ATSB Sidesteps Debris-Planting Issue


Earlier today, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued a report entitled, “Debris examination — update No. 1: Identification of two items of debris recovered in Mozambique.” The report confirms that the pieces are consistent with a right-hand flap fairing and a right horizontal stabilizer, pointing out that the lettering found on each part matches stencils used by Malaysia airlines. In the case of the piece found by Blaine Alan Gibson, shown above, the report says:

The fastener head markings identified it as being correct for use on the stabiliser panel assembly. The markings also identified the fastener manufacturer. That manufacturer’s fasteners were not used in current production, but did match the fasteners used in assembly of the aircraft next in the production line (405) to 9M-MRO (404).

This wording is ambiguous–does “current production” mean production at the time that 9M-MRO was built, or now? If the fastener wasn’t used when 9M-MRO was built, one wonders what it is doing in this piece. Hopefully the ATSB will clarify what it means. At any rate, the report concludes that both pieces “almost certainly from the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, registered 9M-MRO.”

Naturally, I was particularly keen to hear what the ATSB would say about the marine life found on these pieces, or lack thereof. The report contains a section entitled “Quarantine and marine ecology” which reads, in its entirety:

On arrival into Australia, both parts were quarantined at the Geoscience Australia facility in Canberra. The parts were unwrapped and examined for the presence of marine ecology and remnants of biological material. Visible marine ecology was present on both parts and these items were removed and preserved. The parts were subsequently cleaned and released from quarantine.

Later, in the “Conclusions” section, the report states: “At the time of writing, ongoing work was being conducted with respect to the marine ecology identification as well as testing of material samples. The results from these tests will be provided to the Malaysian investigation team once complete.”

The key here seems to be to reinforce the idea that the results of the biofouling examination will go to Malaysia, and not released to the public. Which raises the question: why does Australia feel empowered to release a fairly detailed report explaining why they think the pieces came from 9M-MRO, but not to say anything about the marine life on them? Is there a legal distinction between these two kinds of assessment, as pertains to ICAO protocols? Perhaps some legally-minded readers can shed light on the matter.

384 thoughts on “ATSB Sidesteps Debris-Planting Issue”

  1. @DennisW

    Interestingly I don’t mind olive oil in meals(like tuna fish in olive oil etc.) however olives like a separate..yuck.


    I’m with you on that… delusion of IG&ATSB is/was so strong that they would claim conspiracy if MH370 is somehow found northern than 30S.

  2. Erik Nelson,

    Could you clarify something for me please.

    The missing flight identifier number that would identify flight MH370 communicating through the Classic Aero system (GES/AES/IOR) after the reboot, would not be “MH370” per se, it would be a long number with many (x # of ?) digits, unique to only that flight, hypothetically something like 2155794625 wouldn’t it? That number was mentioned on DS once but I would have to go digging in the archives for it.

  3. @Oleksandr

    I also find the towelette discovery being treated a bit too casually. First of all, what percentage of people would take a towelette off an aircraft. 10% would be an extremely generous estimate IMO. In 2014 about 1 in 30 international air travelers arrived in Australia on Malaysia airline flights.

    So given that a towelette was found, it has about a 3% chance of being from a Malaysian airlines plane. The change of finding a towelette at all has to include the chance that someone even took one times the chance that that the person went to WA times the 3% chance the person arrived on a Malaysia airline flight times the chance that the person dropped the unopened towelette. The accumulation of probabilities is so remote that the towelette is almost certainly from MH370.

  4. @Dennis

    Stinks? Yeah, I’ll say. When you have concrete evidence (flaperon separation) that an aircraft was ditched in Timbuktu (neigh you conspiracy junkies), you now also have unimpeachable evidence of a criminal act.

    To proceed with caution and consideration is the prudent thing here. The rancid smell can be found emanating from the corridors in Kuala Lumpur. The other stench is just a mild odor. Frustrating, but understandable.

  5. @all

    With reference to the towelette, a purist might say that the fact that a person took a towelette, traveled to WA, and dropped a towelette are all in the category of a Bayesian prior. A towelette was found, after all. Still you are left with the one in thirty. The other stuff has to count for something – maybe not full pop.

  6. Dennis – hundreds of those towelettes would enter WA weekly. Cervantes is a tourist spot. If there was other stuff there belonging to MH370 it would be easier to link it.

    Oleksandr – No I haven’t done any surveys all by myself and I wouldn’t see the point either. No one normally pays attention to items that size. I’d say it’s remarkably vigilant that it was handed in at all.

