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. @Matty. Your 7:55PM post. Well said.

    @littlefoot. In her interview, Florence de Changy does say that one of the numbers matches, which does not completely contradict what the French prosecutor said (quoting from Jeff’s article 3rd Sept “…permet d’associer formellement l’un des trois numéros relevés à l’intérieur du flaperon au numéro de série du flaperon du boeing 777 du vol MH 370….” ) but she doesn’t say one of THREE numbers and the other comments she makes indicate she is now doubting the provenance of the flaperon. It was worth listening to her interview right through and I won’t attempt to quote any of it.

    I find this all very depressing – if the flaperon isn’t fair dinkum then is any of it? And if so how do we move forward except with a whistle-blower?

  2. About No Step’s time in the water, there might a clue to add to the biological. An Airbus 2007 document about composites mentions deterioration of honeycomb/skin bond with time and moisture. Might this phenomenon be relevant to No Step with its separation – ie how long this would take awash with seawater? Would depend on the epoxy used and the presumption that the separation was chemical, not physical.
    The document is on the web but has a proprietary information claim.
    If there were a useful tool, testing of residual bond strengths in other composite finds might also be useful.
    Perhaps this is already a standard forensic test?

  3. @David

    Funny you should mention this line of thought. I was also harboring the suspicion that metallurgy would yield less ambiguous results than biology. Nobody really knows why living things do what they do, even an organism as simple as a barnacle. I think inorganic processes and transformations are understood much better.

  4. @AM2, I agree with your assessment of Florence’s interview. I guess we will have to read the book once it is available in English.
    @Olexandr, as to your last comment to me: 😉

  5. @littlefoot

    According to the theory MH370 should be at S34-E88.

    I dn’t know if that area is already examined or not.

  6. @Rob. The flaperon failure mode. “The trailing edge damage is consistent with hydrodynamic erosion.” The fatigue hypothesis suggests that the fracture appearance is consistent with fatigue and that a direct load would have distorted the structure. By erosion do you mean buffeting or a sudden load? Flaps up, down or either?
    If flutter fatigue applied it would be more likely to emanate from wing flutter since if flaperon flutter its separation might well halt fatigue damage to the attachments.

    @Jerry M. “…there was no major debris field.” The aerial and surface searches did not cover the area where the current search reckons the crash was and subsequently much of it might have dispersed/sunk. So no evidence of a major debris field is not necessarily evidence there wasn’t one. However if satellites could be relied on to have revealed it and didn’t, maybe that is what you have in mind?

  7. @ROB

    First, I understand that radar data shows an initial hard left turn, at approximately 1:22am, sufficiently tight to throw anyone standing off their feet. The jarring turn was immediately followed with a steep climb to 43,000′ complete by about 1:25am, and including another softer left turn from about 1:23-24am.

    From 1:25-52am, the plane flew ROUGHLY straight towards Penang, descending ROUGHLY evenly to 23,000′ (about 800fpm on average).

    By 1:30-31am, when MH88 hailed the cockpit with emergency radio, MH370 was half way back to Malaysia, moving almost directly away from MH88 at a combined relative speed of almost 1000kt, at a total distance of the majority of 500km, and at 35,000-38,000′ altitude but descending down below MH88’s horizon. Perhaps the extreme range, high relative velocity, and rapidly failing line of sight, account for the signal distortions reported by MH88?

    Any mayday call circa 1:43am because the “cabin faced disintegration” would have been transmitted from a location nearly half way across Malaysia en route to Penang, and from an altitude of approximately 25,000-28,000′. Flight level bottoming out over Penang is consistent with the copilot’s ephemeral phone call connection thereat.

    All of the above could be construed as an emergency landing cover story, as you have suggested, complete with a cover story for cabin depressurization. Likewise, the outbound leg from Penang to IGOGU from 1:52-2:40am, gradually increasing in altitude from 23,000-30,000′ along a major flight corridor towards the Middle East & Europe, very arguably mimicked a regular passenger or cargo flight thereto.

