Is the New ATSB Search Area Sound?


The above graph is taken from the DSTG book “Bayesian Methods in the Search for MH370, ” page 90. It shows the probability distribution of MH370’s endpoint in the southern Indian Ocean based on analysis of the different autopilot modes available to whoever was in charge of the plane during its final six hours. It was published earlier this year and so represents contemporary understanding of these issues. As you can see, the DSTG estimated that the probability that the plane hit the 7th arc north of 34 degrees south longitude is effectively zero.

I interviewed Neil Gordon, lead author of the paper, on August 11. At that time, he told me that experts within the official search had already determined that the BFO values at 0:19 indicated that the plane was in a steep descent, on the order of 15,000 feet per minute.

Such a rate of descent would necessarily indicate that the plane could not have hit the ocean very far from the 7th arc. Nevertheless, Fugro Equator, which was still conducting its broad towfish scan of the search area at the time, spent most of its time searching the area on the inside edge of the search zone in the main area, between 37.5 and 35 degrees south latitude, about 25 nautical miles inside the 7th arc. At no point between the time of our interview and the end of the towfish scan in October did Equator scan anywhere north of 34 degrees south.

Shortly thereafter, the ATSB hosted a meeting of the experts it had consulted in the course of the investigation, and the result of their discussion was published on December 20 of this year as “MH370 – First Principles Review.” This document confirms what Gordon told me, that the group believed that the BFO data meant that the plane had to have been in a steep dive at the time of the final ping. What’s more, the report specified that this implied that the plane could not have flown more than 25 nautical miles from the 7th arc, and indeed most likely impacted the sea within 15 nautical miles.

By the analysis presented above, a conclusion is fairly obvious: the plane must have come to rest somewhere south of 34 degrees south, within 25 nautical miles of the seventh arc. Since this area has already been thoroughly scanned, then the implication is that the plane did not come to rest on the Indian Ocean seabed where the Inmarsat signals indicate it should have.

I would suggest that at this point the search should have been considered completed.

Nevertheless, the “First Principles Review” states on page 15 that the experts’ renewed analysis of the 777 autopilot dynamics indicates that the plane could have crossed the 7th arc “up to 33°S in latitude along the 7th arc.”

Then in the Conclusions section on page 23 the authors describe “a remaining area of high probability between latitudes 32.5°S and 36°S along the 7th arc,” while the accompanying illustration depicts a northern limit at 32.25 degrees south.

In other words, without any explanation, the northern limit of the aircraft’s possible impact point has moved from 34 degrees south in the Bayesian Methods paper in early 2016 to 33 degrees south on page 15 in the “First Principles Review” released at the end of the year. Then eight pages later within the same report the northern limit has moved, again without explanation, a half a degree further north. And half a page later it has moved a quarter of a degree further still.

Is the ATSB sincere in moving the northern limit in this way? If so, I wonder why they did not further search out this area when they had the chance, instead of continuing to scan an area that they apparently had already concluded the plane could not plausibly have reached.

I should point out at this point that the area between 34 south and 35.5 south has been scanned to a total widtch of 37 nautical miles, and the area between 32.5 and 34 has been searched to a total width 23 nautical miles. Thus even if the ATSB’s new northern limits are correct, they still should have found the plane.

As a result of the above I would suggest that:

a) Even though most recent report describes “the need to search an additional area representing approximately 25,000 km²,” the conduct of the ATSB’s search does not suggest that they earnestly believe that the plane could lie in this area. If they did, they could have searched out the highest-probability portions of this area with the time and resources at their disposal. Indeed, they could be searching it right now, as I write this. Obviously they are not.

b) The ATSB knew, in issuing the report, that Malaysia and China would not agree to search the newly suggested area, because it fails to meet the agreed-upon criteria for an extension (“credible new information… that can be used to identify the specific location of the aircraft”). Thus mooting this area would allow them to claim that there remained areas of significant probability that they had been forced to leave unsearched. This, in effect, would allow them to claim that their analysis had been correct but that they had fallen victim to bad luck.

c) The ATSB’s sophisticated mathematical analysis of the Inmarsat data, combined with debris drift analysis and other factors, allowed them to define an area of the southern Indian Ocean in which the plane could plausibly have come to rest. A long, exhaustive and expensive search has determined that it is not there.

d) The ATSB did not fall victim to bad luck. On the contrary, they have demonstrated with great robustness that the Inmarsat data is not compatible with the physical facts of the case.

e) Something is wrong with the Inmarsat data.

