French Judiciary Report Raises Fresh Doubts About MH370 Debris

Zero windage

After French authorities retrieved the MH370 flaperon from Réunion Island, they flew it to the Toulouse facility of the DGA, or Direction générale de l’Armement, France’s weapons development and procurement agency. Here the marine life growing on it was examined and identifed as Lepas anatifera striata, creatures which have evolved to live below the waterline on pieces of debris floating in the open ocean.

Subsequently, flotation tests were conducted at the DGA’s Hydrodynamic Engineering test center in Toulouse. The results are referenced in a document that I have obtained which was prepared for judicial authorities by Météo France, the government meteorological agency, which had been asked to conduct a reverse-drift analysis in an attempt to determine where the flaperon most likely entered the water. This report was not officially released to the public, as it is part of a criminal terrorism case. It is available in French here.

Pierre Daniel, the author of the Météo France study, notes that the degree to which a floating object sticks up into the air is crucial for modeling how it will drift because the more it protrudes, the more it will be affected by winds:
Buoyancy extract

This translates as:

The buoyancy of the piece such as it was discovered is rather important. The studies by the DGA Hydrodynamic Engineering show that under the action of a constant wind, following the initial situation, the piece seems able to drift in two positions: with the trailing edge or the leading edge facing the wind. The drift angle has the value of 18 degrees or 32 degrees toward the left, with the speed of the drift equal to 3.29% or 2.76% of the speed of the wind, respectively.

The presence of barnacles of the genus Lepas on the two sides of the flaperon suggest a different waterline, with the piece being totally submerged. In this case we derive a speed equaly to zero percent of the wind. The object floats solely with the surface current.

This suggests a remarkable state of affairs.

Inspection of the flaperon by Poupin revealed that the entire surface was covered in Lepas, so the piece must have floated totally submerged—“entre deux eaux,” as Le Monde journalist Florence de Changy reported at the time. Yet when DGA hydrodynamicists put the flaperon in the water, it floated quite high in the water, enough so that when they blasted it with air it sailed along at a considerable fraction of the wind speed.

As point of reference, Australia’s CSIRO calculates that that the drifter buoys that it uses to gather ocean-current data pick up a 1.5% contribution from the wind. Here is a picture of one such drifter, kindly supplied to me by Brock McEwen. You can see that more than half of the spherical buoy is out of the water.


It is physically impossible for Lepas to survive when perched up high in the air. Yet the buoyancy tests were unequivocal. So Daniel pressed on, conducting his analysis along two parallel tracks, one which assumed that the piece floated high, and the other in which it floated submerged. For good measure, he also considered scenarios in which the flaperon floated submerged until it arrived in the vicinity of Réunion, and then floated high in the water for the last two days. (Note that he doesn’t present any mechanism by which a thing could occur; I can’t imagine one.)

After running hundreds of thousands of simulated drift trials under varying assumptions, Daniel concluded that if the piece floated as its Lepas population suggests, that is to say submerged, then it couldn’t have started anywhere near the current seabed search area. (See chart above.) Its most likely point of origin would have been close to the equator, near Indonesia. His findings in this regard closely mirror those of Brock McEwen and the GEOMAR researchers which I discussed in my previous post.

Daniel found that when simulated flaperons were asssumed to have been pushed by the wind, their location on March 8, 2014 lay generally along a lone that stretched from the southwest corner of Australia to a point south of Cape Horn in Africa (see below). This intersects with the 7th arc. However, as Brock has pointed out, such a scenario should also result in aircraft debris being washed ashore on the beaches of Western Australia, and none has been found. And, again, the presence of Lepas all over the flaperon indicates that such a wind contribution could not have been possible.

With windage

Pierre Daniel’s reverse-drift analysis for Météo France, therefore, presents us with yet another block in the growing stack of evidence against the validity of the current ATSB search area in the southern Indian Ocean.

The most important takeaway from this report for me, however, is the stunning discrepancy between how the flaperon floated in the DGA test tank and the “entre deux eaux” neutral buoyancy suggested by its population of Lepas. No doubt some will suggest that the flaperon may have contained leaky cells that slowly filled as it floated across the ocean, then drained after it became beached. However, I find it hard to believe that an organization as sophisticated as the DGA would have overlooked this eventuality when conducting their wind tests. Rather, I read Daniel’s report as evidence that the French authorities have been unable to make sense its own findings. I suspect that this is the reason that they continue to suppress them up to this day.

