Updated MH370 Study Reiterates Seabed Search Uncertainties


In an earlier post I described research conducted at the GEOMAR-Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research in Kiel which suggested that, based on reverse-drift analysis of the Rénion flaperon, its starting point most likely lay in the tropical latitudes of the southern Indian Ocean, far north of the current seabed search area.

Today the same scientists published an update of their research, with a press release available here and the full report here. The upshot can be seen in the chart above, which shows the probability distribution of where the piece likely began its journey to Réunion island. Once again the authors have concluded that the greater part of the probability (98.7 %) lies far north of the seabed search area, shown as a white rectangle. The study’s authors suggest that their results might justify a shift of the search area:

The Australian search authorities are aware of this report. “Whether or not these new results will be used to facilitate the last few months of the ongoing search for MH370 is not clear,” Arne Biastoch summarizes.

One of the refinements included in the new study is that while the authors continued to assume that there was no direct wind effect on the flaperon (it being presumed to be floating essentially flush with the surface), they have included for the first time an effect called Stokes Drift, which results from wind-generated waves:

“In our recent calculations we included more physical processes in order to simulate the drift more realistically,” Prof. Biastoch explains. “In particular the drift induced by wind generated ocean waves is now included,” Biastoch continues. “Even though we use state-of-the-art modelling systems, representing the ocean currents in the Indian Ocean quite well, all simulations naturally contain limitations. Our investigation is one important piece of the puzzle in finding MH370.”

As a result of the new calculations the possible source region of the flaperon was refined, and “While it is shifted a bit southward from the initial study done last September, our basic result that most particles originate from a region north of the current search area remains unchanged,” states Dr. Durgadoo.

So should Australian search officials call a halt to the current search and relocate its ships further north? Actually, I don’t think they should. If the GEOMAR scientists are correct and MH370 did crash into the ocean west of Exmouth, the plane must have been following a low and curving trajectory of the kind that is not supported by any simple autopilot mode. That is to say, the plane would have been either conscious control the entire time or flying along a series of arbitrary user-defined waypoints.

The latter seems extraordinarily unlikely. First, we would have to surmise that whoever was in control of the plane decided to fly a basically random path, and to choose a cumbersome way of doing so, entering by hand pairs of latitude-longitude coordinates. This would be bizarre behavior, to say the least. Furthermore, as explained in the DSTG report issued last December, it is extremely unlikely that a randomly chosen set of slow segments would happen to match the ping rings. Instead, random sequences are only likely to match if they conform to a fast-and-straight flight to the south: in other words, if they end up in the current search area.

The former is problematic for the same reasons, and for an additional one as well. If the plane was under conscious control until the bitter end, then we cannot assume that, as in the unpiloted scenario, it spiraled into the sea once its fuel ran out. Instead, the conscious pilot might have chose to hold it into a glide far beyond the seventh arc. We have no reasonable expectation, therefore, that a narrow search along the seventh arc would yield the wreckage.

315 thoughts on “Updated MH370 Study Reiterates Seabed Search Uncertainties”

  1. @Marc.
    It depends on the kind of hydraulic system and the kind of valves are in it or not imo.
    Take a hydraulic brake system of a car. It’s a free flowing system. The moment you put pressure on the pedal the brakes are on. The moment you release pressure on the pedal oil flows back and the brakes go to neutral immediatly.

    In a hydraulic system where you need constant flexibility like in a break system of a car or surface control sytems on aircrafts you’ll need more free flowing flexible systems.
    In a shovel it’s nessecary to apply lock and release valves to lock up and release pressure to maintain strictly fixed positions for longer times.

    I think this makes the big difference. In a more free flowing system the rudder (and other cotrol surfaces) will go back to its neutral position like the brake pads of your car would do when hydraulic pressure is going to zero after you take your foot off the pedal.

  2. @Shadynuk

    I agree, It’s a difficult issue. Nothing like this has ever happened before, which I think is one of the reasons the aftermath was handled so poorly and lead to so much speculation – actually just what the perpetrator had been anticipating.

    It’s my personal view that the Malaysian authorities knew exactly what had happened as soon as the plane disappeared. As everyone knows, their’s is a despotic and corrupt regime, the rulers of which will do anything to maintain their grip on power. Witness the recent elections in Sarawak. The perpetrator was a political activist, and a thorn in their side. He was a person of some standing in Malaysian society, a champion of the man in the street, the underdog. Because of this, the authorities may have been leaning on him, and it’s possible in my view that this pressure may in some way have precipitated his actions. This aspect of the story may come out in due course.

    Clearly, this was not simply a suicide. I think it was a carefully planned act of political sabotage, intended to embarrass the Malaysian government to the maximum extent possible. The perpetrator wanted it to be an unsolved, indeed unsolvable mystery. Thus it was that he hatched this ghastly plan to make a planeload of passengers vanish without trace.