    Please note the juxtaposition of opposites, descending inbound towards Penang and ascending outbound away.

    Now, the FMT south at or near IGOGU might be a jinx maneuver. And a large change in direction hints, if not implies, a corresponding change in altitude. So I do not mean to outright disregard the eyewitness testimony of the British boater on night watch. Moreover, fuselage illumination by wing inspection lights both explains Katherine Tee’s orange glow, and would be a logical safety check for an aircraft whose wing-warmers had been off for an hour, along with the cabin pressurization vents. I understand both systems rely on the same engine air flow, such that deactivating / reactivating the one necessarily affects the other. True?

    So, as aircraft ascent to high altitude supposedly expedited cabin depressurization, so aircraft descent was designed to hasten repressurization. That might mean that the pilot or pilots recognized their oxygen depletion issue, and sought to rectify the same. However, cabin pressure is restored only slowly, and hypoxia incapacitation by unconsciousness occurs quickly. Perhaps the pilot or pilots felt compelled to hold their outbound course to IGOGU for the sake of raising no alarms? Perhaps they measured their breathing trying to extend their oxygen supplies, as they began their ‘resurrection scenario’ at 2:25am at nearly 30,000′. Restoring cabin power, inflight entertainment panels and night time lighting came to life, air flow began hissing out of overhead vents, and the cockpit observed effective cabin altitude slowly dropping by 500fpm…

    Reaching IGOGU circa 2:40am, effective cabin altitude would have been about 21,000′ ? Turning sharply off of the major flight corridor, the pilots dropped down to a more breathable altitude, and turned on their inspection lights to check for ice accumulation. Perhaps it was the turning on of the lights, far to her north, that initially caught Katherine Tee’s eyes? But the fact that the bright lights remained on for her entire 10-15 minutes of observation implies that the flight crew didn’t get more than a few steps past the FMT, only typing that one more turn and descent into the autopilot and then activating the wing inspection lights at lower altitude on the new heading. At that point, the aircraft interior had been oxygen starved for almost 80 minutes, and the hijacking pilots succumbed to their own designs & devices.

    Please also note, it’s perhaps conceivable that one or more onboard eventually came to and attempted to assess and evaluate the situation. Late stage human flight control input could have come from semiconscious hijackers or even very confused & terrified passengers, hoping for rescue. One could thusly envision a survivor scenario with an large intact fuselage hiding in the deep as well. Chinese satellites actually really did image the floating wreck before it sank ??

  8. Is it possible to explain the lack of biological encrustation on Mozambique finds as arising from the items having remained above water, as part of a larger piece of floating debris? Initial satellite images showed floating objects the size of a jumbo jet fuselage… Perhaps ceiling panels remained high and dry whilst drifting across the SIO??

  9. @Matty

    From 40″

    The complexity of surface currents (and their seasonable dependency) is such that WIO debris finds should IMO not be related to / used as confirmation of possible SIO crash site anyway. This debris could as well have floated there from DG, or even from Maldives, to give some alternatives.

  10. I’ve read here (and on many other blogs about MH370) the urban legend that someone might have deliberately increased altitude from FL350 to FL410 to decrease the time required to make passengers unconscious. This idea is nonsense. It shows that many people are completely ignorant of the facts about Time of Useful Consciousness. The difference in ToUC between FL350 and FL410 is about 30 seconds (~50 seconds vs ~20 seconds). It would take about 20X that time difference to climb 6000 feet at that altitude. So the very suggestion is absurd. It did not happen. See for example:

    Another urban legend has to do with the oxygen supply available to the cockpit crew. According to the FI on page 28 (PDF page 46), the crew had 27 man-hours of oxygen on MH370 (for FL360). That’s more than enough to fly the entire flight at 35-40K feet depressurized.