499 thoughts on “French Judiciary Report Raises Fresh Doubts About MH370 Debris”

  1. @OZ:

    Can you provide more details on the internal structure of the flaperon?

    Are there any ribs between the end ribs?
    Are there more spars between the front spar/leading edge and the rear spar?

  2. @OZ:

    Thanks for that link. Some interesting thoughts there:

    Or rather, how the damage is almost entirely restricted to its trailing edge. This doesn’t look like something that has survived a high speed impact or explosion, which would have left it either twisted and torn, or full of holes.

    It seems to be more consistent with an aircraft that has ditched in the sea at a fairly low speed, with the lowered flaperon fracturing and being torn off on impact with water.

    I even wondered if the damage to the trailing edge might have happened some time later. However, since the seashells encrusting the trailing edge seem to be the same size and age as others, it looks as if this was damage that happened when the plane hit the water.

    And if the aircraft was ditched at a fairly low speed, it would probably mean that the rest of it is as intact as this flaperon, and all in one piece. And it would also mean that it was still being flown when it hit the water.

    It now seems clear that it did come down in the Indian ocean, and not at some obscure airfield. And they have been looking in the right region.

  3. @Jeffwise I don’t know if it is necessarily “delusional” to state that the IG is “data driven.” Would “largely data driven” be a better way of putting it?

    Regardless, I find the regular sniping and trolling between various contributors here and elsewhere to be generally amusing at times and rather sad at others (thus my comment). In general, I don’t believe that any particular group bears more guilt in terms of engaging this age-old human foible more than any other. If, however, I were to embrace it with deadly seriousness and concern, perhaps it is Brock who has put it best in stating “…that any lack of civility, curiosity, or correctness can these days be put down to perfectly understandable frustration over how badly the search leadership has abused their trust.”

    It seems to me that perhaps there is also a larger sense of frustration growing amongst us, knowing that the search may soon lose its grounding in the data, as well as its funding. As I mentioned before, perhaps a last minute flurry of human activity will yield a July Surprise.

  4. Victor Ianello has observed that the original flight path graphic displayed to NOK at the Lido hotel depicted the initial major anomalous turn as a looping 255-degree turn to starboard, which eventually crossed the original flight path, from IGARI to BITOD, about halfway between them , so explaining the ultra sharp UFO turn in subsequent depictions. If the first picture is qualitatively accurate, then presuming a realistic value for the turning radius, implies that the aircraft more or less reached BITOD, before turning the wrong way .

    Perhaps the extra flying time required to reach BITOD and loop all the way around to the wrong side accounts for the 35 second delay of the aircraft WRT an M0.84 model flight path?

    Perhaps the aircraft suffered a glitch, at BITOD, causing the aircraft to try to turn towards Beijing, the long way around to starboard? Perhaps the pilots, confused, managed to retake direct control of the aircraft, part way through the errant turn, with the aircraft happening to be heading towards the NW? Maybe Hamid, at the helm, deferred decision, to his senior and superior, who rushed his return to the flight deck, finally strapping in and righting the aircraft after a minute or two of turn?

    If Shah was PF then Hamid would have been on the radio, to talk with MH88 at 1:30am.

    Speak when spoken to … MH370 allegedly replied to MH88 at 1:30am on VHF, and supposedly replied to ATC who hailed the aircraft at 1:41am or 1:43am, according to FI and the China Times. The first contact was loud if not clear to civilian receivers. The second allegedly required military hardware to detect. If MH370 was restricted to waning battery power, from IMT to Penang, that could explain a weakening signal, degrading from unclear to ultra faint over the span of 12 minutes or so .

    IMT to Penang on Standby power
    To SatCom reboot on Backup power
    Ghost flight on Primary power

  5. @erik nelson

    Do you know what they heard from those 2 radio contacts or is it still classified?

  6. @Brock
    Thank you for the clarification.

    I apologize for my attribution of that statement to you.

