Bioforensic Analysis of Suspected MH370 Debris UPDATED x2

Blaine Alan Gibson with 'No Step'
Blaine Alan Gibson with ‘No Step.’ Photo courtesy Blaine Alan Gibson


Recently two pieces of debris that may have come from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 were found on the coast of Mozambique.

The first piece was discovered on February 27 by American lawyer Blaine Alan Gibson on a sand bar near the town of Vilankulo (top left). Composed of fiberglass skin around an aluminum honeycomb core, and bearing the words “no step,” the piece is widely presumed to be a part of a 777 horizontal stabilizer. A fastener found attached to the part carried an identifying number that is consistent with, though not exclusive to, a 777. Soon after the find was made public Malaysia’s transport minister Liow Tiong Lai tweeted that there was a “high possibility debris found in Mozambique belongs to a B777.”

Closeup of 'No Step' exterior
Closeup of “No Step” exterior. Photo courtesy Blaine Alan Gibson.


The second object was reported on March 11 by South African teenager Liam Lötter, who found it on a beach near the resort town of Xai Xai in southern Mozambique in December. Approximately a meter long, it carries the stencilled code “676EB,” which is written on the right-hand outboard flap farings of Boeing 777s. Its material, a hybrid of fiberglass and carbon fiber, is also consistent with a 777 flap fairing.

Lötter holding flap fairing
Liam Lötter with the object he found in Mozambique, presumed to be part of a 777 flap fairing.


The fact that MH370 was the only Boeing 777 lost over the ocean lends weight to the supposition that both parts come from that aircraft.

The pieces’ appearance, however, is quite different from that of the first (and so far, only confirmed) piece of MH370, the plane’s right-hand flaperon, which was found on Réunion on July 29, 2015. Every edge of the flaperon, and much of its broad surface area, was encrusted with goose barnacles of the genus Lepas. The flaperon also had been settled across much of its surface by a brownish algae. Both of the recently discovered pieces are relatively free of marine growth.

This article will explore what the presence or absence of marine growth indicates about how the three pieces traveled through the ocean.

Marine Fouling

When man-made material is immersed in an oceanic ecosystem, a number of plant, animal, and microbial species will begin to settle and grow upon its surface, a process known as “marine biofouling” because historically the process has attracted the most attention as a nuisance to mariners.

Marine biologists study the process using devices called “settling plates” or “fouling panels,” rectangles of material which are put in the water and then observed as time goes by. “The first thing that settles is microalgae, which looks like a slimy brown scummy scuzz,” says Cathryn Clarke Murray, a marine biologist who studies floating debris at the North Pacific Marine Science Organization. Out in the open ocean, microalgae is followed by bryozoans, moss-like filter feeders, and goose barnacles of the genus Lepas. “I’ve found paper bags that have blown into the Pacific and have barnacle larvae on them,” says Bloomsburg University professor Cynthia Venn, who has been studying marine organisms for decades.

vancouver_port monitoring 2010 067 copy
Example of a fouling panel colonized by golden star tunicates (aka sea squirts) during a three-month immersion near Vancouver, Canada. Photo courtesy Cathryn Clarke Murray


Given the great size of the Earth’s oceans, and the relatively slow speed at which objects drift (on the order of dozens of miles per day), objects encountered on the open sea have plenty of time to become colonized. During a survey of debris in the Pacific, marine biologist Miriam Goldstein collected 242 objects and found that all had organisms growing on them except for two that were one square inch in size. University of Florida biologist Mike Gil conducted a similar survey voyage in the eastern Pacific and says that “we didn’t find any clean debris, bottle cap size and larger.”

The mix of species present on an object can yield clues about how it has drifted, a process that renowned invertebrate biologist James Carlton, director of the Williams-Mystic Maritime Studies Program, has labeled “bioforensics.” In his study of marine debris washed out to sea during the Japanese tsunami of 2011, Carlton says, he found “we can track debris across the ocean using two species of bryozoans. One’s cold water, one’s warm water. When I get a boat that lands in Washington or Oregon and has the warm-water bryozoan, it tells me that it went well south before turning north.” Similarly, Carlton has been able to identify debris that traveled south along the coast of Japan before crossing the Pacific by the presence of sea life endemic to that area.

Unfortunately, the flaperon discovered on Réunion Island has been closely held by French investigators since its discovery, so is not known if such a bioforensic analysis has been conducted.

While the presence of certain species can indicate the route its home drifted, the size of individuals can indicate how long an object has been at sea—with some important caveats. Water temperature and the presence of nutrients both affect how quickly an organism will grow. Those on tsunami debris that was carried along through the nutrient-rich waters of the Aleutian chain and wound up in the Pacific Northwest grew faster, and in greater profusion, than those which grew on debris that followed a more tropical route and came ashore in Hawaii.

In order to gauge the time that an object has been in the water, then, it’s important to have a baseline against which to measure. For instance, here’s a boat that spent eight months drifting from Australia to the island of Mayotte in the western Indian ocean.

Mayotte boat


By comparing the size of the barnacles with the known dimensions of the boat, it is possible to ascertain that they have a maximum capitulum length of 3.5 cm.

And here are Lepas barnacles that grew on the Réunion flaperon.


Given the similarity in latitudes between Réunion and Mayotte, and the fact that the flaperon is believed also to have begun its journey off the west coast of Australia, the temperatures and nutrient levels experienced by both objects should be roughly the same. Applying the same photographic analysis yields a capitulum length of 2.3 cm. Adjusting known Lepas growth rates for the age and size of the Mayotte Lepas specifimens, the size of the Lepas barnacles on the Réunion flaperon suggests it was in water between four and six months.