  11. @Erik Nelson
    You try to find a reason for Kates observation, which is a reasonable attempt. To explain it with the hijacker visual checking the ice accumulation on the wings is fare fetched.
    Even if the bleed air to the wing deicing was switched off, and assumed that MH370 flew through icing conditions there is no reason to do a visial check on the wings for possible icing. What would his action be when he detected the accumulation of ice? Yes, switch on the anti icing equipment, the normal position is Auto, and if in doubt of the correct opereation it can be switched manual ON. Checking will not change anything. Why leave the onboard oxygen supply in the cockpit for a sensless wing check and risk hypoxia?
    Why not wait with this unnecessary check until pressure in the cabin is restored?

    That does not sum up.

  12. @RetiredF4

    Yes, I understand that interrupting primary power, so as to deactivate all communications systems and depressurize the plane, would simultaneously inactivate the bleed air for wing deicing. And I speculate that about 80 minutes of high altitude flying (1:20-2:40am) without warming the wings could result in significant ice accumulation… Which could be easily checked visually from the cockpit.

    Is that true? Perhaps the acting pilot was hoping to visually verify lack of such accumulation, so as to route all of the engine bleed air to repressurizing the plane maximally quickly? If so , then the pilot succumbed to hypoxia after engaging the wing inspection lights , but before scanning both sides of the aircraft.

    What about the copilot?
    From FI, pg.55:

    1827:03 – The IFE sets up a Data-3 ground connection (X.25 circuit) over SATCOM for an SMS/e-mail application after the SATCOM link is re-established.

    1828:05 – The IFE sets up a Data-3 ground connection (X.25 circuit) over SATCOM for a BITE application after the SATCOM link is re-established.

    BITE is an SMS application for iPhones. Perhaps the copilot tried to send SMS’s with his cell phone, 36 minutes after almost connecting a call over Penang? Perhaps the co-pilot and / or other crew and passengers were also breathing off of the crew oxygen supply?

  13. If it is good to turn every stone, even if it turns out to have had exercise value only…

    Then for the sake of human controlled glide scenarios and isolated SIO islands…

    May I mention the DXpedition FT5ZM to the Amsterdam & St. Paul islands from January – February of that year ? Glide down, beach the plane, herd hostages ashore and use amateur radio equipment to broadcast demands??

  14. @ROB @Oleksandr

    Both of you have stated that Penang was not closest alternate to IGARI. If not Penang, then where? According to my review of “adequate aerodromes” there were only three operational at night within range: Penang, KL and Ho Chi Minh.

  15. “BITE” stands for “Built In Test Equipment”. In the context of the AES login at 18:25, it probably has to do with “self checks” of the satcom equipment, not iPhones.

  16. @PaulSmithson

    Paul, A point of order please, I have never said that Penang was not the nearest airport, I was my friend and fellow blogger Oleksandr who made that statement.

    Jerry, welcome to the club. I have already suggested a right hand down entry at the last moment scenario, the guys even worked out statistical odds of 3 parts all from rmthe RH side turning up, and nothing from the LH – 4 to 1 against, apparently. But is 4 to 1 statistically significant at this stage of the game? If nothing else shows up, then I would say definitely! but I’m not an “expert” on the subject.

    Everybody, If that flaperon doesn’t belong to our aircraft, then I will eat my hat, better still, I will eat one of Sharkcarvers old hats, corks and all! (in case anyone misinterprets – I was joking there)

    And the parts are on their way to OZ at last, YIPPEE!!!!

  17. The FZ981 debris field is another reminder of how small most of the MH370 debris probably is, and thus why it is so hard to detect by sonar.

  18. @ErikNelson

    I think airlandseaman has very eruditely answered the altitude question for me.

    The Co-pilot’s phone contact with Penang story remains to intrigue, however. If it actually happened, it suggests that the aircraft must have been flying at low level when passing Penang, but there is no other reliable evidence to back up this altitude excursion It seems highly improbable. And altitude excursions burn extra fuel, its unavoidable, and the range achieved by the aircraft is not compatible with major descent and climb phases between takeover and FMT, in my humble opinion.

