yesterday evening, a number of people have suggested that perhaps the flaperon flipped over every few hours, allowing barnacles to survive on both sides. Such a scenario might also explain why the density of Lepas is rather low compared to that seen on other objects. It faces two difficulties, however.

First, the flaperon is broad and flat, and once its inner cavities were filled with water it would weigh thousands of pounds. With only a few inches of freeboard in even the most optimistic scenarios, it would be very resistant to being flipped — much more so than, say, the fridge, which nonetheless clearly floated in a stable manner. Even if it were fairly easy to invert, high waves and wind would be required to do so, which would mean that flaperon would have had to have spent a year or more in constant storm conditions. Yet tranquil conditions are actually more normal. “Calm seas are actually pretty common in the stable high pressure cells that more-or-less permanently inhabit the center of ocean basins,” says Hank Carson, who has traveled across the Pacific gathering floating debris. It’s hard to envisage anyhing flipping over a day like this.

Second, the reason that the Lepas line exists is that these animals don’t like to be exposed, even for a few seconds. They can survive close to the waterline, where they are risk being exposed and immersed with every wave cycle, but only a few small outliers attempt it. They are simply not adapted to frequent long-duration exposure, like their relatives who live attached to rocks in the intertidal zone. “I do not think they can survive more than one day above the water,” Yoichi Yusa told me, while Venn says she has seen them live as long as three days. Apart from the physiological stress of being exposed to what to them is a toxic environment, the animals would spend half their time unable to feed. So even if we imagine the essentially impossible scenario in which the flaperon keeps flipping back and forth every few hours, we would not expect to see dense aggregations of mature individuals.

The implications of low settlement density

While we can learn a lot about how long an object has been afloat by the length of Lepas capitula, it’s harder to draw conclusions based on the density with which they settle. Barnacles do not land randomly, like plant seeds, but actively sniff out an object’s surface in the cyprid stage before settling down in the spot they like best. While they prefer living in the shade, they even more prefer cracks and crevices, and dislike a smooth surface. You can see several places on the top of the flaperon where they’ve preferentially settled down into dings and divots. Most of the broad expanse of the upper and lower surfaces they have avoided, most likely because it’s just too smooth and exposed. They especially seem to like the exposed broken honeycomb on the trailing edge, which presumably offers a nice rough surface for holding fast to. Here they are living in quite high density, with some actually growing on top of one another:

(150806) -- THE REUNION ISLAND, Aug. 6, 2015 (Xinhua) -- Photo taken on Jul.29, 2015, shows shells growing on a piece of debris on Reunion Island. Verification had confirmed that the debris discovered on Reunion Island belongs to missing Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced early Thursday. (Xinhua/Romain Latournerie) (jmmn)

By way of comparison, here’s a shot of the barnacles on the Mayotte motorboat. Their distribution is much more uniform on every surface — here Lepas seem to like everything equally well:


Therefore, I wouldn’t necessarily say that Lepas density on the flaperon is low, but rather that the suitability of the substrate is very heterogeneous.

328 thoughts on “How the MH370 Flaperon Floated — UPDATED”

  1. common sense is that we aren’t able to regulate climate in any meaningful way so I’d like not to see it mentioned on topics having nothing to do with it whatsoever

  2. “when you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

    – Sherlock Holmes

    I am feeling pretty confident relative to the CI scenario. There is absolutely nothing of substance to argue against it. Certainly a terminus well North of the current search area is strongly indicated by any reasonable interpretation of the evidence.

  3. @Matbythesea

    Its an interesting question whether SBIRS can detect commercial airliners. It has been reported that the older DSP systems could detect afterburners on military jets. The heat signature of modern commercial engines is much smaller, of course, the whole point of improving efficiency is to reduce the wasted heat. The new satellites in SBIRS have higher sensitivity, but its not clear if it would be quite enough to detect commercial aircraft engines.

  4. Chrismas/Cocos island dosen’t sound like a workable plan.
    What was he supposed to do with the passengers after landing? He can not secure them without a team of masked gunners.

  5. The flight path around Sumatra and towards CI is supposed to meet the BFO/BTO data, yes? Or there is at least a version of that path which ends in the Northeast most portion of the 7th arc,correct?