  3. @GortoZ, We all often disagree but expect a certain level of civility toward one another. Rational discussion becomes impossible if people start throwing around emotional language. I was away this weekend and would have spoken up sooner if I’d been around. Consider this a final warning.

  4. @Oleksanda

    A benchmark for unaided human eye detail resolution is 1 arc minute.

    30 cm wide object at 3km is 0.34 arc minutes.

    Cockpit windows are larger – possibly in excess of 1 arc minute at 3km.

    But all depends on light level, contrast and, atmospheric conditions and your familiarity with the object you are viewing.

    With binoculars that changes … was Kate using binoculars?

    Sailors often favour 7×50 which would probably give tenfold improvement in detail resolution.

    My guess … most people would not pick out passenger windows in a plane 3 km away to be able to state there were, or were not windows.

  5. @Ge Rijn
    “It depends on the kind of hydraulic system and the kind of valves are in it or not imo.”

    Thank you very much for your clear explanation. Now I understand that the kind of hydraulic system for the flaps must also be different than that of the rudder for the pilot to be able to extend the flaps before flame out and have them kept extended after. Unlike the rudder that must return to their neutral position in absence of command, the flaps must be kept extended at their current position in absence of command, to avoid the flaps retracting themselves all the way to 0 in case of hydraulic failure. I don’t want that to happen during landing…

  6. GortoZ know what I believe! The pilot will end up being a hero! Maybe there was a bomb on the plane, pilot landed the passengers safely, then took the plane out to sea! Plane will be found empty or blown to bits! The truth will come out eventually! Between who was onboard the businessmen, they are keeping the people hidden for whatever reason maybe till a ransom is paid! Someone knows the truth, pilot may have paraglided out of the plane onto a ship! A ship with a distress call was out there further south, nothing was found so they say! Everyone has their own theory, respect that!!

  7. This web site, the content, and the dialog between some really really smart people is fascinating for me. I, like so many others, are drawn to the mystery of MH370. I had a question that after doing some research I can’t find the answer to. Most modern planes have wifi, and passengers like me shell out the money to have internet on the plane. Did MH 370 have wifi? If so has anyone looked at the records or web traffic for any clues?

  8. @Steve

    As I understand it, MH370 was not equipped with cellphone WiFi.

    The IFE was Panasonic 3000i, which provided SMS and email connectivity for the business class passengers, providing IFE was switched on.

    The SATCOM was disabled at an early stage in the flight (some time after 17:07) The SDU was re-energised at about 18:24, but the IFE was evidently switched off probably some time shortly after 18:28 (my interpretation of the data) and remained off for the rest of the flight.

  9. @ROB

    You can switch off the IFE for cabin use, which makes some obvious sense if this was a hijacking. It still logs on but does not send data. Had the IFE been switched off after 18:28, I presume messages would have been transmitted at the time of the reboot.

  10. @Mike Gibbon
    Kate Tee was not using binoculars.

    @Oleksandr & Mike Gibbon
    The 3km (~10,000 feet) number comes from her initial impression
    of the height.
    On 15/7/2014 on cruisersforum;
    she posted a clarification of her judgement of the height;
    “Since that time I have observed planes on take-off, and have
    realised that not only was the angle 30° or lower, the plane itself
    had to be at quite a fairly low altitude and close in order for me
    to see the hull so clearly.”
    I don’t blame you for not being aware of this later statement of
    hers, but I hope you can understand that the 3km number you base
    your viewpoint on, was repudiated by Kate Tee.
    In my post on May 5, 2016 at 1:09 PM about this matter I could not
    recall her comment about the shape of the aircraft. Now we can
    see in her post cited above, her comment about the shape of the
    aircraft (remember, this is her notion BEFORE she thought it may
    have been MH370);
    ” I decided it had formerly been a passenger plane, but had its
    windows blocked out to act as a cargo plane, since it appeared too
    long and pointy to be a cargo plane. At this stage I decided it
    must be military.”
    Her comment ‘Long and pointy’ interests me greatly, given the
    suggestion I made in my post on May 5, 2016 at 1:09 PM, about the
    probable type of aircraft that I reason she in fact saw…

  11. @Nederland

    Re the IFE: not quite sure what you mean. Anyway, no messages were transmitted at the time of the reboot. The IFE was enabled by the IFE logon request at 18:28, ie 90 seconds after the initial logon at 18:25, which as I understand it, means that the IFE/seat power switch on the cockpit overhead panel was on at the time. No messages were sent out during the first hour, because the SDU itself had been deliberately de-energised in order to prevent this happening.

    I think this switch was set to off a short time later. The switch was still off at the time of the 2nd reboot at 00:19, because only the initial logon request got transmitted (the IFE request was never received by the ground station)

    At one stage it was thought the plane may have crashed before the IFE logon could get transmitted but this now generally accepted as unlikely, otherwise the wreckage would have been located by now, close to the 7th arc.

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