    But then again, if anybody had been desperately trying to make contact, it would surely have been the co-pilot, locked out of the cockpit, with at most, a small, portable oxygen cylinder to keep. him alive as he tries his best to deal with a nightmare none of us could have dreamed up.

    And another point. Members of the public can make notoriously unreliable witnesses, ref the numerous documented UFO sightings, across the years.
    Enough said?

  19. @airlandseaman

    FI also attributes “22 minutes” of oxygen to the passenger breathing masks, whereas other sources are more unanimous in suggesting merely a few minutes. So perhaps the FI is overly optimistic ? Aren’t the Australians very adamant about crew hypoxia after the FMT? The PBS Nova documentary stated about an hour for each pilot, say 2-3 man hours, an entire decimal place of difference. Relevantly, one or both tanks were topped up to near maximum on the ground immediately prior to the flight.

  20. Erik Nelson:

    The FI is not “overly optimistic” about the available O2 on MH370. The tanks were filled shortly before MH370 departed. They do not refill the O2 tanks after every flight because the capacity is sufficient to go quite a while before that is necessary. The tanks are normally filled to ~1850 PSI. According to MAS SOP, it is not required that they be refilled until the pressure drops to 310 PSI (~17% of full capacity). In this case, they were refilled at 1120 PSI (more common). At 310 PSI, they would have a little more than 2 hours for a 2 man crew. But since the tanks were topped off for MH370, they had ~13 hours for a 2 man crew. Below follows the relevant FI quote. Oxygen System Replenishment
    The crew oxygen system replenishment on 07 March 2014 was reviewed in detail together
    with information gathered from the interview of the LAME who performed the task.
    Replenishment (servicing) of the crew oxygen system is a routine procedure, carried out
    before the minimum pressure required for departure is reached, usually carried out during a
    Stayover check. The minimum pressure for dispatch as per the MAS Minimum Equipment
    List (MEL) is 310 psi at 35°C for 2-man crew and with a 2 cylinder configuration (as installed
    on MAS B777 fleet).

    During the Stayover check on 07 March 2014, the servicing on 9M-MRO was performed by
    the LAME with the assistance of a mechanic, as the pressure reading was 1120 psi. The
    servicing was normal and nothing unusual was noticed. There was no leak in the oxygen
    system and the decay in pressure from the nominal value of 1850 psi was not unusual. The
    system was topped up to 1800 psi. Before this servicing, maintenance records showed that
    the system was last serviced on 14 January 2014 during an A4 check.

  21. Erik Nelson:

    Re “Aren’t the Australians very adamant about crew hypoxia after the FMT?” NO! They have never made any such adamant statement. What they have stated is that it was possible. So how is that possible (likely?) if there was over 27 man-hours of O2 in the tanks? It probably means something prevented the crew from staying in the cockpit for some unknown reason (like fire, smoke, fumes, etc.).

    The portable O2 bottles kept in the cabin are not equipped with Pressure Demand Masks like they have in the cockpit. This means they are not capable of keeping a user conscious indefinitely. These constant flow masks only work below about 22,000 feet for long periods (assuming the bottles don’t run out of O2 sooner).

  22. @Eric Nelson
    you said:
    “Yes, I understand that interrupting primary power, so as to deactivate all communications systems and depressurize the plane, would simultaneously inactivate the bleed air for wing deicing. ”

    Why would a pilot, worrying about wing and engine anti ice system, render it inoperative in order to depressurize the cabin?
    It would be enough to switch the L+R packs off, Trimair valves closed and cabin air valves Open. This still retains bleed air for the anti icing of engines and wing.

    You said:
    “And I speculate that about 80 minutes of high altitude flying (1:20-2:40am) without warming the wings could result in significant ice accumulation… Which could be easily checked visually from the cockpit.”

    The anti ice system of the wings or the engine will only go active when ice accumulation is detected on the ice detection probes on the forward fuselage area. It is not a function of temperature. It is normal that the wing cools down to ambient air temperature over time corrected for a bit of warming due to skin friction.