    What happens if you stay true to BTO/BFO and simply “flip” that CI arc…but going northwards. Not a straight line like Jeff’s Northern spoof version going to Kazhakstan, but just the mirror version of the arc. Does that end in Burma on the 7th?

  6. @Mike, Despite what this article says, I find it very hard to believe that the Americans or anyone else has imagery showing where the plane went in the southern hemisphere; if they did, I don’t think they would have so blindly shifted the search area up and down the 7th arc in the first few months.

  7. @JiaZijian_China

    The was never any intent to harm the passengers. They were simply hostages for political leverage, and the plan was to simply let them deplane, and go on their way.

    In fact, I don’t believe that CI was a singular intended terminus. I think it was on a list of optional terminal locations which included Banda Aceh, Cocos, and Bandung as well. The actual terminus depended on how negotiations (by other parties) on the ground in KL progressed. Obviously negotiations could not be carried out over the aircraft radio. I have had two people (claiming to have inside information) send me unsolicited descriptions of this scenario. Of course, there is no way to validate this conjecture.

    Obviously the plan (if that was the plan) unraveled.

    ‘X’ marks the spot.

  8. Here is a couple quotes from the article

    “Sbirs data has also been used by U.S. intelligence officials as they continue to unravel the mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370”

    “The aircraft is thought to have flown in an area not highly trafficked, making it easier for Sbirs to find and track the heat signature of a 777-200ER.”

    “But Jackson says the team did participate by providing technical data to the intelligence community.”

    “The system can also be helpful beyond its missile warning and defense roles. The Pentagon’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center keeps a catalog of signatures—electromagnetic and IR—of aircraft, missiles and other military hardware operating globally.”

    “The system can also provide precise data on the whereabouts of aircraft, possibly validating or dispelling accusations from Turkey about Russian aircraft flying in its airspace, including an allegation that a MiG-29 intercepted Turkish F-16s, for example.”

    So where is #MH370?
    Could not ask for better conditions of detection… ie at night and over water in apparently the middle of the ocean.

    So is SBIRS a waste of money or are the US hiding what happened? Its one or the other and 18.9 Billion dollars tells me it is the other.

  9. @Curveball

    correct, the plane could have ended anywhere on the southern 7th arc

    some assumptions had to be set to narrow down the search area and officials have obviously set them wrong, which wouldn’t be that much of a problem if they didn’t stick to it for this long

  10. SBIRS – Sometimes agencies will put this kind of stuff out if they have been given reason to be nervous about their budget. It specifically quotes a MIG29 in the case of Turkey but I thought it was all Sukhoi’s deployed in Syria? That area will be a hive of heat signatures from helicopters to continual explosions to a multitude of jets. Picking out one Russian fighter would be amazing.

    Given it’s claimed capabilities against the way the search has panned out I would say no such data exists. The MH370 track would be unmissable if this was legit. But, if it did a 100nm glide the would lose it? But, they wouldn’t have jerked around the way they did either. Remember it was the US Navy with the pingers in the water a thousand miles north of where they are now. If they provided technical data to the search – what was it?

  11. @StephanG.

    I did a poor job in constructing my question. I meant take the curvy route after a sharp turn south which then somewhat hugs Sumatra towards CI.

    Now flip the same curvature, but go north. Not a straight line north, but take the northern mirror of the southern-bound curvy route (to CI or thereabouts).

    If crashing on the 7th arc near CI works BTO/BFO-wise, can’t the same be true by mimicking that curvy route to the north (I.e. Landing/crashing on the 7th arc and maintaining credible BTO/BFO data)???

    I believe that would be Burma. Near China’s Hunan border or such. Is this plausible (ignoring for a minute the radar detection over land issue)?

  12. @Matty

    there are no RuAF MiGs in Syria, it was SyAF MiG29 (which is also russian made so they mixed it probably because of that)


    I think Inmarsat analysis is quite reliable regarding north/south direction, unless there was a spoof.

  13. @CurveBall

    Yes, StevanG is correct. There would have to be something else going on for the BFO to work for a mirror path to the North – spoof, or tampering with the Doppler compensation algorithm in a manner suggested by Victor in an earlier post.