  7. @Matty

    But…only 1 in 30 of the potentially discarded towelettes could have been dropped by someone who traveled on a Malaysia plane.

    In Cali, it is estimated (by cleanup crews) that about 50% of things found on beaches come from land based sources – basically recreational trashers. So the probability that the towelette was from a Malaysia airlines beach going passenger is on the order of at most one in sixty. Of course, it is possible that people are dropping towelettes right, left, and center on Aussie beaches, and that only the Malaysia towelette was turned in. It would be interesting to know what was found near the towelette – fast food wrappers, chicken bones, other evidence of a spontaneous picnic,…??

  8. @Rob:

    “You know, the thing I like about Boeing aircraft is that they retain the conventional control column (yoke) rather than an electronic side stick”

    They even built a prototype of car without steering weel and without pedals, with a stick that can be pushed or pulled to accelerate or brake and shifted left and right to make the car turn.

    The first airbus had a lot of computer problems. I have read somewhere that it happened that the pilot had to ask for passengers and crew not to touch at the cabin temperature thermostat because it reacted on the engines power!

    “There are some out there who say the French should stick to making Renaults and Citroens”.

    In fact, Citroën made good cars – until the year 1975 – after that it became part of the PSA Peugeot Citroën group.
    From that year we could by nothing but trumpery, anything we bought was made worse than a cheap toy, for example an alarm clock with nylon gears (gears? small nylon needles glued axially from a nylon axe) that worked for just a week…

  9. The picture of this lone moist towelette appeared to be surrounded by twigs. Could such a thing arrive on a WA beach In such pristeen condition in the first place and would the dispersal pattern be such that it would be by itself ? I think not but stranger things have happened.

  10. Dennis/Softmachine – a towelette could be blown around the beach left and right by the wind any direction at any time of day and likely was. We continue to have no serious clue how it got there but Cervantes gets a lot of visitors be it overseas, interstate or local and if you are travelling with kids these things are great. I have some KFC towelettes around here somewhere. Again – hundreds of these things will arrive here weekly and so I just can’t get excited. If it’s legit there should have been a raft of other small floaties?

  11. @Matty

    Yes, the absence of other debris would seem to be a negative. On the other hand the construction of the towelette would allow it to be influenced in a different manner than say a flaperon. Probably more wind in


    A while back I did some research on towelette packaging (drew the short straw again). The two candidate materials were both virtually impervious to seawater. So the condition is not at all surprising.

  12. A fisherman could have pulled in any of this debris in one of their nets and discarded it anywhere! MH17 debris was scattered for miles, any neighbor could have picked up pieces and not turned it in to authorities! Spoof! imo

  13. @Boston / Matty

    Yes, I hear you guys. It (the towelette) is weak, and has to be taken with the reservations you both cite. Still, I am inclined to keep it on the table for consideration.

  14. @Dennis,

    If someone was going to take something off an aircraft, isn’t the towelette among the most likely objects? If it was a barf bag, we’d have a problem, but a towelette or maybe a salt/pepper packet, these are things people hoard all the time. Where else do you even find a towelette if you wanted one to take to the beach? (I realize this is sarcastic, but still there is some truth to it.)

    The 1/60 chance of finding it is not particularly problematic unless you can suggest where a tourist would otherwise obtain towelettes if they wanted one. In my opinion, towelettes and similar items are usually taken from food service establishments (including airlines). I think it’s a coincidence without any other debris.

  15. Below is a link to a preliminary report of my assessment of the statistical likelihood MH370 crashed near the 7th Arc between 34 and 37 degrees south, IF

    1) International Pacific Research Center (IPRC)-supplied shoreline hit probabilities are accurate,
    2) I am interpreting them correctly, and
    3) my model reasonably estimates downstream probabilities of discovery, recognition, and reporting

    I had no choice but to use 34-37 degrees south latitude, because that was IPRC’s chosen starting zone. However, this zone appears to be broadly representative, since all towfish scanning has been between 32 and 39 degrees south latitude – with, as Victor notes, emphasis on the southern half ever since Go Phoenix went home a year ago.

    Huge thanks to the folks at IPRC – Nikolai Maximenko and Jan Hafner – for their detailed raw model output – as well as for their patient and vital assistance helping me understand the data – which they were kind and generous enough to offer pro bono. They sent me records depicting the “density” modeled to have hit a shoreline boundary each day, triggering its removal from their projection. I used two detailed datasets they sent: one at 0% windage, and one at 1%.