  7. Gysbreght wrote “The main body of the flaperon is completely sealed. “

    In general sealant is only used to prevent something from getting out or in or for smoothness and only used where required (it adds weight). E.g. Air getting out in the case of the fuselage and fuel getting out in the case of the wing box. Aero seal is used in some areas to smooth out an aero surface. Thus; the aero surfaces of the flaperon will probably have aero sealant applied for aero purposes. Rubber seals are used between surfaces to reduce the airflow between gaps in the various structures during cruise. Rubber seals can be seen in the design. There is no need to seal the main body of the flaperon; in fact the panel designs would have to resist the pressure changes with altitude and thus it is not desirable to seal anything that does not need sealing. Plus a real driver is weight. If not required, it, whatever “it” is, is not put into the design. Note: Fay surface sealant will be used to seal metal surfaces to prevent corrosion within two touching surfaces/ also for electrical contact. Fillet sealant will be added when one wants to seal the edge of a surface.

    Note: drain holes can be actual holes in solid areas of a panel/spar/rib or as an example; a corner of a rib cut off to create a triangular hole where it intersects a spar/panel. Drain holes will only be on the lower side of an assembly. Thus water will have a hard time getting in or out but over time should reach an equilibrium. Air should have a much easier path.

    I don’t really know if the main body is completely sealed; but I don’t think so. No reason.

  8. @Ken Goodwin: I suppose the drain hole is there for weight saving, as any condensation will leak out anyway.

  9. Ge Rijn Posted May 10, 2016 at 1:23 AM@Mike Gibbon. You say barnacles will add to its buoyancy. I think it’s the other way around but can you explain?

    Interesting. I would think an animal that lives to float on the surface would not what to add weight to the floating object for fear of sinking to their death. Thus I checked Wiki.

    Dosima fascicularis, the buoy barnacle, is “the most specialised pleustonic goose barnacle” species.[4] It hangs downwards from the water surface, held up by a float of its own construction, and is carried along by ocean currents.

    There are barnacles that float by themselves to survive.

  10. @Ken Goodwin, Lepas anatifera are a different species, they are heavier than seawater and a significant enough quantity will cause the sinking of the object to which they are attached.

  11. Ham Radio enthusiastics have gatherings and are running their VHF gear off battery power for many hours at these HamFests. I don’t see MH370 battery drain to be that much an influencer for comms quality unless there was antenna issues, interference (ie:jammers) or unstable power.

  12. Middleton,

    Thanks for the link. I wish Jeff had a similar collection of the major documents at his Web.

  13. Gysbreght, Victor,

    Could you pls remind the most accurate dependency between IAS and TAS? Would

    TAS = IAS * sqrt (rho_0/rho)

    work up to FL250 and M=0.84?

  14. If you know M and the pressure ratio Pr, then IAS (knots) =
    1479.1*sqrt({Pr[(0.2M^2+1)^3.5 – 1] + 1}^0.2857 – 1)

  15. Victor,

    Thanks; I think I saw the formulation you provided. But my purpose is to explicitly simulate flight trajectory in IAS mode (more exactly SPD automatically changes to MACH if M reaches 0.84). I have ambient meteorological parameters and selected constant IAS. In my understanding the pressure ratio comes from direct measurements, so this formulation is not suitable for my purpose.

  16. Lauren,

    I think the “rule of 2%” represents approximated sqrt(rho_0/rho). My concern is that Wikipedia states that these approximations are inaccurate at high M due to compressibility effect. Hence my question whether these formulations are still applicable at M=0.84.

  17. @Oleksandr:

    Your equation at 2:17 PM: TAS = IAS * sqrt (rho_0/rho)
    should actually read: TAS = EAS * sqrt (rho_0/rho)

    At M.84, FL350. standard temperature, IAS=287 kt, EAS=270 kt, TAS=484 kt.

    At M.84, FL250, standard temperature, IAS=356 kt, EAS=338 kt, TAS = 506 kt. (Note that Vmo=330 kIAS)

    Pressure ratio is directly related to FL’s which are expressed in pressure altitudes. Not sure what you mean by “pressure ratio comes from direct measurements”.

  18. @Erik

    Those radio transmissions could have come from a handheld radio substituted for the ship’s radios once power failed. The waning signal is explained by the orientation of the aircraft, and therefore the antenna, once it turned westbound.

