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:
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.
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.