Earlier this week the indomitable Brock McEwen completed a much-anticipated statistical analysis of where MH370 debris would most likely wash ashore given a presumptive start point within the current seabed search zone. It’s definitely worth a look, but for the moment I’ll stick to the punch line, which is that while it is quite possible for Indian Ocean currents to carry debris from the search zone to the discovery locations in the western Indian Ocean within the appropriate time frame, Brock was not able to run any simulations in which debris turned up in Africa/Madagascar/Réunion but not in Western Australia. No matter how he changed the parameters, the result came back the same: debris should have washed up in Western Australia long before it washed up anywhere else.
The gap between Brock’s simulations and the actual state of affairs—five pieces of debris in the western Indian Ocean, and none in Australia—indicates, as Brock points out, that “either something’s wrong with the model, or something’s wrong with the search.”
A similar conclusion was reached by a different set of researchers using a different methodology. According to an article in the German newspaper Kieler Nachrichten, scientists from the GEOMAR-Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research in Kiel (above) have completed a detailed drift analysis of their own in collaboration with colleagues in Great Britain. Simulating the course of two million pieces on a supercomputer, the researchers found that the locations of all five pieces found so far are compatible not with a point of origin in the current search area but instead “the plane, which had 239 people on board, must have crashed a lot further north.” (Hat tip to reader @MuOne for alerting me to this.)
It has long been clear that the wreckage of MH370 will not likely be found in the current search area. This, in turn, means that the “ghost ship” scenario can be ruled out: MH370 did not fly south on autopilot until fuel exhaustion and then plunge into the sea without human intervention. As this fact has become increasingly clear, the most popular backup scenario has been that a suicidal pilot flew the plane southward until it ran out of fuel, then held it in a glide so that it flew further south beyond the search zone. Both of these new drift analyses, however, suggest that this scenario is not correct, either. If the debris originated north of the search area, then the plane must have taken a slow, curving flight under pilot control.
Meanwhile, no further light has been shed on the obviously problematic absence of marine fouling on the African debris pieces. Neither Australian nor Malaysian officials have released any information based on the analysis that the Australians say they have carried out. This state of affairs should be troubling for everyone interested in the mystery of MH370, but naturally it is particularly difficult for the families of the flight’s missing crew and passengers. After I published my last piece on this topic, Chinese next-of-kin issued a statement which read, in part:
Following aviation writer Jeff Wise’s recent article questioning debris found near the coast of Africa, MH370 China families have restated their assertion the missing may still be alive and call for an offer of amnesty in exchange for the release of the missing… An extensive surface search and ocean floor search have found no supporting evidence MH370 crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean.… The sum of this is that there is no reason to believe MH370 crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean and reason to believe in a wholesale attempt at deception. We believe our missing loved ones may still be alive.
I understand that not everyone is ready to accept that the absence of marine life can only mean that the debris was planted. However, I take issue with the implication (made most publicly in a piece in the IBTimes ) that raising questions about the provenance of these crucial pieces amounts to a “conspiracy theory” or that it unjustifiably raises the next-of-kins’ hopes that their loved ones might be alive. If we want to solve this mystery, then we must deal in facts, not sling innuendo. Anyone who is legitimately concerned about solving this mystery will no doubt hope that authorities in Australia and Malaysia will respond forthrightly to the troubling questions that have arisen. It is not acceptable for this information to be buried.
UPDATE 5/1/16: After rereading the above it occurs to me that a very reasonable question concerning the GEOMAR research would be, “how much farther north must it have crashed?” The following diagram put out by the team in 2015 shows the results of the reverse-drift modeling for the the Réunion modeling, which they say is only reinforced by the inclusion of the locations of the debris found this year.