  14. @bStevanG

    Thanks for your response. In my limited knowledge, a single radar can easily detect distance and can easily detect direction if the object is moving at or away from the radar. But if the object is moving mostly horizontally, things become fuzzier. No?

    In this case, the bird’s pings which created the 7 arcs showed the variable distances…but the reason the imagery of the pings is in arching lines from way south to way north is exactly because N-S direction can’t be conclusively proven.

    But again, I’m no expert and I know the BTO/BFO data has been analyzed in revolutionary ways with MH370. That’s why I’m asking if a southern curvy path like the CI hypothesis is possible in a mirror curvy path northwards. i think the difference with straight path vs curvy path south begins with assumptions of auto pilot, altitude and
    speed. So if a southern curvy path is possible, is a curvy path (with varied heights and speeds) northwards also as plausible? Again…without contemplating ground/land radar stations yet.

  15. @StevanG and DennisW

    I hear you. Unfortunately, Victor often writes things I don’t fully understand. Layman-wise, I still don’t see the logic…especially when the original info was painted as a backwards C…and the limitations were that the plane would have to be on the correct arcs at the correct times (plus or minus some compensation) and within fuel limits demonstrated by the very tips of each end of the backwards C.

    But if not, so be it. The room for spoofing that has been allowed in polite conversation opens up some possibilities anyway.

    BTW, I meant Yunnan, not Hunan in my second post. On the border of Burma…where there is plenty of military action with little news making it out.

    Just for edification, what DOES the mirror curvy path — same like the one some have proposed towards/near CI) — look like if it were replicated northwards? Does anyone (will anyone?) show me that? I’m dying to know…..

  16. @CurveBall

    A CI path mirror imaged around the equator would have a terminus in Viet Nam about 100km East of Ho Chi Minh City.

  17. @DennisW

    That doesn’t make sense to me. Flying in a slowly northern curve from the last known position near Mekar, flying somewhere in between the tip of Aceh and maybe Nicobar, hitting near the arc lines at roughly the right times…you get south of Ho Chi Minh???

    That’s the northern mirror image of flying around Aceh, well enough away from the coast of Sumatra and then ending up somewhere near Christmas Island?

    If I just look at the 7th arc and look at the near minimum distance south…where CI is…and then look at the 7th arc and the equally near minimum distance north, that’s not what I see at all.

    Just like there is a widely accepted max distance (within reason), isn’t there the same for min? Of course one could fly in circles and in zig zags, but hitting the arcs at the right times probably couldn’t happen.

    However, I’m a novice, so don’t think I’m talking you down; I just don’t see how the mirror would be Ho Chi Minh…or anywhere near it.

  18. @CurveBall and MH

    It depends on how you define a mirror image. I was using the equator. If you use other latitudes you can get many different results.

  19. @MH
    That does not result in an mirror image.
    BFO data aside, a path to the north would have another profile concerning speed, altitude and track due to the obvious risk of detection by radar from countries along the intended flight path. Flying along borders between the landmass of two countries does not provide protection.
    Short explanation: While the FIR boundaries over sea lead to some misinterpretation between those ATC stations involved concerning the responsibility for that aircraft the detection probability is also reduced due to the landbased radars operating close to or even beyond their maximum range. Along the political landmass borders of two countries the radar surveilance is very tight, especially if those countries are not close friends to each other.

    That led me to the conclusion that if MH370 took a northern routing and none of the possible transit countries saw anything, that one of them was informed and in the game. Imho Myanamar, close friend to China, would have to be considered as possible transit country. But even in such a case the aim would be to reduce detection possibility as much as possible to involve the least amount of people.

    A northern routing could therefore lead through the middle of Myanamar, include climb and descents, turns and speed changes for minimizing radar exposure to civil and military radars. Slower speed targets are considered as less threat than a high speed target. If detected and reported, it could be explained with an own military flight.

    This would lead in fact to something like a mirror path to the CI routing starting at the point of assumed final turn south and end in the vicinity of the 7th arc at Quamdo Bambda airport.

    But as other knowledgable contributors have told this routing could fullfill the BTO data, but not the BFO data.