This technique cannot be applied to the objects found in Mozambique because there are no identifiable forms of marine life visible on them. This absence of visible growth, however, allows us to put an upper bound on the amount of time they were in the water.

“If I put a piece of fiberglass into the ocean, I would expect to see that kind of scummy scuzz about a month after,” says Murray. However, in photographs the pieces of Mozambique debris “look pretty clean to me,” she says.

Flap fairing closeup
A closeup of the presumed flap fairing.


Shown an image of the new debris and asked how long the pieces look like they’ve been in the water, Jim Carlton says, “My gut instinct would be [that these pieces have been] not long at sea. Not long at sea, because we presume that if you are at sea, you’re going to get Lepas and bryozoans and other oceanic species on you. If you drift in the coastal zone, you’ll pick up coastal barnacles.” Given all that, he cites a possible immersion time of “a couple of days.”

No Step Closeup 2

No Step closeup copy
A closeup of ‘No Step’ honeycomb


Sam Chan, who studies invasive species at Oregon State University and regularly conducts settling plate experiments on the Pacific coast, says that he finds the clean condition of the honeycombs to be telling. “Not to see marine growth in the honeycomb structure was surprising to me,” he says. “The settling plates we put in the water actually look very much like the honeycomb structure, because it’s a good environment for them to settle.” He says the amount of time the objects have been in the water “could be a couple of weeks. It’s certainly not indicative of something that has been in the water for multiple years, let alone even half a year.” He adds, “If there’s no fouling, was it even in the water?”

Local Mozambique officials who were able to examine the Gibson piece firsthand were similarly skeptical. Joao de Abreu, the director of Mozambique’s National Civil Aviation Institute, was quoted by his government’s official news agency as saying that the object was too clean to have been in the ocean for two years.

Henry Carson, a marine biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, points out that fish sometimes congregate around floating debris in the ocean and can reduce the populations of organisms growing on it. “A colleague of mine encountered a piece of a boat in the middle of the Pacific–I believe also made of fiberglass–that had very few barnacles–and a lot of fish,” he says. “Presumably the grazing fish had kept the barnacles from becoming established. Your pieces could also have sheltered a substantial fish community. Not sure the fish would keep it 100% clean, though, especially of all algae and bryozoans.”

In the Pacific Northwest, it’s not uncommon for beachcombers to find pieces of tsunami debris that have no significant accumulation of marine life on them, but these tend to be highly buoyant objects like pieces of polystyrene foam or smooth, round buoys and floats. “I can only think this stuff rolls on the sea surface,” says Carlton. “Between the UV and getting baked and dried out, dessication’s going to do a job, these things come in whistle clean.”

AK tsunami debris
An example of tsunami found washed up on US coast with almost no biofouling.


Obviously that neither of the Mozambique pieces would fit that description, but Carlton points out that it might be possible to imagine a scenario in which they floated across an ocean and then became beached, whereupon it dried out, was foraged upon by terrestrial animals and scoured by wind and sand, then washed out to sea again for a few days before becoming beached again. “One can imagine these scenarios,” he says. “Their probability is another matter.”

Other biologists disagree that weathering and predation could plausibly erase all trace of prior colonization. “We usually see some evidence left, even if it’s been dried out on the beach for a while,” says Murray. “You would see barnacle shells, or the byssal threads from the mussels, even if the mussel’s gone. Usually you see something. I can’t see anything in these pictures.”

“Even if beached and tumbled and baked for some time, I would expect to see a lattice of bryozoan skeletons, barnacle attachment scars, and some staining from where algae had grown. A lot of those things are pretty resilient,” says Carson. “I don’t see any of that in the close-up pictures.”

Says Chan, “There could be some time of feeding or predation, but within that honeycomb structure you would probably still see some remnants, and I just don’t see any.”

Carlton agrees that the condition of the Mozambique debris is puzzling. “Without any bioforensic evidence,” he says, “it’s just a headscratcher.”


The absence of biofouling on a piece of suspected aircraft debris recovered in Mozambique in December, 2015 suggests that it entered the water no earlier than October of that year. The absence of biofouling on a piece of suspected aircraft debris recovered in Mozambique in February, 2016 suggests that it entered the water no earlier than January, 2016. It is entirely possible that one or both of the Mozambique objects were never in the ocean at all.

All of these results counterindicate a scenario in which these pieces of debris were generated by a crash on March 8, 2014 near the area currently being searched by the ATSB. It is incumbent on all the relevant authorities to make public the details of a close examination of the parts, in order to determine how these objects could have arrived in the western Indian Ocean.

Update 3-17-16

I’m adding a couple of videos that Blaine very graciously shared with me, to show how his piece floated in the water. It should be fairly clear that this is not a spherical-float kind of situation. One end of the piece is denser than seawater and is going to be submerged whether or not the piece is occasionally flipped by waves.



Update 3-18-16

David Griffin, an oceanographer with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), has expended considerable effort working with drift models to understand how ocean currents may have dispersed debris from a crash site in the southern Indian Ocean. In response to Blaine Alan Gibson’s Mozambique find, he writes on the CSIRO web site: “this item is not heavily encrusted with sea life” and therefore “time at sea is therefore possibly much less than the 716 days that have elapsed since 14 March 2014.”

