MH370 Debris Questions Mount

German oceanographers Arne Biastoch (left) and Jonathan Durgadoo


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.

GEOMAR reverse drift

123 thoughts on “MH370 Debris Questions Mount”

  1. @Victor: you are right – I should be more clear.

    In general, I consider planted debris not only possible, but plausible. Not only is it REQUIRED for any landing scenario, but it could significantly AID an “inconvenient impact” scenario, by implying breadcrumbs leading AWAY from actual impact (until such time as there is little left for future debris to tell us – a kind of “priming of the pump”). And the stench rising from the MH370 search is, shall we say, fertile ground for receptiveness to ANY form of evidence tampering.

    When I made the “extraordinary evidence” comment, I wasn’t trying to deny any of the above – rather, just trying to make sure none of us – myself, primarily – gets a swelled head over the value of recent presentations to this forum. Even if persuasive, none of it constitutes “extraordinary evidence” of foul play, let alone of planting specifically. The experts each of us have turned to for help could be off base – or we may have misinterpreted the help they gave us.

    I reserve the word “evidence” for stuff which puts the matter beyond reasonable doubt; on planted debris, my bottom line is that the prosecution cannot yet rest. We still need a whistleblower to do the right thing, come forward (anonymously, if not publicly), and spill the beans.

    Beans the general public seems to be slowly prying the top off of anyway…

  2. @Brock and all
    re: Geomar’s reverse drift analysis, linked in this article
    They show the particle locations 16 mths before reaching Reunion but they note that only model particles originating in the area bounded by 10N, 80-130E and 35?S are considered and some of the orange areas are outside these bounds anyway. Could someone throw some light on their method please and I presume that they haven’t considered Brock’s NW area as a possible origin. Sorry, its Monday morning and maybe I have misunderstood this Geomar model.

  3. @jeffwise: thanks for posting the GEOMAR map.

    For context: 100% of the searching in the past year has been, quite literally, “off the charts” – i.e. even further south than the map’s 35-degree southern boundary. If GEOMAR is sticking to THOSE guns (the dark orange 95% confidence zone in particular), then there is about to be a serious shoot-out.

    On the other hand: the more time passes, the more new discoveries will start to support EVERY competing impact location, due to diminishing precision when back-tracing over increasingly long periods. Despite best efforts, I was unable to avoid watching a clip of a well-known CNN aviation commentator a few weeks ago exuberantly proclaiming that the March debris was “exactly where the models SAID it would be” (or something like that; apologies to him if I’ve misquoted) – the strong implication being that the search box was receiving the ultimate vindication.


  4. @Brock

    Goof grief Brock, why kiss up to Victor? He is a long term IG member with a pin in the map at 38S. While I would be the first to acknowledge his pedigree and analytical skills, his forensic skills are appalling relative to my standards.

    FWIW, he is a nice person.

  5. I’m taking Brock’s door #3 – the searchers are in on it. From the start the Aussies have acted like they don’t want to look too closely (e.g., chasing after bogus pings for no good reason, running over the same tracks with the same tech multiple times), nor expand the search area, lest the public realize that the plane is not there and the searchers didn’t simply miss it.

    Take a look at the chart that Jeff placed at the top of his post of April 7 (“Can Ocean Conditions Explain the Lack of Biofouling on MH370 Debris?”). Note the Equatorial Counter Current(ECC) at the top. Note where it first makes landfall(*). Recall that in Nov 2014, the ATSB said that debris could be expected to wash up in Sumatra, much to the bewilderment of all here who knew what the drift models showed about anything starting in the SIO. It makes one think that the ATSB knows something private about an actual impact point in the ECC.

    Of course, this goes against the Inmarsat data, but the whole story of how that got “discovered” is fishy.

    Has anyone found debris off Sumatra yet?

    (*) Apparently this current reverses direction in the winter, but during summer and fall flows east.

  6. MH17 is now in New Zealand correct! Has anyone investigated in person that these 5 pieces found do not match any pieces missing from the debris!

  7. @AM2: that is a stunningly astute observation – thank you. I’ll contact Dr. Durgadoo right away, and see what I can find out about what that map looks like with all filters removed.

    I agree with you that the probability zones “bleed” out into notionally forbidden territory. Not sure why – that will be one of my questions. But it may have something to do with timing: as they ran time in the reverse direction, they were releasing thousands of virtual flaperons into the water at Réunion each day for SEVERAL days in July of 2015 (to model uncertainty of discovery date). So we are seeing in the map the distribution at March 8, 2014 of only those virtual particles which were in the dotted box exactly 16 months prior to their release date.