  20. @RetiredF4
    although highly speculative, BFO can(?) be matched by precise maneuvers just-in-time the satcom radio is active, using hourly windows to fly freely; just yesterday I almost accidentally met another way to possibly detect such satcom activity as there is very cheap radioamateur approach – to reuse DVB-T dongles with specific RTL chipset – it is described here “”; simply very cheap $20 usb dongle as frontend for software defined radio with which guys can decode unencrypted acars/ads-b messages (really only brainstorming continuum here)

  21. @RetredF4 @falken et al

    Staying in a highly speculative world…..

    So just maybe, maybe, the BTO/BFO data can work northwards. A few additional thoughts —

    Myanmar and China don’t really see eye-to-eye; China plays all the sides of the fences in Burma.

    The Wa nation has, according to Jane’s and other sources, perhaps the largest non-state army in Asia. It has helicopters, surface to air missiles and perhaps 30,000 troops to draw on. Nobody controls them, though they cooperate with the Chinese (that’s where they get their arms, for the most part). Wa is very rich, as it controls opium and opium processing and now amphetamines. Plus all the other illegal activity.

    There are also many rebel groups, including Muslims. Myanmar’s military government has been trying to make peace accords with them. Many of these groups have been attacking Chinese. It’s a mess. But very little news gets out.

    China has been slowly building up the methods to enable it to get oil and goods in and out of Western China’s hinterlands via Burma to the Bay of Bengal and/or the Irrawaddy River. That’s in case of a blockade by the USA and allies in the straights of Malacca.

    For a jet liner to go unnoticed, it could fly up the Bay of Bengal towards Dhaka…a common route with little radar detectability. It could then turn and fly over (or even briefly land in) Chittagong airport and fly through the middle of Myanmar towards South Western China. Again, that is a common route for international jet liners and there is little radar capability.

    There are many new and old airports along that path. During WWII, there was a lot of quiet back and forth. There are also some long runways in some pretty remote areas.

    A landing or crash at the 7th arc could produce two separate pings for Inmarsat, I might guess, due to the echo of some large mountain range.

    If BTO/BFO data can fit, if this path was taken, if the plane landed/crashed at the 7th arc near the border of Burma and China, then one could also find some plausible motivations…from gold to high tech knowledge to a 911-like bomb plane.

    Just a couple of thoughts…..

  22. @StevanG

    Whose intelligence knows what?

    Intelligence does not know everything, whoever made you believe that pulled your leg.

    Crimes and terrorism happen everyday everywhere despite zilllions of bucks spent for intelligence. And some of those happenings are even sponsored, tolerated, supported, organized or committed from intelligence groups.

    And then there is still the other point of view: Intelligence agencies report to one entity, not to us and not to the press.

  23. Re: SBIRS: just throw it on the pile of things which could have corroborated the ISAT data, but – gosh darn our rotten luck – didn’t.

    Re: Maldives: I’m having a hard time buying the latest official theory on what it was they DID see:

    Florence de Changy’s July 4 interview of (Maldives CAA Head) Ibrahim Faisal outlines the latest official claim: that the flight was actually DQA149, bearing SSE to land at Thimarafushi 15 min later, passing over Kudahuvadhoo NW->SSE due to having gone off course en route from Malé (final destination Kaadedhdhoo).

    Faisal cites (but does not produce) ATC records documenting a 6:33 landing at Thima, attributes the delay in articulating this theory to the fact that radar doesn’t cover that far from Malé (hence no recorded flight path), and attributes his failure to produce a pilot/airline paper trail to a presumption that Maldivian Airlines records may not “go back that far”. Ms de Changy completes the syllogism by supposing the course deviation may have been due to the “surprisingly strong winds” cited by one eyewitness.

    This story raises red flags with several people who seem to me to know what they’re talking about:

    – if lack of Maldives radar coverage over Kuda is why we didn’t learn of this flight for 16 months, why was Maldives radar cited as definitively ruling OUT the presence of any large jet back in March, 2014 (per official explanation #1)?

    – if DQA149’s 1st flight of the day was Malé->Thima->Kaade, why does show its scheduled morning flight to be Kaade->Malé (no stop at Thima)?