A number of readers have speculated about various factors that may have kept marine organisms from taking up residence on these objects. The fact is that unless a piece is made entirely of smooth unbroken plastic (and usually even then), it is going to acquire a coating of marine life after a certain amount of time at sea. To see a lot of examples of how objects of different size, shape, and material accumulate debris, here is a gallery of Japanese tsunami debris found washed up in Hawaii. And here is a gallery of stuff that washed up in the Pacific Northwest of the USA.

362 thoughts on “Bioforensic Analysis of Suspected MH370 Debris UPDATED x2”

  1. Littlefoot/Rob – here we go again. You don’t lecture a pilot about flying, or a sat expert about pings, a radar expert about radar, but marine biologists who specifically study colonized flotsam can be swatted away??? Why? Why is it so important for this debris to be legit?? Pressure has been showing for ages I guess, but that’s the problem with marine biologists, just can’t trust em? Been sweating on this bloody spread sheet for two years and just when it gets interesting here they come…..bastards!!

  2. @Erik Nelson, This is a pretty good summary of a ghost-plane scenario, which has more or less been ruled out by the absence of airplane wreckage in the ATSB’s search of the seabed in the southern Indian Ocean. A couple of your data points have been ruled out, but I won’t dredge them up again here.

  3. @Matty,
    🙂 🙂
    I should add that my sister is one of those treachereous marine biologists.

  4. Littlefoot – I have a slightly nerdy fascination with fossicking around the old overgrown timber mill townsites around my way and exploring the long torn up rail lines that serviced them before cars and roads became the norm. Many items I have retrieved from these excursions so when I spotted a very unusual bottle on a beach years ago I souvenired it. Won’t bore you with the appearance but it was totally novel and had an extravagant stand of Chinese symbols running right down the side. The barnacles were gone but it was obvious they had been there in number. Until recently I still had it and years ago I actually tried to clean it up for a shelf. Pointless. I couldn’t get those rings of barnacle cement off without damaging it and thought hitting it with sulphuric acid wasn’t worth it either. It was dead clear it had been colonized when it was out there.

  5. FlyDubai FZ981 B737-800 crashed in Russia today’s morning. Officials say either bad weather or pilot error to blame, but one CCTV record shows falling “fireball” suggesting blast in the air.

  6. @Matty, are those old timber mill townsites located at the beach?
    I have the same tendency and pick up fascinating junk everywhere. Once I found a totally dirty and slightly corroded big metal casket someone had discarded in our street. When I had cleaned it, it looked actually quite beautiful and I found a label, which said:”Madras 1907″. I started to use it for collecting old papers for recycling purposes. And Indian guest who immediately reckognized that this was an old Indian item told me much later that those indestructible caskets are still very common in India where they were used for storing books. I have no idea how it ended up in my street in Northern Germany.
    I will show my sister your comment re:those bastard marine experts when I see her next week and we will discuss in detail the new debris and Jeff’s article.

  7. @Erik Nelson

    you said:

    “all electrical circuit breakers pulled
    all communications deactivated
    all air compressors deactivated
    cabin pressure drops, wing deicing ends”

    Wing deicing is in the automatic position, and when no icing is detected by the probes on the forward fuselage the wing deice valves will be closed. Hazard of icing at altitude may happen when flying through clouds.
    Do you have any information that MH370 was flying or anticipating icing conditions at FL 350?

    The cabin is not pressurized by compressors, but by engine bleed air. The pressure is regulated by the outflow valves. It is a seperate system and has nothing to do with cabin pressurization. Why would he fumble with it?

    “wing inspection lights turned on to check cold wings for ice”

    See my comment above. No icing conditions, no need to check the wings.

    “Captain succumbs to hypoxia”

    Can you name a reason for this? According to your book he repressurized the cabin, so there would be enough oxygen available.

    “2:55am Katherine Tee observes ghost plane flying flat & level illuminated by wing inspection lights, perhaps observing effects of ice sublimating off of wings”

    You are pulling our leg. Go out and try to observe an aircraft flying at FL 350 during night. It is just a bkip of light. Kate described a low flying aircraft, where she could see the wings and fuselage .

    Not commenting on your other points does not mean that I share them.

  8. @ERIK

    Interesting theory! A few comments:

    Not wishing to split hairs but wasn’t it the Captain who gave the sign-off? Unusual, for starters, and he gave the altitude 35,000ft twice, also slightly unusual.

    The pilot had a lot more than one hour’s oxygen. If I remember from Factual Information, it was a figure in the teens.

    Opened the outflow valves, closed off the A/C Pack valves to depressurize, agree with that.

    Not sure about the de-icing though, not really thought about it to be honest.

    I think he repressurized the plane one hour later to stop himself succumbing to hypothermia. Did anyone else the suspicious body language as he was being frisked at the airport? The way he put his arms down suggested to me he was wanting to keep something concealed, say thermal underwear. It might sound ridiculous, but his behaviour just didn’t seen casual enough.

    Mumbling in the oxygen mask is very plausible, climbing to 43,000ft is not. It wasn’t possible, the radar doesn’t show it, and it wasn’t necessary.

    So we agree at least in it being a pre-planned thing, but we disagree on the ending.
    IGOGU/ISBIX…7th arc is far too close to the DSTG hotspot to be a fluke, which means he must have been navigating.

    And he had to be alive at the end, as the ATSB will have to publically accept, come this July.

  9. @Matty

    You seem to a have high regard for marine biologists. The reality, of course, is far different.

    begin cut-paste//

    The employment outlook in this field is highly competitive. The supply of marine scientists far exceeds the demand, and the number of government jobs (the federal and state governments are important employers) is limited. Other employers are local governments, aquaria/museums, colleges and universities, and private research laboratories or consulting firms.

    end cut-paste//

    The above snippet was taken from the NOAA link below.