    All feedback warmly welcomed. Sorry for the delay: the results were so stark, I needed the extra time to verify I wasn’t misinterpreting their data.

    Madagascar is obviously the other shoreline conspicuous by its absence from the headlines; however, with the Australian shoreline opportunity essentially “come and gone”, now, I consider it the more important of the two to ponder.

    Late in the deck, I provide a link to the Excel file itself. Have at it yourself, and let me know what your version says. Be sure to first set calculation to either “manual” or “automatic except tables”, to avoid constantly regenerating the data table of 100,000 scenarios; when you’re ready to regenerate them, hit F9.

  16. (sorry, techie addendum: must be “automatic except tables” to work; “manual” mode would fail to properly randomize the Monte Carlo simulation.)

  17. @Oleksandr.
    To come back on your reply about the Delft study, surface currents and the towelette.

    General wind data on surface currents driven by prevailing winds:

    On the Delft study; I considered this study as valid but not its prediction that debris should arrive within a year. It just did not happen, is what supports the facts now known.
    The flaperon was found 7 months after this Delft-prediction and the other pieces even a year later.

    On the towelette: I did not state this towelette has nothing to do with MH370.
    I asked you if it was ever properly investigated. I guess by your answer it was and could not be proven coming from MH370.
    In this regard the piece is useless imo.
    The more while you state yourself its the only piece found and nothing ever since.

    If Matty had found any aviation related litter it sure would make the Delft prediction and the towelette more important. But he found nothing and no one ever has till now.
    This underlines only my arguments imo.
    Above this a much more ordinairy reason can explain the finding of this towelette as I mentioned before.

  18. @Marc

    Yes they call it progress don’t they! And talking of progress, there are some loonies out there suggesting that an airliner only needs one pilot – the second man/woman being replaced by a computer. It would save money. But why stop there? The loonies (for want of a more suitable term, and not wanting to name names, I’ve forgotten their names, to be honest) even suggest replacing both flight crew with a computer, and training cabin staff to be able to land the plane in an emergency! Would you want to get on a plane that had no pilot? No, neither would I. But this is all in the interests of saving money, disguised as progress.

    Talking of Airbus, wasn’t it that who have suggested making a plane with a glass (plastic) roof, a true observation deck to give the nervous passenger a more interesting experience. One incidental advantage would be that you could see the thunderheads approaching, and get belted up in good time before the turbulence hits. And then there is the plan mooted by one budget airline, to take out the toilets, and replace them with plastic bags for emergency use – would be interesting on a stag party flight back from Barcelona!

  19. @Brock McEwen.
    Read your study with great interest. Thank you.
    To give a first reaction it seems to follow the predictions made by the Delft study.
    With most of the predicted debris reaching the shores of WA during 2014 till december 2014 culminating on the southern parts of this shore.
    Still not one confirmed piece was found here yet.
    I think you can assume by now this did not happen also given the fact confirmed pieces have shown up on African shores and near islands.
    So the model must be wrong somewhere or the search area as you suggest on the end.

    Could it be the model is not wrong in itself but (part) of the input could be wrong?

    I mean if you take into the study a possible impact area at 39S to lets say 35S wouldn’t be the probability of debris reaching the shores of WA within a year be much greater than when leaving this most southern area out of the calculations?
    What would come out if you only take input from 34S to lets say 32S? Wouldn’t be the probability of debris reaching shores of WA become a lot less smaller?

  20. @ROB

    Technology makes our lives easier. What human can do technology (a.i./robots/computers) can do better. Humans stopped evolving on the abstract level long time ago. We have psychologicly always been the same. The only thing that evolves is the technology we make.

  21. Ge Rijn,

    You did not get my point with regard to wind. Any drift model requires input forcing: surface current and wind at least. Surface current can be obtained by interpolation/extrapolation of measured data (such as in Adrift) or modelled (Delft3D). The latter requires wind as input. In addition, modelling of Lagrangian particles in any drift model also requires wind data as external forcing. Where are you going to get surface wind data over the ocean, and how accurate will it be? I will not touch cases when surface currents are not wind driven – that is another story.

    Re “The flaperon was found 7 months after this Delft-prediction”

    You associated it with 25S, correct? You did not consider accuracy, which could be 4 months or so (over 1.5 year interval) due to the uncertainty in wind. You did no consider the flaperon-specific properties, but associated it with the first modelled arrivals. You don’t know how long the flaperon was trapped in eddies (read NOC UK paper), and how long it was on the beach or nearby before it was discovered. So what is a problem?