    – for this flight to explain eyewitness accounts, DQA149 must have drifted DRAMATICALLY west from Malé, in order to be first spotted coming at Kuda from the NW, i.e. returning back from what had been an even more pronounced deviation. This requires at least a 35nmi drift. How does a pilot get blown 35nmi off course at the three-quarter point of a 119nmi flight by 11-17knot winds (per

    – even if this were an uneventful flight, I’m told the airline industry is drowning in paperwork – fuel/supply/maintenance/logbook records must be fastidiously maintained for all commercial flights. With the bizarre buzzing of Kuda thrown in, this should have been an easy track down back in March. Why are we to this day only able to point to a single, uncorroborated ASSERTION that ATC recorded a landing at Thima? If it is because we have yet even to look, we (the MH370 journalistic/investigative community) are wrong to prematurely present this claim as fact to the public at large.

    I am NOT trying to convince anyone that what Kuda saw was MH370. I’m just trying to assess dispassionately the claim that what they DID see was DQA149. If anyone is able to point out to me the missing nuances – without which the conclusion seems inescapable that this story is a gigantic snow job – I’d be greatly obliged.

    (Many thanks to Juanda Ismail and commenter emeritus Nihonmama for their research, and to Auntypru moderators for additional expertise.)

  24. @RetiredF4

    they can’t know everything of course but something worth of this advanced hijacking then yes I’m quite certain they would

  25. @StevanG @RetiredF4

    Before getting too deep into possible motivations, I’m still asking if flying up the middle of the Bay of Bengal then turning (or landing)at Chittagong and cutting across Burma can satisfy BTO/BFO data and hit the 7arcs at the right times…without spoofing.

  26. @Victori

    I am aware that you are well-versed in these matters, so please know that I’m not challenging your conclusion…but only trying to understand it.

    No, it’s impossible to have flown north? Impossible to have turned east after going north? Impossible to have done so and hit the arcs at the right times?

  27. @CurveBall: The measured BFO data, unless altered in some way such as a spoof, do not match the predicted BFO data for a flight to the north. The BTO data taken alone do allow flights to the north or south.

  28. @Victori

    And the BFO’s data tells us that because of the north-south axis of the satellite itself. OK. So CI, Maldives, or north are all out….

    …unless a spoof occurred (most likely after the unusual shutdown/reboot of some functions) which coincides with the timing of the supposed turn south. Right?

    But the lack of sonar noise, lack of widespread debris or semi-whole plane (via a dubious soft landing) creates a big question mark. The flaperon’s discovery could erase that doubt, yet the wing part itself has question marks.

    So either the original hypothesis is right…but the search has been unlucky in such a vast area, or it is wrong.

    If right, the possible motivations/situations (looooong suicide, political statement, zombie flight) still don’t fit that well. Plus the info (non) flow and (non)actions of certain governments don’t smell right.

    And that’s how spoof theories are born.

    Is that an accurate summary?

  29. @CurveBall, I think that’s quite well put.

    I would add that this accident has generated an unusual proliferation of fanstistical theories unrooted in any evidence at all. There have been accidents in the past that have spawned what might be called conspiracy theories (TWA 800 being a notable example) but MH370 has spawned all sorts of utter garbage with astonishing frequency. Front of mind right now is the recent story from the Philippines; another is the suspiciously persistent Crimea-linked Australian company Georesonance, which continues to peddle what appears to be well-funded and well-organized twaddle:
    The only other case I can think of which has generated nearly so many fake leads is MH17. One can’t help but wonder who is behind this.

  30. Thanks, Jeff.

    Keeping away from (non) crazy theories, while shelving the original thesis, we can look the the levels of plausibility by going back to the last known, confirmed location and divide by east, west, north and south.

    And this must be done with spoofing as a necessary ingredient….while radar (non)-detection must be discussed.

    Let’s try south first. No radar. No place to land. Need 007-like scenario with either parachuting or scuba diving to a sub or boat very well placed and really great flying skills. Maybe Khan is that good and the scuba experts from Ukraine (with MH17 on our minds) could actually pull it off. But why? WHY? To embarrass, show off, distract maybe. That’s a lot of risk for little reward.