    The vast majority of marine biologists are sucking on a government tit somewhere. Not saying that is a horrible thing, but it is a different perspective than you get with a real job. Sorry LIttlefoot.

    I am surprised that a “professional” would offer an opinion based on a picture in any case. Would you expect to be able to send pictures of yourself standing naked in the bathroom (from several angles) to a medical doctor and expect him to provide any comments relative to the state of your health (besides being overweight as most of are)? Of course not. Any proper conclusion be it debris status or the state of your health requires poking and prodding and all sort of detailed diagnostic testing.

    My comments relative to the lack of biofouling are simply to present an alternative possibility – that is the geometry and size of the parts may not have been conducive to colonization in the pelagic zone where the debris would have spent most of its time since March, 2014.

    @all – No naked pictures, please.

  10. “Mumbling in the oxygen mask is very plausible, climbing to 43,000ft is not. It wasn’t possible, the radar doesn’t show it, and it wasn’t necessary.”

    I would risk to say that the exactly opposite is true: mumbling in oxygen mask is a silly assumption; radar data have showed climb to 43,000 ft or so; 43,000 ft is surprisingly consistent with the speed variations at IGARI based on the energy balance according to Gysbreght’s study.

  11. Oleksandr:

    The “energy balance according to Gysbreght’s study” reflects the speeds in Figure 4.2 of the Bayesian Methods report. The authors of that report comment about those speeds is:

    Figure 4.2 shows the derived speed
    and heading obtained from this filter.1 The speed estimates vary dramatically during
    the first turn, which is not an accurate representation of the aircraft speed at this time.
    It is likely due to the mismatch between the assumed linear Kalman filter model and
    the high acceleration manoeuvre performed by the aircraft.

  12. Gysbreght,

    Yes, but isn’t it another remarkable coincidence that the peak altitude based on the energy conservation is consistent with what we were initially told based on radar readings?

  13. Oleksandr,

    I don’t recall being ‘told’ anything of the kind. Some of us may have taken the rumours circulating on Internet too seriously.

  14. Matty Perth wrote: “Littlefoot/Rob – here we go again. You don’t lecture a pilot about flying, or a sat expert about pings, a radar expert about radar, but marine biologists who specifically study colonized flotsam can be swatted away??? Why?

    One can cherry pick experts, ask them leading questions and get the preferred answer. However, re the biofouling, there are other experts that say otherwise, including one who regularly wind surfs with great white sharks:

    Oceanographer Charitha Pattiaratchi from the University of Western Australia said if the part was discovered on a sandbank as reported, the motion of the waves against the abrasive sand may have shaved off any sea life.

    “If it had been found at sea, I would’ve expected barnacles, but if it’s been on a beach, it’s basically been sandblasted,” he said.

    He also said the part appeared to be flat, and barnacles needed something to grip, adding that the barnacles had only appeared on the corners and crevices of the flaperon.

    Of the photo albums that Jeff linked to, there are several objects with Japanese writing on them that do not have obvious bioaccumulations on them–those could not have originated locally.

    Also the claim that the Mozambique objects do not have ANY signs of life on them is also false. Again, this requires LOOKING, however. E.g., the photo posted above labeled “A closeup of the presumed flap fairing”: just right of center on the grey skin portion, there is a spot composed of some sort of crud. I will bet anybody on this thread 100 USD that if that spot were with some 10% HCl, it would fizz like mad, indicating that it is calcareous in nature, and that it therefore must have been deposited by some sort of organism.

    As for why is it important that these objects came from the 9M-MRO? Um, mainly because they are evidence? For starters: (1) they show the crash happened in the SIO; (2) they are evidence that the crash happened with the flaps extended; (3) that they are few in number is evidence that the plane ended up largely intact.

    Thus, the importance of these parts is that they confirm Byron Bailey’s “rogue pilot” theory–which is also being confirmed every day by the fruitless search based on the pilot incapacitated scenario.

    To not commit to a search further to the southwest because the fact that there aren’t goose barnacles on these objects is taken as proof of a spoofing scenario masterminded by Putin, is a bit premature IMHO.

  15. @Oleksandr

    Thank you, but I wouldn’t say that mumbling in an oxygen mask is necessarily a silly assumption. Assume the other plane got through to MH370 on the emergency frequency and wasn’t confusing him with somebody else, which we will take on trust, then they could only have got through to the cockpit. And what would the pilot have been wearing at this point? Yes, an oxygen mask.

    It’s worthy of consideration, because the guy in MH370 may have wanted the outside world to assume he’d suffered a major emergency with decompression and loss of comms. Controllers might then be deceived into thinking he was making for the nearest airfield, eg. Penang, and not scramble the fighters, when his real intention was to make a run for it (I’m not the first here to suggest this I know but I admit, the idea has some merit). He made it look as if he was positioning for a landing at Penang then scooted off at the last minute. His way of minimizing the risk he took in running the gauntlet along the Thai/Kuala Lumpur border.

    All part of the deception plan. The plane flew off into the night, until the fuel ran out and it crashed. They would never know it’s final resting place.

  16. @littlefoot – You said, “Oh, well, those barnacles! They are soo choosy and unpredictable in their preferences.” That must explain the abundance of barnacles on the purple rubber boot on page 4 and the clean orange rubber boot on page 7.

    @Erik Nelson – Jeff recently announced the 20,000th post on this blog. Among them is a near duplicate of your scenario and timeline.