    You said:
    “Is that true? Perhaps the acting pilot was hoping to visually verify lack of such accumulation, so as to route all of the engine bleed air to repressurizing the plane maximally quickly? ”

    As I stated above, afaik it is not true. Engine bleed air is surplus available in cruise power setting. There is no need for such a concern.
    You might check the function of the asociated systems with the following link. It is about “Heating and airconditioning” and has also links to “pressurization and anti-icing” equipment.

    You said:
    “If so , then the pilot succumbed to hypoxia after engaging the wing inspection lights , but before scanning both sides of the aircraft.”

    How could that happen to a pilot with the knowledge he had shown so far? If crew oxygen gets low an “O2 low” advisory is displayed on Eicas. Why would such a pilot not pressurize the cabin timely enough before going to the cabin without a mask?

    Your profile does make sense for a hijacking, but lacks reasonable explanation for Kates sighting and the following ghost flight to the south.

  23. @airlandseaman

    ”So the very suggestion is absurd. It did not happen.”

    Well, do you have any evidence for that ?

    The plane was commandeered like a pro from IGARI up to the Northern tip of Indonesia and somehow, out of thin air, the plane becomes a ghost flight after the FMT ? Is that a logical assumption ?

    Logic and reason says the plane continued to be commandeered after the FMT. Speculating about a dead controller after the FMT is absurd.

  24. IR1907:

    It is obviously erronious to think that anyone would climb for 10 minutes to incapacitate people people 30 seconds quicker once at FL410. They would all be incapacitated 9.5 minutes sooner by staying at FL350…if deliberate decompression happened for nefarious purposes at any altitude. You don’t need any “evidence” that it did not happen to see the absurdity. Besides, there is no radar evidence of a climb circa 1730, so why even go there with ridiculous hypotheticals? If there was any change in altitude, it was a reduction, not a climb. The radar altitude values are garbage, but the average speeds are good, and they are incompatible with a climb.

  25. Paul,

    The closest airport to IGARI is WMKC (Sultan Ibrahim, runway 2400 m). Not as good as Penang, but under certain circumstances it could be better than ditching. Also note that KLIA and Penang pose significant threat of on-ground collision when all comms do not work.

  26. @airlandseaman, I don’t think IR1907 in his last comment spoke only about the special incapacitation scenario where a climb to floor level 41000 ft was instrumental for the incapacitation of the passengers. I agree with you that this climb doesn’t make much sense, if it happened for the sole purpose to speed up hypoxia. But you cannot rule out that at some point during the flight the passengers have been deliberately incapacitated – which is an euphemism for been murdered – if the plane was actively piloted.

  27. @David

    The erosion of the trailing edge occurred as he ditched. The flaps and flaperon had to be in in the deployed down configuration for this to happen. If the flaps were not down, I don’t believe the ATSB would be about to examine the RH outboard flap inboard fairing section, because it wouldn’t have left the wing. Do you appreciate the logic of this argument?

    Sully’s A320 which ditched in the Hudson, had it’s flaps eaten in the process, so what I’m trying to get across is backed up by other examples.

    This is all very good news for the pilot in control scenario, and very bad news for the uncontrolled spiral dive camp.

    You cannot have it both ways. You cannot have a flaperon removed by flutter and flap component (uncannily close to the flaperon on the wing) removed by a different mechanism, it just doesn’t make sense, and as the flap couldn’t have been a victim of flutter… you see what I’m driving at?
    It’s QED for the controlled ditching.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of spin the ATSB put on this, now they are face with such incontrovertible proof.

  28. ROB,

    “I agree, the whole idea does seem a bit implausable”

    I think it is very implausible, not a bit.

    FI unfortunately does not discuss altitude in detail. As a matter of fact it does not discusses radar data in required details at all – a lot of independent investigators have problem with it. The altitude of 45,000 ft was initially circulated in the media, including Wikipedia. By these days all that initial information was removed (why? was it proved to be wrong?). I can try to find citations and links for you How reliable and accurate – up to you.