    Next direction. Back East? Big radar problems. Way too many eyes from different places. And where to land? Better do so quickly. But that restricts the options to very nearby islands like CI…which show no traces (and would be easy to spot). But why? Asylum, hostage negotiations…maybe, I guess. But if it didn’t land, where is the debris? Much more limited area for parts to wash up ashore of civilization. The flaperon’s (read:barnacles issues) path to Reunion might make more sense from here, but where is everything else? If it didn’t crash, where could it have flown to undetected and landed undetected? I haven’t read a theory about that.

    Next — West. To where? Straight to or through the USA”s and UK’s radars? To Maldives or Africa or Sri Lanka? Possible, I guess…but very likely to get seen by radar. Unless the U.S. And UK were in on it. Because…because why?

    Ok North. Anything over the land and then over the Himalayas is even riskier. But at least there are more (barely) plausible motivations that can be linked with issues and entities in that region. That still is very high risk with unknown rewards which can’t add up to much, considering the resources and options already available to that region’s players.

    Are you with me so far? (Hint: there’s more…)

  31. @CurveBall: If the satellite data is unaltered, then western and northern paths are not possible. However, if you permit curved paths, and especially if you reject the validity of the radar data, the range of possible end points along the southern half of the 7th arc is very large, and would include paths ending as far north as Christmas Island.

    The ATSB search zone is based on the assumptions that the plane was a “ghost flight” that flew on autopilot in a straight line. As more and more of the search area is searched without success, the probability that these assumptions are valid continues to diminish. So it’s not just a matter of being unlucky. It very well could be that the plane flew south, but the original assumptions regarding “ghost flight” are incorrect, and the search is not in the correct area.

    Or, the plane did not fly south, and the BFO data was somehow altered.

  32. @Curveball

    CI is on the southern arc.

    “But that restricts the options to very nearby islands like CI…which show no traces (and would be easy to spot). But why? Asylum, hostage negotiations…maybe, I guess. But if it didn’t land, where is the debris?”

    if it was soft ditching it’s quite possible only flaperon and several other parts got away from the plane, the problem is though where are life rafts in that case and why there was no comms


    “if you permit curved paths, and especially if you reject the validity of the radar data”

    radar data would fit if you permit curved paths or only change of altitude for that matter

  33. @StevanG: DennisW’s route to CI has a position at 19:41 north of the radar position at 18:22. The BFO at 18:40 requires a southern velocity or a northern velocity with a steep descent. If you reject the radar data, then it is possible that the plane was traveling south at 18:40 AND also at Dennis’s position at 19:41. If you accept the radar data, unless the path was contorted, the plane had to be flying north at 18:40 and descending.

    If you have constructed a reasonable path (curves allowed) that ends near CI, is consistent with the radar data, is consistent with the BTO/BFO data sets, and does not require a descent at 18:40, please produce it.

  34. @VictorI

    I don’t dismiss a descent at 18:40, actually the last contact with malaysian radar at 18:22 (or so) showed it at 26K ft estimated according to calculations involving radar range and position.

    One could expect further descent towards 18:40 too. I wouldn’t be surprised if it went low around Indonesia actually I’m leaning towards it.

  35. @CurveBall @Jeff @Victorl
    again, even without any handheld satcom equipment to detect the exact times of pings, the pilots CAN predict them due to first unanswered satphone ring into cockpit, as this one did reset of 1-hour sliding expiration timer of GES for this link, so easy to start stopwatch and fly to north/east for say >58 minutes or so, then U-turn to “spoof” BFO during ping, then U-turn again back to north/east and so on … doing such 360-turn each hour until “some” target location? BTW, there is “great china internet firewall” to prevent anything to leak in/out, so, who knows??

  36. @falken, There would be no way for the perps on the plane to when when incoming calls would arrive, so not possible for them to have the plane maneuvering in such a way to create misleading BFOs.

  37. @Victori

    I get your point.

    If the BTO/BFO data is correct, the plane would have gone south or southeast. Where exactly to look is based on some assumptions re: a) straight or slightly curved paths, b) singular or multiple speeds, and c) singular (until the end) or variable altitudes.

    The variations depending on “auto pilot” vs “hand flown” can further increase the number of possible locations for where the plane hit water.

    When I said “unlucky”, I meant that the combination of assumptions so far have been wrong, and/or they were right and the searchers just missed seeing the sunken wreckage, and — in any case — they were unlucky in spotting any floating debris.