    An obvious prediction is that, while lifting the southern filter is unlikely to move the needle (my guess is there WAS no southern filter), lifting the 80-degree EAST LONGITUDE filter surely might.

  8. @Brock
    Yes, I see the NW as being just as likely for a crash etc. as the NE, so would like to see the GEOMAR results with filters removed and with latest debris finds included if they are prepared to publish that. I can’t see any dotted line at 35S, so agree there probably was no southern limit. I realise that any reverse-drift model over this time period is not likely to give an accurate enough result to suggest a new search area but certainly contra-indicates the current search area.

    Thanks again for doing all this work.

  9. Your’e a hard man Dennis. Victor has his options well and truly open as a scientist should. Well done to him I say.

    GordonC – I have no interest in defending the ATSB but I think there is a bit of an error in play here. I’ve said many times they got left with the baby – and they aren’t even the natural father – and they are behaving like any govt bureaucracy will when something starts to get a bit heavy around the neck. Knowing Australia a little bit, they will be glad to see the end of it. They have long forgotten about the champagne – I’m sure it’s been swiped by now. They have to finish the job and as I predicted long ago, Inmarsat got out when it was no longer good publicity. I hear they are good bunch, and it was a sad duty, but at a management level they couldn’t believe their luck when this came along. As it starts to stink ATSB find themselves alone.

    I sincerely doubt it was their idea to go trawling for pings where they did. They were informed by something we don’t know about yet. Australian/US/British naval elements(five eyes members) were all present for that episode which transpired directly adjacent to what is a sophisticated joint military communications base(NW Cape). The question on my mind now is who exactly jerked the search back down to where it is? What was happening?

  10. @Brock et al. I do understand that Reunion find points towards more northerly end point as most likely. But I do not believe it is true to say that southerly can be ruled out. Specifically, CSIRO reverse model from Reunion clearly indicates a [lower probability] “round the outside” route for drift from the most southerly locations (including my favoured spot @46S beyond 7th arc).

  11. Eric Nelson,

    “Yes, but what if you pull out the bus-tie breaker ?”

    When? Before or after 18:25? I guess there would not be any SATCOM communications till the end of flight, but I am not an expert in electrical circuits of B777, so I can’t really comment.

    With regard to one IDG off, I can only note that my 100E prediction is compatible with a single engine working. IDG would not produce power in such a case, which would be equivalent to yours isolated IDG. And there would be only a single flame-out followed by APU restart.

  12. Dennis,

    Re: “Your attempts to assign motive to it are pretty lame, however.”

    Well, actually I gave up the idea to assign motive in the foreseen future. The idea to build a motive-driven scenario turned out to be a dangerous path to nowhere.

    As you can see, there are two major camps: those who opted for 38S without giving any thought about motive, motivation and logic, and those who scream about super-conspiracy, planting debris, tempering with data, etc. And a few lonely wolves stuck in between. Our problem is that we are specialists in some particular fields, but our expertise is limited. I realized how easy one can be cheated, for example by Geomar study, if he/she doesn’t have background in the respective subject. We are not qualified to comment on the issues we are not specialists in. And perhaps we should not. Unfortunately the experts in both the major camps are often reluctant to supply us with answers we are seeking for. Not talking about the authorities, who deliberately hide essential information. I.e. there is a huge gap in communication.

    Anyhow, the show must go on. The public needs it.

  13. I posted a comment months ago stating that the most likely impact is much further north based on the research done by German scientist.And also the eyewitness sighting from a British sailor by the name of Katherine Tee thought she might have seen mh370 the night it went missing. add to that the recorded impact south of the Maldives on the ocean floor the morning MH370 went missing. JOIN THE DOTS!!!

  14. @ Matty – Perth

    You could hypothesize a hijacking aiming at NW Australia, or even an attempt at amnesty, the pilot had family near there ?

    @ everybody

    Any chance that the pilots were somehow trying to communicate, via their radar track ? Please consider, if only once:

    Kota Bharu = Hamid
    Penang = Shah
    N571 to IGOGU = A2157 @ IGARI
    ANOKO = no
    NOPEK = no
    POVUS = power

    MH370 flew an “M” shaped route, through the hometowns of both pilots, and onto an air route with a name alot like their assigned transponder code, to a terminus waypoint with a name alot like “IGARI” where some crisis developed.

    Kota Bharu = Hamid
    Penang = Shah
    N571 to IGOGU = A2157 @ IGARI
    ANOKO = no
    NOPEK = no
    POVUS = power

    “This is HAMID & SHAH of A2157 who turned at IGARI, we have NO repeat NO POWER…”


    @ Jeff Wise

    if you plot BTOs & BFOs vs. time, on primary / secondary vertical axis, it looks like after IGARI IGOGU FMT, the BFOs track the BTOs, higher BTOs higher BFOs, like the two data streams stem from a single source, some subtle evidence of spoofing ???