    Anyhow, you said that 45,000 ft at IGARI is impossible. I don’t see any basis for this statement. Please show why this is impossible.

    “but would you mind getting your basic facts right before wading in?”

    This is what I am trying to do. Sorry, I don’t keep all the references in hands to point out to every new commenter, who jumps in with “I know what has happened!”.

  29. ALSM,

    “The FZ981 debris field is another reminder of how small most of the MH370 debris probably is, and thus why it is so hard to detect by sonar.”

    FZ981 wrecked into the runway at ~40 degrees.

  30. @Oleksandr

    I can only refer you to Airlandseaman’s post concerning altitudes physically possible between IGARI and Penang. He sums it up much better than I.

  31. @All

    There is one interesting consequence of the controlled ditching scenario which might just rescue the ATSB from abject embarrassment, however, I wouldn’t bank on it.

    The point is this. The wreckage on the seabed will be recognizable as a plane. The wing and fuselage are probably still as one, although fuel tank implosion would have mangled the wings as it sank.
    The bathymetric multibeam scanner has a resolution of 300metres, as I understand, which is far too low to pick out a plane shape on the seabed. Could it be possible then to add some software to the image processing to pick out a B777 on the seabed?
    Or is this notion just pie in the sky?

  32. @ROB

    The bathymetric resolution was done at approximately 100m resolution. This survey was intended to simply map the topography of the sea floor to allow high resolution equipment to operate safely. The actual search sonar is capable of detecting 2m^2 objects (about the size of the engines).

    FWIW, image processing software cannot improve resolution. That is a myth propagated in the movies. As a crusty colleague was fond of telling me – “microprocessors will never replace physics”.

  33. Matty wrote: Mayotte boat hull. If this is genuine MH370 debris then it didn’t float there. The state of these pieces fails the sniff test.

    There is a big difference between the Mayotte boat hull and the Mozambique objects: the boat was fished out of the water the day it washed up. IOW, it wasn’t sandblasted. Also, you and many others are conflating acorn (Sessilia) barnacles from gooseneck barnacles. Acorn barnacles do indeed build little armored bunkers that are extremely tough. They have to be because of their environment. Gooseneck barnacles have an unprotected muscular stalk. These are considered a delicacy by humans–if humans eat them, then so will crabs. Gooseneck barnacles are pelegic species: when they drift into coastal zones they die and get eaten. They disappear IOW.

    As for honeycombs, there are several explanations for lack of growth: (a) it was abraded away by sand and crabs; (b) any juvenile barnacles were picked clean by fishes; (c) the honeycomb is made of an aluminum/copper alloy that is toxic; (d) the honeycombs were never exposed to the elements until after the object was in a beach environment. Theory (e) that the objects did not drift there, but were salted by conspirators is Outer Limits Twilight Zone territory.

  34. @Warren

    CNN is reporting that both pieces of Mozambique debris have arrived in Australia, and forensics will begin on Monday.

    The investigation will be done by the Aussies, Malays, and Boeing people. No mention of a marine biologist getting involved? Strange. I cannot remember the number of times I wished I had a marine biologist standing by to help me solve a problem.

    There is hope we will actually get some info regarding this debris. Will it help? Probably not. Crimes unsolved for more than 100 days hit a plateau of zero incremental solution probability without a whistleblower or new information. I don’t regard the debris finds in Mozambique as new information. We already have the flaperon, and we have seen how much good that has done.

  35. MH370 had 15 portable oxygen bottles for cabin crew, which may have lasted a few hours each.

    Also, the current assumption is it descended to c. FL300 after IAGRI.

    Deliberate incapacitation seems unlikely imo.