    @Brock – The first FI report said fuel limits would be included in the final report. I was disappointed when the recent update postponed all real fuel information to some time after the search is finished. One reason is they should have been able to develop very accurate fuel burn rates for 9M-MRO’s engines based on actual values from recent trips. All we have is guidelines and tables from a few different Boeing manuals. Fortunately, this data can help us estimate range as we are reasonably confident of the endurance – about 5.9 hours after last radar using 35,600 kg of fuel. After that is the FMT and the PIC selects a heading, speed and altitude into the FMC. Does the PIC continue to control the plane until a glide after fuel exhaustion or take a bullet at 18:35? Perhaps he executes one or more step climbs during the final 6 hours but doesn’t try to glide the plane giving us a semi-ghost flight (pilot controlling the FMC for 1 to 5 hours after the FMT, but AP thereafter). This does not mean the flight could have continued at any speed and/or Flight Level. Gysbreght graphs from last May show the relationship of Endurance and Range to Flight Level so all you then need is the PDA to decide if the speed could have been LRC, ECON xx, MRC or VMO and still meet the ping arc locations.

    My guess is it flew a little bit further down the 6th Arc before going into a spiral dive.

  17. @BrockMcEwen

    You said “@littlefoot: you asked me why the scans have never reached the first NTSB path”

    Another possibility is that the NTSB range calculations were initially done assuming ISAT conditions. Then a subsequent refinement in the range calculation (by Boeing/ATSB) was to compensate for the ~+10C higher temperatures over much of the route. This increases the fuel burn rate and reduces both the endurance and the range by almost 3%.

    A second possibility is the inclusion of the engine PDAs, which will also reduce range and endurance by about 2-3%. Perhaps the NTSB calculations, being done so soon after the event, did not include either the temperature effect or the PDAs, with a total effect of 5-6%. This would move the intersection of the range limit and the 7th arc considerably to the NE.

    Interestingly, for MH370 we have a rather accurate endurance estimate based on inferred fuel exhaustion time and a rather precise arc defining a locus of range estimates. In the simplest model of constant altitude and unchanged speed control mode, that and the radar data are sufficient to determine two arc intersections. Unfortunately, there is strong evidence in the satellite data for speed and altitude changes after diversion, rendering the simple model inaccurate.

    After multiple refinements in my fuel consumption model (almost all of which tend to reduce range and move the end point to the NE), I have concluded that 9M-MRO could not have flown to the end of the more westerly of the two NTSB routes on the night in question. My most recent results are close to (but slightly outside of) the SW end of the current ATSB search tracks. This is only possible if the post-FMT route was flown at ~FL410. At lower altitudes, the previous ATSB search zone is adequate. It is possible this latest extension by ATSB to the SW recognizes the possibility of a post-FMT altitude up to FL410.

  18. “My guess is it flew a little bit further down the 6th Arc before going into a spiral dive.”

    He had to be alive and awake to set the rudder off-centre.

  19. @Rob

    Would the controlled ditch scenario have the flaps down? I have read “experts” who say the visual evidence on the flaperon is that it “fluttered off” once power was lost because of the minimal damage evidenced on the leading edge. I tend to agree that some sort of piloted landing would account for the minimal debris field but the flaperon is the one piece of physical evidence we have that needs to be accounted for in any analysis. So thanks in advance for any thoughts you have on the flaperon.

  20. @DR.BobbyUlich,
    How would you explain the increased altitude? That’s hardly compatible with a ghost flight scenario and would be considerably above the normal maximal cruising altitude of 39000 ft. And while some fuel weight would’ve been burned the plane was still with cargo and passengers.

  21. DrBobbyUlich posted March 19, 2016 at 12:46 PM: “Another possibility is that the NTSB range calculations were initially done assuming ISAT conditions. Then a subsequent refinement in the range calculation (by Boeing/ATSB) was to compensate for the ~+10C higher temperatures over much of the route. This increases the fuel burn rate and reduces both the endurance and the range by almost 3%. ”

    Did the NTSB do range calculations?

    Increasing atmospheric temperature above ISA increases fuel burn rate and true airspeed in the same ratio. The distance covered per unit of fuel does not change, but requires less time.

    Do you have information on the PDA?

  22. @Gysbreght,

    I don’t know for certain if the NTSB did any range calculations, but it would seem to be a logical thing to do before they put out a route map, just to make sure the ends were reachable.

    The +10C temperature over ISAT increases the fuel burn rate (and endurance) by 1%/3C = 3.3% for 10C. The true air speed for a given Mach number will increase by SQRT[(216.7+10)/216.7] – 1 = 2.3%. Since these two percentages are unequal, there is a net range reduction due to temperature of 3.3% – 2.3% = 1.0%.

    So +10C reduces endurance by 3.3% and also reduces range by 1.0%.

    ATSB has told me they cannot release any PDA numbers or even fuel reports on previous flights because this is Boeing proprietary information (a rather weak excuse in my opinion). I may submit a FOIA request. I have estimated the difference in the cruise PDAs of the R and L engines (R – L ~ 0.6%) using the FI fuel reports. I have been told that typical PDAs for used engines are 2.5 – 3.5%, but I cannot verify this.

  23. Speaking of FOIA requests, has anybody did a FOIA request for the FBI files from their forensic analysis of Zaharie’s computer/flight simulator? If the official story is that there is no ongoing criminal investigation, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

  24. @DrBobbyUlich,

    “The +10C temperature over ISAT increases the fuel burn rate (and endurance) by 1%/3C = 3.3% for 10C.”