  19. @Oleksandr: The equation for pressure ratio is:

    Pr = ((288.15-0.0019812*hp)/288.15)^5.25588
    where hp is the pressure altitude in feet.

    or: Pr = (TrISA)^5.25588
    where Tr is the ambient temperature ratio in the standard atmosphere in °K.

  20. @Oleksandr: Yes, what @Gysbreght said. A plane flies typically flies according to pressure altitude, so just use his formula for Pr, and plug it into the formula I gave.

    I would stay away from the TAS = IAS (1 + .02*H(kft)) formula. It is only approximate and does not include the M dependency.

    Also, for a B777, IAS is very close to CAS, so the two terms can be used interchangeably. CAS is more technically correct because it is independent of instrument error.

  21. Gysbreght,

    Several papers including Wikipedia say that EAS does not differ much from IAS. You can find exactly same formulation as I wrote. That is why I am asking how accurate it is.

    Re pressure ratio. I though it is the ratio of the impact pressure to static pressure. No?

  22. Gysbreght, Victor,

    Thank you; I will try to plug them.

    Gysbreght, do you have a reference to your formulation of Pr?

  23. @Ken Goodwin.
    I think your find on the goose-barnacle species could be important on the buoyancy problem.
    As far as I know the species on the flaperon is not officialy identified yet.
    If I’m wrong Jeff Wise hopefully can provide proof otherwise.

    The flaperon seems to be completely sealed except from at least one very tiny draining hole in the corner of the inboard trailing edge spar.
    From the photo’s it looks there must be another spar through, inches of the center, for on both sides there are 7 lock bolts visible like the three on the end spar.
    If so there must be three seperate compartments. But maybe it’s only a kind of torsion spar which does not seal of a compartement. Anyway it seems to be there.

    Another thing, if you look at the break-angles damage of the seperated trailing edge they all point upwards. Indicating a force coming from the underside of the flaperon.

    Also the damage on the ‘missing widget’ as Jeff Wise calls it in an earlier post (which is not missing as seen) is clearly visible. The part fixed on the end-rib is still intact but the guiding part of the structure is ripped off.

  24. @Oleksandr: pressure ratio is the ratio of static pressure at altitude to sealevel standard pressure.

    @VictorI: For the record – the difference between CAS and IAS is an error in the pitot/static pressures (commonly called ‘position error’. That pressure error is corrected in the ADIRU, and therefore IAS=CAS.

  25. @Oleksandr: “Gysbreght, do you have a reference to your formulation of Pr?”

    I copied it from Boeing’s Jet Transport Performance Methods, but you should be able to derive it from the definition of the standard atmosphere, ideal gas law and hydrostatic equation. I forgot to mention that the formula I gave is valid up to the tropopause at 36089.24 feet, 11000 meters exactly.

  26. If power did fail I am not sure then how did the RR engine pings get transmitted out and recorded at Inmarsat.

  27. Rand – I said over a year ago that the term IG was defunct as they had more or less gone their separate ways and had also completely exhausted the numbers from early on. It’s continued existence looks odd. What is it’s point in being these days? If you parade as a scientist why run with a pack? MH370 land means info sharing and contested ideas so what is the point in some boy gang operating as an entity over two years later – especially when the AP guess-work has fallen flat? I think I know. If I was Victor I would officially hand in my badge and eat my lunch with Jeff.

  28. @Matty – Perth: The IG for me is still the best source of technical information, data, and knowledge, and I have no intention “to hand in my badge”, although I would welcome a lunch with Jeff. Some outside the group have unrealistic expectations about what the IG can realistically accomplish, and many don’t have a full appreciation of the technical contributions that have been made.

    Rather than question the utility of the IG, I think it is more constructive to fight for more data. In this sense, I think Brock McEwen is right. We can argue amongst ourselves until the cows come home about how to interpret the data we have. On the other hand, we KNOW that important evidence is being withheld, and is likely to not appear in the Final Report. And some of the evidence that has been released is contradictory.

    The more I know about this incident, and the more I watch how the players interact, the more persuaded I am that there is complicity among a number of countries, either in committing the crime, or allowing those that have committed the crime to keep the facts hidden. In that sense, I do share a different opinion than many (but not all) of my friends in the IG.