  36. Oleksandr: There is not much difference between concrete and water when it comes to an impact at >500 kts. The debris size will be about the same.

    littlefoot: I never ruled in or out the idea”… that at some point during the flight the passengers [were] deliberately incapacitated”. In fact, my whole point was that *if* someone did want to incapacitate all the passengers and cabin crew, attempting to climb to FL410 with a fuel laden aircraft was an incredibly stupid idea because it would take 10 times as long to accomplish that goal. It makes no sense at all. No pilot would do that. Whether or not anyone deliberately depressurized the plane for that purpose is an entirely different question. But if that happened, it happened immediately at FL350, not 10 minutes later at FL410.

  37. @Dennis: The hope is that the debris found thus far, when taken together, could shed some light on the nature of the impact: Was it an uncontrolled, high-speed dive; or was it a low-speed, controlled glide? The answer either way would have search area implications. The way the French have hoarded the flaperon has not been helpful, I agree.

  38. @Warren

    My suspicion is that the answer to the dive vs glide question is already known, and has not been disclosed. It will probably never be disclosed to avoid inflaming the already strong feelings of the NOK who do not want the search to end. The people conducting the search want to bring it to an end, not prolong it.

  39. @Jeff
    OT? as you still had in mind that Putin is probably (d)evil there bacause of Crimea takeover etc, be sure I had the same thoughts 2 years ago… but some search process lead me to go deep for the facts in wide spectrum, and although ukrainian propaganda was very intensive (supported by lazy press troops worldwide) to launch holy war against the one-and-only aggressor, fortunately now, I know for sure where is truth, at least in this case; feel free to watch only one example of documents about stupidity of ukrainian nazis and wording of theirs government (notice that particulary the AZOV group was throwed over board even by your government many months ago, but issues there are far worse)
    (Anatolij Sarij documents media desinformations there, its not samething nice, believe me)
    (you dont want this; I am sure)

  40. @Oleksandr. Unless my info is out of date, WMKC not operational at night. In any case, it doesn’t even make it to the “medium size” aerodrome category” and I am very doubtful that it would satisfy minimum requirements. The Boeing 777 (all variants) requires the highest “category E” aircraft rescue and fire-fighting (US FAA: ARFF) or “category 9” rescue fire-fighting service (ICAO: RFFS). See, for example, CAT.OP.MPA.107 Adequate aerodrome

    Pilots on this forum will be able to provide better guidance, no doubt. I would have expected that an en-route alternate was already selected in the FMS for different segments of the flight plan and it would make sense for this to be WMKK for the segment up to BITOD (since closer than Penang for nearly the entire segment), beyond which Ho Chi Minh Int’l would be closest and no turn required.

  41. @IR1907

    You make a very succinct argument for continued controlled flight after MEKAR & NILAM. Especially if the acting pilots had access to 25+ hours of oxygen, they could have flown the entire mission at 50,000′ like a space flight.


    I think there is a unique intersection, between the 8:11-19am ping rings, with the SIO currents that would carry debris around to Reunion & Mozambique. Has anyone published pictures of those quantities overplotted? The unique location appears to be off the NW corner of Australia, vaguely near Cocos Island. That in turn may be more consistent with a slower (250-300kt) and lower flight path, perhaps hunting for an island amidst the clouds and waves?

  42. @DennisW and @David: In addition to investigating the degradation of the epoxy used to bond the composite sandwich, there should be interest in the condition of the aluminum. Even if there is no galvanic corrosion from the presence of dissimilar metals, some aluminum alloys will corrode in saltwater. For instance, the high strength 7000 series would not be suitable for marine uses. The rate of corrosion of aluminum in saltwater would be a function of coatings, anodizing, alloy content, etc., but all this would be exactly known.

    When I look at the remaining aluminum honeycomb in the piece recovered by Mr. Gibson, I don’t see evidence of corrosion. There are sharp edges, for instance, which would be rounded by corrosion, and some parts seem to retain a metallic shine. I also see no pits.

    A metallurgist specializing in corrosion should be able to determine whether or not it was possible that this piece was immersed in saltwater for 24 months.

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