    That is new for me. Do you have a reference for that statement?

  25. @DennisW

    “I am also very critical of the Aussies for not being more hard nosed with their Malay neighbors. I insisted earlier that it would take several “come to Jesus” meetings with the folks in Kuala Lumpur before I would toss $100M+ plus in the toilet. I am very disappointed in the behavior of the Aussie politicians, not the ATSB or SSWG or IG who have been behaving in good faith (naive behavior, but sincere nonetheless).”

    well, according to wikileaks they have quite a history of “cooperation”

    (on 2014-07-29).”Australia bans reporting of multi-nation corruption case involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.”

    ironically, this plane almost reached Vietnam and then went across Malaysia and around Indonesia…

    and even more ironically, the flaperon has been found on the exact same date (2014-07-29)


    “I am struggling to understand your idea: why landing at Car Nicobar military Base is more risky than landing at CI?”

    Car Nicobar landing would have to be done at night, CI landing was (supposedly) planned for morning


    “Surely the most obvious explanation is that those pieces came from Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, a Boeing 767-200ER, which crash-landed on 23 November 1996”

    look to good for being 20yo

  26. @DrBobbyUlich: I almost mentioned your seminal work – which was the strongest I’ve ever read, inside or outside the investigation – as having strongly pointed to 84°E (or even further west).

    I see and acknowledge that you are backtracking, albeit slightly. You have every right to refine your estimate – that is the heart of the scientific method. All I ask is that you stay strong in the face of “official” pronouncements on range limits, and not be “group-thinked” into stretching your calculations to ensure consistency with theirs. An overdeveloped sense of trust in official pronouncements, in my opinion, has been the leading cause of bad searching in particular, and bad government in general.

    I would be VERY surprised if the NTSB assumed 100% engine efficiency in drawing their lines. A reasonable PDA is – or should be – flight forensics 101.

    But your point about temperature is acknowledged and appreciated. If the NTSB were kind enough to give us a refined version of their calc, it well might move a bit east, depending on how much wind and temperature were reflected in the original.

    I hope you return the favour, by acknowledging and appreciating that…

    a) range limits are supposed to be calculated at range-maximizing speeds AND altitudes from the get-go. “Finding” new range hiding at a higher assumed altitude – after two years searching well short of it – smells very, very bad. And the Oct.8, 2014 report – the last and most definitive disclosure we’ve seen from the SSWG on the subject – claims their SW limit is defined by FL400.

    b) to the extent they now approach the original limit, ALL arguments for moving/staying well NE of it – not just the ridiculous ones offered/intimated by officials (see below) – crumble to dust.

    c) the SSWG has now spent over four months searching further beyond their own range limit of record (Oct.8/’14) than even a piloted glide could reach. Even if they know what they’re doing, they should publish this new limit. They refuse to. This is unacceptable.

    d) even if you are right, faith in the official fuel limit progression now requires the following set of beliefs:

    1) the STATED reasons for moving the limits dramatically NE (“flew faster”, AMSA, March 28, 2014) and back SW (dropping assumed wild altitude swings, Houston, Jun/’14) were both provably wrong-headed – and do NOT offset in concept – but do offset in quantum, by lucky coincidence.

    2) That the error in Figure 2 of the ATSB’s Oct.8, 2014 report – which skewed the limit 4° to the NE, to which I alerted this forum in Nov, 2014, and for which the SSWG has never accounted (unless you count slinking the search 3° back SW, 13 months later) – was just an unfortunate and coincidental accident.

    3) Meanwhile, you now tell me the REAL reason for moving NE and now back SW is that we now have both correct PDA/temperature (moves limit NE) and correct altitude (moves limit SW) – and that, while they offset now (by yet more pure coincidence, since the search is returning to where is was when NEITHER was on board), we spent two years limiting the search to the wrong longitude because, by shatteringly bad luck, we had refined the one, but not the other.

    Does this sum up the current position of defenders of the official analysis?

  27. @littlefoot,

    Section in my Addendum 5 demonstrates the necessity of a significant climb at FMT in order to fit the BFO data. My best-fit climb rate is very close to 2,000 fpm, and the climb duration included all the 18:25-18:27 BFOs. This indicates a climb of ~5,000 feet occurred. See Figure 7 for a plot of altitude versus time.

    The maximum service ceiling of a B777-200ER (altitude at which the maximum rate of climb is reduced to around 100 feet/min) is 43,100 feet.

    The Boeing Fuel Burn table (see Table 8 in my Addendum 5) show FL410 is preferred at 180 MT total weight and is near-optimum for weights from 200 MT to 160 MT.

    My Figure 17 in Addendum 5 shows one example of predicted aircraft weight versus time.

    ~FL410 was achievable at FMT, and the BFO data indicate a significant climb occurred then to that approximate altitude.

  28. @Brock McEwen,

    I am certainly not trying to match anyone else’s results. My results are independently done and intended to be unbiased insofar as is humanly possible.

    I am not telling you any reason for the search moving in any direction. ATSB does not share their reasoning with me any more than they do with you.

    Finally, I am not defending the “official analysis”, whatever that is. I just model the flight with some assumptions and I get what I get. I have refined my model over time, especially the fuel burn parameters, and this leads to changes primarily in my best-fit PDA needed to satisfy range and endurance simultaneously.

  29. @Gysbreght,

    Your question is a good one.

    There is a footnote in the fuel burn rate tables in the Boeing Flight Planning and Performance Manual for the B777-200ER with GE90-94B Engines: “Increase/decrease fuel flow 3% per 10°C above/below standard TAT.”