  29. Victor – I think scientists do their best work when they are completely untethered. Cliques are bad news for investigation, and if there is no clique, there is no IG? I had very low expectations of the IG or ATSB or anyone from the start and I grant that it(IG) is a logical repository of knowledge for people. But by now the “IG” should have melted into the landscape of scientific investigation – the top level. Below that you have the behaviorists and theorists and so on that make up MH370 land. To remain a distinct entity at this stage, one that unceremoniously cuts people away, looks boyish.

  30. @Victor & Matty.
    How can we best “fight for more data”? I suppose FOI requests in various countries might reveal something or probably not … it may all be classified. France’s judicial system is a mystery to me… the full report on the flaperon analysis might be held back for years?… or do you think Malaysia and ATSB have it already? Sometimes I think the more that folks publicly push for transparency on this, the more the authorities clam up; look what a pathetic interim report we got. Also, sometimes I fear that the political situation between various countries is on such a knife edge that the fall-out from the truth in this situation might be too great; e.g. tensions, ambitions and military build-up in the SCS and surrounding countries.

    In a way I disagree with Matty on this occasion – could or would the IG, who obviously have considerable clout with the search organisers, help lead the fight for more data?

    Any answers to some or all of the above would be much appreciated.

  31. @AM2
    In the U.S., every baggage handler, air traffic controller, airport security employee, anyone associated in any way would have appeared multiple times on multiple broadcasts to tell of their story.

    If the cargo manifest was not properly released in it’s entirety, then the company that handled the cargo would be bullied by thousands of people demanding disclosure with ample news coverage.

    You get my drift, this would go on and on if need be although probably it would not because the information train would already have delivered.

    Like others, I have emailed many requests to many places, most recently to the company that handled the cargo. I often wonder if the pressure to respond would be any different, if rather than a few requests, there were a few million requests.

    My experience has been, there is definitely power in numbers, but an effective rally to exert pressure by thousands or millions around the world has had no fruition.

    I do not understand why there have not been comments here from anyone who speaks Malay and English, living in Malaysia.

    Think of all the people that were involved with that flight and all aboard that have a story to tell and imagine what could possibly be gleaned.

  32. @AM2: Ref your post May 10, 2016 at 9:38 PM

    You made three specific remarks:
    1. “I suppose FOI requests in various countries might reveal something or probably not … it may all be classified.”
    2. “Sometimes I think the more that folks publicly push for transparency on this, the more the authorities clam up”
    3. “sometimes I fear that the political situation between various countries is on such a knife edge that the fall-out from the truth in this situation might be too great; e.g. tensions, ambitions and military build-up in the SCS and surrounding countries”

    The only way I can interpret those three remarks, taken together, is that you are apparently coming around to accepting the idea that the governments involved know exactly what happened, and know exactly where the aircraft is, but for a host of “international relations reasons”, all those governments are, for their own, and “collective” reasons, hell bent on ensuring that the world at large never finds out.

    @AM2: Is that a reasonable summary of your thinking ?

    If it is, then it logically follows that:
    (a) those governments would have all been desperate to ensure that any “search” failed to find the aircraft, and
    (b) those governments would have all been desperate to put on “a credible show” of a massive ongoing – long term – search for the world media, (which is the 7th arc search) and,
    (c) those governments would also need a “long term solution” to the problem of “credibly explaining” to the world “why the aircraft was never found”.

    Perhaps that did not pan-out as initially intended / planned ?

    The flaperon and the first 60,000 square kilometre search did not “credibly satisfy” the world like they initially hoped it would.
    The French did not “play ball”, so it was necessary to “extend the time line”.
    The interim solution, to buy more time, was simply to “double” the search area to 120,000 square kilometres, which “buys” another year.
    Which leads us to,
    (d) more “debris” being needed to “credibly sell the story”, that the aircraft ended up in the SIO, since the French had not “played ball” with the flaperon. So, it was decided that it was now necessary, to ensure, that “multiple pieces” of debris, were found in “multiple places”, and specifically in “multiple legal political and legal jurisdictions”, who have “no interest” in MH-370 at any level, political or legal, i.e. no citizens on board, and thus, no reason “not to play ball” under Annex-13, like the French have.