  15. sorry if MH370 is starting to get to me…

    one other idea, please consider for a few moments…

    -40 degrees…

    acting pilots struggling to stay warm and awake but…

    is it SCIENTIFICALLY possible, that the acting pilots literally FROZE in place, froze solid in their seats…

    with their icy hands locked onto the yokes… ??

    no AP, no intentional pilot inputs, but the pilots literally froze into control-locking icicles ???

  16. @Erik

    It’s definitely getting to you now.

    I think I detect multiple scenario syndrome. It’s quite insidious in situations like these, and you don’t realize it’s happening to you until it’s almost too late. A bit like gradual hypoxia, actually. I almost succumbed to it myself a while back.

    The best antidote is a day at the seaside.

  17. @Erik – if they froze I’d think the crash might be uncontrolled creating significant debris. However there is scant amount debris found when expected.

  18. @Paul: yes, but that graphic was

    a) “wind-aided” – 1.5% of wind speeds were tacked on to the travels of each particle, each day. This assumption’s appropriateness has never been supported by reference to published flaperon buoyancy test results, and has in fact been, per best available reporting, COUNTER-indicated. CSIRO themselves admit 1.5% incremental requires at least 50% freeboard (proportion of cross-sectional area out of water at any given time), by virtue of calibrating this assumption to the travels of UNtethered drifter buoys.

    b) potentially cherry-picked: if memory serves, CSIRO included only some 70-odd reverse paths in the kml file they provided – how many did they GENERATE? Only 10%, or 120 of 1,200 generated paths were included in the forward direction kml.

  19. New idea re “IC” piece.

    What if the original photo circulated was mirror imaged? Instead of “TIC” it could be “LIC” (need to upside down it too)

    As it happens, there is a fin on the underside labelled “APU shroud and HydrauLIC”

    thanks to twitter’s BloggerAround, here’s a link to a doc for B737. Look for #63.

    (Doc seems big and took a while to load)

    Does anybody have an equivalent doc for B777? The B737 font color in that doc is black and not red.

  20. @VictorI, Middleton, and Lauren H,

    The mirror flight I proposed was Jeddah to Johannesburg. At the time, I believed it was an exact match to the BTOs.

    I’m not sure if this is entirely accurate based on what we’ve learned since about either the fuel exhaustion or the FMT. In fact, it appears the mirror route is a little to long.

    The other problem was that there were no scheduled flights that night from JED-JNB. There are regular B777 flights at other times, but not that night and there is no clear evidence of any flight that might leave a plane at JED in a time frame that would cause it to be ferried back.

    So as appealing as the idea was, there was no evidence to take it any further. A spoof-by-copy could have used any flight, so why that route? Of course, if a spoofer copied a route at random, the mirroring lacks any coincidence.

    One coincidence I did note was that the operator of the JED-JNB route owns the mode S ID that is one digit off of that of 9M-MRO. 9M-MRO is 75008F. South African owns I believe 71008F but it belongs to a smaller Airbus that I don’t believe could ever make the JED-JNB flight, although I could be wrong.

  21. @brock, the kmz shows tracks numbered 1 through 891. the files shows 1, 11, 21… ie every 10th track (without prejudice, as far as I can see).

    BTW, I stand to be corrected, but I don’t believe that 1.5% leeway is a particularly massive factor to apply (I have heard of factors 0.5 – 4% applied). Moreover, this “factor” clearly depends not only on windage / % above water but mass & drag. So little buoyant bits might travel very fast, even without much height above water. Ever tried chasing an errant surfboard (or even a waterski) on a windy day….?

    The point remains that (as CSIRO clearly explained) you end up with hi probability N because there is so much churn going on in the NE quadrant of the gyre and that is where most of your particles spend most time.

    Meanwhile, a much longer drift from points south is clearly feasible and cannot be ruled out. I have heard you state this, but not any of the drift experts who authored the various reports.

  22. @Oleksandr

    “Our problem is that we are specialists in some particular fields, but our expertise is limited. I realized how easy one can be cheated, for example by Geomar study, if he/she doesn’t have background in the respective subject.”

    but it’s not only Geomar study, independent experts have come to roughly the same area…with about the same probability as well

    it’s hard to ignore that IMO

    and then you have a lot more probable descent rate compared to current search area, some (although not confirmed) debris spotted by swiss tourists just south of Sumatra etc. etc.

    and you have an airfield nearby if that wasn’t enough

    I agree it’s quite hard to connect the dots in failed approach to CI scenario, but at least you have the dots.

Comments are closed.