    There is no such footnote on the single table I have for the Trent engine, but I am assuming a similar temperature effect must also occur for the Trent engine as it does for the GE engine. With no numerical value being given for the Trent engine, I assume the same value Boeing gives for the GE engine.

  30. ROB,

    “Assume the other plane got through to MH370 on the emergency frequency and wasn’t confusing him with somebody else, which we will take on trust, then they could only have got through to the cockpit. And what would the pilot have been wearing at this point? Yes, an oxygen mask.”

    – Why would he need to respond at all, not talking about wearing mask?
    – In my understanding that story of the contact has never received a formal confirmation? Why?

    “It’s worthy of consideration, because the guy in MH370 may have wanted the outside world to assume he’d suffered a major emergency with decompression and loss of comms.”

    – You said he responded by emergency HVF. Now you say he wanted everybody to think they lost all communication means. Doesn’t the former contradict to the latter?
    – They had SATCOM, 3 HVF, and HF channels. On top of it ELT can be manually activated. How could they simulate the loss of all communication channels?
    – Emergency with decompression requires immediate descent. The goal would be to return as safe as possible. Not as fast as possible. Did he try to simulate this?

    “Controllers might then be deceived into thinking he was making for the nearest airfield, eg. Penang,”

    – Penang was not the nearest to IGARI.
    – Which controllers? If he switched off ACARS, he was invisible for ATC.

  31. Gysbreght,

    “I don’t recall being ‘told’ anything of the kind. Some of us may have taken the rumours circulating on Internet too seriously.”

    When the radar data just emerged, CNN, BBC or some other ‘reputable’ news channel presented altitude plot in the form of animation. I regret I did not save it as later I was unable to find it again. At that time Wikipedia described exactly the same altitude variations by words. I even copied/pasted respective paragraph somewhere on Duncan’s or Jeff’s blog. Where could the altitude information seep from? Rumors with plots? The altitude plot was resembling plugoid, but it was not consistent with high average speed of 500 knots.

  32. @DrBobbyUlich,

    Thanks for that background information. I submit that those ballpark adjustments in round figures are probably conservative for flight planning/monitoring purposes.

  33. StevanG,

    “Car Nicobar landing would have to be done at night, CI landing was (supposedly) planned for morning”

    Why would the risk of being discovered during morning be lower than during night?

  34. DrBobbyUlich posted March 19, 2016 at 2:59 PM: “The maximum service ceiling of a B777-200ER (altitude at which the maximum rate of climb is reduced to around 100 feet/min) is 43,100 feet.”

    Sorry, that is not entirely correct. 43,100 ft is a structural limit, defined by the maximum pressure differential that the pressure cabin is designed for.

    In addition there is thrust-limited maximum altitude, defined by 300 fpm residual rate of climb at maximum climb thrust. The thrust-limited maximum altitude varies with weight and temperature.

    At 18:22 the weight was 210 tons and the thrust-limited altitude at ISA+10 and below was 41100 ft, so FL410 was achievable, but the achievable rate of climb at that FL was about 300 fpm.

  35. @Jerry M:

    I would also put “experts” in quotation marks. There is no evidence for the flutter theory, but it cannot be ruled out either.

  36. On FZ981:

    Citation from the New York Times:

    “On the second landing attempt, a wing of the plane struck the ground, and the aircraft began to break apart and burn, the statement said.”

    What wing? The two CCTV footages show FZ981 plummeted down at hight speed at ~40 degrees nose down and wrecked into the runway. Again no distress signal. Everythjng was shredded into fine pieces – the impact speed was obviously significantly higher than the normal landing speed. Sudden stall?

  37. @Gysbreght,

    The “service ceiling” is defined as the altitude where the rate of climb drops below a prescribed value. The service ceiling is the maximum usable altitude of an aircraft. Numerous internet sites list the same value of 43,100 feet for all B777 aircraft.

    It is quite possible that the climb accelerated to ~2,000 fpm at ~FL360 and then slowly decelerated at the aircraft neared FL410. The 18:27 BFOs do indicate a somewhat lower ROC than inferred from the 18:25 BFOs. I have been wondering what might cause this. Perhaps the ROC simply fell off as the aircraft neared its final altitude.

    It would be interesting to model this effect on the BFOs. Have you estimated the maximum ROC versus flight level for post-FMT weight?

  38. Littlefoot,

    Your asked Bobby: “@DR.BobbyUlich,
    How would you explain the increased altitude? That’s hardly compatible with a ghost flight scenario”

    Bobby responded:


    Section in my Addendum 5 demonstrates the necessity of a significant climb at FMT in order to fit the BFO data. ”

    An interesting thing is that I already asked Bobby the same question. And received nearly the same answer. Is something wrong with our formulations?

  39. @JerryM

    Beware the so-called “expert”. My definition of an expert, or Xpert phonetic Xspurt, is X the unknown quantity, spurt a drip under pressure. So disrespectful!

    I never did believe the flutter hypothesis. The trailing edge damage is consistent with hydrodynamic erosion. The leading edge damage is less obvious. As the aircraft ploughed through the water, pressure on the underside of the flaperon built up until the point was reached when the inboard hinge failed at its weakest point under the load conditions, which in this case was immediately below the flaperon body, followed closely by failure of the outboard hinge at the same point. The flaperon was then free to rotate about the two PCU attachment pins, to the horizontal position. It was at this point that the leading edge was subjected to the most intense hydrodynamic pressure, being held below the wing centreline by the two fully extended PCU rams. The inboard section of leading next to the PCU bracket is flattened out of shape (pushed in) by the pressure.
    The inboard PCU attachment bracket then failed under tension, allowing the flaperon to rotate in the horizontal plane and pivot about the outboard attachment (the outboard flap having disappeared by this time, together with the flap track fairing.
    As the flaperon rotated around, the outboard PCU arm fractured the outboard section of leading edge, also gouging out a piece from the outer edge. The outboard bracket then failed and the flaperon departed the aircraft. There is an indentation or wrinkle about 40cms long in the upper part of the leading edge (outboard end) due to torsion of the flaperon body following failure of the inboard hinge.