    Yes, the towelette could not be proven to be from MH370. Is it a valid reason to state there was no debris on WA shores if there is one potential piece?

  22. JS,

    “If someone was going to take something off an aircraft, isn’t the towelette among the most likely objects?”

    – Take the probability that it is a passenger from MAS.
    – Multiply it by probability to take the towelette out. Not many passengers take towelettes instead of using them.
    – Multiply by the probability to lose the towelette in the intertidal zone at a remote place.

    The probability would be astronomically low. As actually evidenced by Matty, though he resists to accept this fact: no aviation-related litter was spotted by him during more than a month. In this light, chances that the towelette was from MH370 are considerable, perhaps higher than the towelette was lost by some tourist.

  23. Softmachine,

    “Could such a thing arrive on a WA beach In such pristeen condition in the first place and would the dispersal pattern be such that it would be by itself ?”

    Certainly could. One of the commenters on this forum did an experiment: put a towelette in a washing machine. The package survived for 40 minutes, if I recall at 40C, only colors faded a bit.

  24. Logic-wise, one of the following takes place:

    1. The towelette is from MH370.
    2. The towelette is not from MH370.
    3. The towelette could possibly be from MH370.

    Those, who state that no debris was washed on WA shores, implicitly state #2 above, as #1 and #3 contradict to the strong “no debris” statement.

  25. @Oleksandr.

    I only refered to prevailing winds as a main factor causing the direction of ocean currents in GENERAL.
    So I meant in general, pieces would tend to move in that general direction.
    Trapped in eddies or not the fact is that all pieces are found much later than the prediction made in the Delft study.
    You cann’t hardly assume all those pieces were trapped in eddies for so long and then suddenly released within a few months time imo.

    No I associate the flaperon more around 33S for various reasons and also the other found debris. If it was 25S debris would fit the Delft prediction and would be found within a year or maybe some time later after 8-3-2013. This did not happen. I consider those Dutch reseachers took in account all the factors you mention also.

    Again I don’t state there is or was no debris on WA shores. I stated earlier the desolation of the WA coast more north of Perth till Exmouth could be a reason.
    Anyway nothing confirmed has been found yet not even in the most probable area (in the Delft study) south of Perth to and around Cape Leeuwin which is a very touristic area and rather densely populated.

  26. @Oleksandr

    A logical conclusion is either or. Doubt is not knowing a fact. The towelette either is from mh370 or it is not from mh370.

    The inbetween is about probability calculation, which is different from 100% certainty.

    People may say “more logic to believe”, “more logic to think” is a fallacy because then your thought pattern operates with probability. A logical conclusion are premisses based on facts, therefor the answer is also a fact.

    Kids dont learn about logic at school because we have human-haters in charge.

  27. Regarding the debris :
    One thing they all have in common is the pitting. It seems that they have been impacted by hail, or ball bearings, or ?? (very visible on RR piece).
    Would an impact in water produce that kind of pattern? Is there any photos of debris from AF447 that shows the same pattern?

    Also what debris is in the picture of this article :
    It’s the first time I’ve seen it…

  28. @Trond.

    Would you consider the absence of a fact predicted by premisses based on facts as a fact?

  29. @Sinux.

    I agree on the common ‘pitting’ all pieces have.
    But I think it could be the remains of the attachment points barnacles leave when they are by any means removed.

    The pictures shown are from a piece which was found on the Maldives. They’ve gotten the wrong pictures with the article.

  30. If I may divert attention from a towelette for a moment – I think there is a simple explanation for the clean appearance of the fastener head in the NO STEP piece.

    It has to do with production tolerance for the countersunk fastener holes. For aerodynamic smoothness of the finished product, the tolerance would be such that no fastener heads protrudes above the surface. Consequently, all fastener heads will be a small but variable fraction of a millimeter below the surface of the panel. To obtain a smooth surface that fraction is filled with a filler compound before painting, just as the gap of between 2 mm and 4 mm wide required between adjacent skin as an aerodynamic PKC (Product Key Characteristic – see Case Study B767 HS production).

    The hardened filler material is probably less flexible than paint. When impact forces pull the fastener farther into its hole, the filler comes off like a solid block, leaving nothing behind.

  31. @Ge Rijn

    You are saying that something should have happened, but didnt. So what is it that you are referring to?


    If you dont know then my oppinion is just as valid. It was gunspraypainted. Thus the fastener should be covered, but it isnt. Another clue to examine further.

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