    “Some of” those “multiple pieces” have now washed up in “multiple places” which are in “multiple jurisdictions” with “no interest”, who have (as expected) “played ball”, by giving them to Malaysia / Australia.

    So, the plan is back on track now, for the final “putting MH-370 to bed”, as originally intended by those governments, but only “a year later than originally intended” ?

    @AM2: Your thoughts sir ?

  33. Here is how ‘scientific’ the IG is:

    FLUTTER. And Mike Exner to this day is stuck with the fraudulent (nefariously so) ‘analysis’. I’ll snipe away because it is truly a remarkable and disgusting display of putting one’s own ego (and agenda) above all else. And this guy has the attention of the NOK…what an abomination. Disgraceful.

  34. @ventus45
    I have been a fence-sitter for a long time but now think its fairly likely that at least one government knows what happened (but it is not clear to me who knows). I don’t completely rule out the possibility that the plane is in the search area or nearby but not yet found. The Meteo report has advanced our knowledge of the flaperon quite a bit but still many questions are unanswered.

    It’s not clear by your long post whether you are actually voicing your own views on the situation or not. Your thoughts?

  35. matt – re flutter – I think alsm advanced this off his own bat and has defended it personally which is his perogative I guess. Like you though, I thought it was driven by conviction in a long held IG position that precludes a ditch. We have seen stubborn group think of late and most recently some snide shots at our host for having the temerity to post an informative piece on debris that doesn’t sit with what is on track to become IG dogma.

    At the beginning I remember senior IG (members who I better not name or I will be accused of twisting their words) almost chiding the ATSB because their hotspots didn’t quite line up. Fast forward and they are all empty. The expanded box is a rule of thumb doubling of the original situated on the 7th arc (also empty)and in the event of a debris find down there expect Inmarsat to emerge from the shadows and take bouquets with the ATSB. There was only ever going to be one search box and I don’t see any credit flowing back to the IG? Having said that, I wouldn’t bet ten cents that we are about to see debris on the bottom.

  36. Now the ATSB and more experts and others are starting to leave the pressumption of a uncontrolled ghost flight and publicly speak out seriously the possibility of an all controlled flight and ditching I think they should act on the consequeces this scenario involves (ATSB/Australia, Malysia, China, France)for the search to continue.

    The scenario of a hijacker/pilot who willfully and precicely calculated a flight path to a well chosen end point with the intend of hiding the plane and all evidence as best as possible.

    Not far north and north east of the current search zone there are such area’s which would do well to fit such an objective.
    The Diamantina trench just under Broken Ridge and the Dordrecht Hole more east.
    Depths her are from 5000 to above 7000m (Dordrecht Hole).

    These area’s are not that extended and could be search in a matter of a few months (if possible concerning the depth).

    Those places imo could fit all the now known ‘evidence’ and the objective based on this pressumption/scenario.

    Anyway imo it would be quite sad if the ATSB (and others) would admit they searched for two years on a wrong pressumption, taking another pressumption and then call off the search.
    But still other debris can likely be found before that and hopefully that could change their minds.

  37. @MH

    There is nothing to suggest that power failed. The SATCOM was switched off for the first hour, that is it. ACARS was switched off for the duration, hence the handshake interrogations.

  38. @Susie Crowe
    Sadly, I suspect that most here in Aus have lost interest in the story by now. MH370 doesn’t occur in the mainstream news very often and I don’t know anyone else following the search (other than those on the various blogs). Maybe there is more interest in WA.

  39. @Ventus45
    It is now becoming increasingly likely the depressing picture you paint becomes reality with (at least one) National Government actor participating in the denial, deception and manipulation of evidence.
    Go back to the early days to ask who was responsible for:
    1. Yanking the active search areas away from (satellite) debris fields to barren ocean?
    2. Locating first acoustic ping and how did this location get selected?
    Both the events lost valuable time (and energies) but were an essential part of the unwinding deception.
    Ask yourself who and the whys may become clearer ….

  40. If antennae are all mounted on the fuselage, and if the fuselage really actually was “disintegrating”, then some or all of the HF / VHF radio antennae may have ripped off of the a/c body ?? Or have been dangling at odd angles ???

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