    I hope this is helpful.

  40. Dennis – just about all scientists live off the govt teat don’t they. Like school teachers etc. The scientists obviously felt confident to make an assessment based on the photo’s and did so unanimously. “Has it been in the water at all”.

    Warren – an oceanographer and a marine biologist are two very different things. Charitha Pattiaratchi(oceanographer) could tell you a bit about drift and indeed predicted landfalls in Africa, like a lot of others. Debris in Africa is good news for Charitha. Jeff has provided a bunch of marine guys to weigh in on it, why is that cherry picking? Flat surfaces? Look at the flaperon and the Mayotte boat hull. It’s actually a no brainer. Why is it necessarily evidence? If this is genuine MH370 debris then you have a problem – it didn’t float there.

    Lauren – barnacles actually aren’t that choosy. Two boots, one shiny clean, the other colonized? The reality is we don’t know the history of either.

  41. @Oleksandr

    I agree, the whole idea does seem a bit implausable, but I suggested it in order to foster discussion. I have in front of me pages 3 & 4 of Factual Information, summarizing the radar tracking between 17:21 and 18:22. Nowhere can I see an altitude greater than 35,700ft recorded. However, I can see several mentions of civilian primary radar contacts ( which don’t require a transponder) incl Kuala Lumpur and Khota Bharu, so there are you controllers. And by the way, ACARS does not transmit positions to ATC in real time. That is not its purpose. Penang is not the nearest airfield I agree, but in an emergency, the airfield with the best facilities is usually preferred. even if it is further away. I didn’t say he had a complete comms failure. He switched off the transponders, Satcom and ACARS. There is no evidence he switched of all the radio links.

    I know this is a tough group, but would you mind getting your basic facts right before wading in?

  42. Dennis – I suppose there is this assumption, and otherwise reasonable one, that all will be known in due course. I don’t even believe the biologists will even get the chance to study it, and I would be surprised if the French go down that road as well. Why open that can? There is a narrative and they will all stick to it. Who would want to throw that bomb? Just don’t be surprised if the Malaysian report has no mention of marine life or the lack of. If there was a two year build up on the other hand……

  43. As you say, there is an explanation for the flaperon in a controlled ditch. I wonder if the added debris on the right side indicates the controlled ditch had a bias toward the right side as it hit the water… Anyway, it seems that end of this July that people will be more interested in pilot late control vs rapid fuel exhaustion and catastrophic impact — there was no major debris field. ATSB has proved that the later didn’t happen in the areas they investigated.

  44. @Oleksandr

    “Why would the risk of being discovered during morning be lower than during night?”

    sorry I meant risk of getting crashed on the approach, I doubt you could hide big plane landing at CI at any time of the day

  45. @Matty

    There are areas on the Reunion flaperon (used as a benchmark) the are larger than Blaine’s find, and that are completely free of visible debris. How would you explain that? You cannot have it both ways.

    “Just about all scientists live off the government?”

    Not sure where you came up with that one. Maybe in Australia? Certainly not in California’s Silicon Valley where I worked.

    begin cut-paste//

    By far the largest employer of scientists and engineers (individuals with an S&E degree or employed in an S&E occupation) is the business sector (70%), followed by the education sector (19%) and the government sector (11%). Within the business sector, for-profit businesses employ the largest number of scientists and engineers.

    end cut-paste//

    For the USA as a whole the number of S&E people working in government is around 10%. Someone who wants to make money, and is talented, does not generally elect to work for the government. If governments and their agencies were not dysfunctional this blog would not exist.


  46. Warren – Patriatchi actually concedes there should be barnacles etc on the Mozambique pieces, but then offers his “sand-blasting” theory. Is he outside of his brief slightly? He wants debris as much as many of Jeff’s contributors but the theory is shaky. Items being cleansed by the sea is not really the way of the sea, hence the term fouling. Barnacles can get knocked around and eaten yes, but removing all trace is a process and they leave conspicuous calling cards.

    The state of these pieces fails the sniff test but it will do for those hungry for debris. As someone with nothing invested in the SIO theory I’m agnostic, but extremely bothered by the photo’s and the blunt skepticism of the experts. The plates they use to cultivate marine life are indeed made out of…….honeycomb. We can have sat experts, comms experts, radar, and on and on. Just don’t be having any of those people who study living things be throwing spanners in at this stage after I’ve bet the farm on my theory.

  47. Dennis – sounds like you have a very different picture there regarding the employment of scientists. No silicon valley here I can assure you.

    The flaperon has barnacles on flat areas just less of them, and no exposed honeycomb. The Mayotte boat is the same story.

  48. @Matty

    The Mozambique finds certainly appear to be from an aircraft. How do you think they got there? Not being a big Tom Clancy fan, I think they washed up from the sea.

    Yes , California has the 8th largest economy in the world, and it is much larger than Australia’s.

    California GDP $2.42 trillion USD
    Australia GDP $1.45 trillion USD

Comments are closed.