    Anyway, all of the above start with the major assumption that the BTO/BFO data is correct and unadulterated.

    I accept all of that and recognise it as the primary scenario. But, as you say, there are an increasing number of reasons to question that scenario. Therefore, I am (in the middle of) trying to logically break down the alternative scenarios in a simplified, organised way.

  38. @StevanG

    OK, you are right — CI is south from the last known location (as is Cocos). I called it “East” in order to differentiate it from straight south (as is presumed when NOT accepting a spoofing scenario). CI is actually southeast…or even more accurately south, then east.

    So we can call it “south, then east”, but I will stick to the same problems I mentioned for an “east” direction…namely —

    a) There are really no places to fly without being detected by many land radars unless the plane stayed over the water and landed in CI (or Cocos)…which we know it didn’t.

    b) And if it crashed (even a soft crash), the lack of debris in a much smaller area with much higher boating traffic and much nearer land (as compared with the direct southern route to SIO) keep the probability level very low.

    c) Why? What would be the motivation to go this route in the first place? Asylum? Hostage negotiation? It’s difficult to see why someone would fly in this direction.

  39. Before coming to my conclusion, I think StevanG’s correction of “south” vs “east”…and the resulting more accurate “south, then east” categorisation…compels me to clarify the big picture I am looking at. To wit:

    If we assume that there was indeed spoofing…

    If we note the presumed care used by the pilot (Khan or otherwise) in the timing/location of the original deviation from the official flight path (after sign-off, during hand over)…

    If we recognise the likelihood that the pilot was purposefully flying over the seams of borders (Malaysia and Thailand, Indonesian Sumatra and Indian Nicobars)…

    …Then we can assume there was a planned, conscious effort to avoid radar detection or to minimise the chances of looking like a threat or an out-of-the-ordinary flight.

    So I assume that it was critical to get to the portion of the sky which was only covered by a single Inmarsat satellite. This is the VERY unique situation which the area…inside a north to south line cutting through Southeast Asia down past Singapore to the east…and a N-S line from the Gulf of Oman to the Seychelles and Mauritius islands to the west…offers a nefarious person or group.

    I would furthermore posit that the N-S lines from —

    a) The Bangladesh Delta and (west of) the Adaman and Nicobar islands, and

    b) The Indian coast straight past (the east of) Sri Lanka

    — would be more limiting, useful, as the plane could avoid coastal radars of Southeast Asian countries to one side and the casted “eyes” of the installations of Diego Garcia on the other side. This would form the perfect corridor within which a BFO spoof could occur without land/island radars noticing/recording any one plane’s direction. The spoof, in other words, would not be recognised by non-Inmarsat radars.

    If this is right, then the plane would either fly south…to a dead end in SIO, or north…up into the Bay of Bengal.

    Still making sense???

  40. If I haven’t put any reader of my posts to sleep yet, I continue….

    I feel there are too many problems in going south, south then east, east, west, south then west as discussed above.

    The N-S corridor which is within only one Inmarsat’s satellite coverage — thus enabling BFO spoofing without possible triangulation…and also avoiding land-based radars — is the best place to go to. But now what?

    Flying north will ultimately bring the plane to being over land (Bangladesh), with Dhaka airport a few miles in and then India on both sides and then the Himalayas (and the Chinese) past that. After all of the care taken to fly unnoticed and even undetected, why do this? And where to land???

    So here’s my theory (which I’ve mentioned before, upthread, but without all of this wordy explanation of why) — the plane turned east and crossed over Burma towards Kunming, Yunnan (but landing/crashing short of the Burma-Chinese border).

    This is a common route for commercial jets but has little land radar coverage (the least in SE Asis?). It also is still within the single Inmarsat satellite coverage.

    I think this can all be done within the limits of the BTO’s 7 arcs and the BFO data no longer matters because the plane is flying West-East, away from the satellite, not S-N.

    One can create some motivation scenarios as this is one of the world’s most unlawful land, with little info escaping, with warring factions, with the US of Wa — Asia’s largest non-state army, with fighting Muslims, with anti-Chinese factions, etc, etc.

    So…am I crazy? Does this all sound reasonable? Or is it just another crazy theory? If so, why?

    Thanks for your patience…if you hadn’t given up reading already.

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