828 thoughts on “Is the New ATSB Search Area Sound?”

  1. @all
    Being mindful of treading lightly as new, possibly more personal information is integrated.

    I think it is worth noting what appears to be an average daily exchange between husband and wife, especially with grown children. When they are young there is often more necessary communication.

    Also noted is the 10:31PM phone call from his wife before his 10:50PM sign-in for duty. The same security guard at their home neighborhood who mentioned Z’s greeting to him that evening, also stated he drove with his wife rather than using his normal car pick-up that night.

    In my opinion this is not indicative of a marriage on the rocks.

  2. @VictorI

    Yes, then I misunderstand you.
    I see the main diversion at SIM-point 10N/90E. That’s still a long way from SIM-point 5N/98E I would say.

    The SIM-‘flight path’ also avoids the FIR boundary between Malaysia and Indonesia and crosses the Malaysia/Chennai FIR boundery.
    What I see in your graphic back then the flight path between SIM-point KLIA N2/E101 and N10/E90 is fairly straight heading towards what could be Jeddah.

    Then at N10/E90 making a left banking turn abruptly ending in the SIM heading towards Sri Lanka/Maldives.

    Do I still misinterpret or are data changed?

  3. @all
    Re: 21-Feb MH370 Flight
    Of course the FI already had Z’s 21-Feb MH370 flight in there. So that aspect is not new info. What is new is that Z only has one other MH370 flight (in addition to 21-Feb and 8-March) in his past.

    Was the 21-Feb flight a possible aborted chance to take over that flight? Maybe not, the subsequent flight to Melbourne suggests ZS may have wanted to see his daughter… and, here I go again, I think there was a Moon in the sky all night on the 22-Feb date.

    @Susie C
    Well be careful there, some feel ZS was getting his wife out of the house to shield her from the press onslaught. Although some family say she always did that. In any case, there does seem to be some suggestion of a Z habit change in the pre-flight activity.

  4. @ROB

    That might be interesting data.
    Considering a 1 to 5 minutes exchange of ‘connection to the plane data’ between connecting and ending the call (without an answer from a pilot or someone else ofcourse).

    I can imagine this could tell something about the flight attitude in that small time period.

    The start and end of those calls would maybe have generated different data-values like the SDU-BFO’s at ~18:40 and ~0:19.
    I would be curious if this was true.

  5. There are some things to note in the police report about his accident 28 January 2007:
    After apparently having visited the emergency room of a Special Hospital in Seremban, a 50 minutes’ (66km) drive South of Kuala Lumpur, Z is referred the same day to a hospital in Subang Jaya (part of Kuala Lumpur) where he gets surgery two days later. As cause for his accident he states “fall from ladder” (pdf page 92) (not paragliding accident), and when the treating physical doctor summarizes his medical treatment for the RMP on 14 April 2014 (pdf page 87) the cause is not stated as anything else than “fall from a height”, a height approximated (in English) to “1230pm”. That is probably not meant to be read picameter, but sounds like an approximate translation of trad. Malay measure into something English / international or vice versa. Could pm mean propre metre? Someone knowledgeable?

    The question is of course also if he lived near Seremban at the time, visited someone, or went there for hang-gliding. The ladder-story might be one to not to risk dissatisfying his employer and co-workers, or what you think?

    Examination showed he had “badly burst fracture of L2 [2nd lumbar vertebra] with compression of the spinal cord.” It further says that he was “discharged from the hospital on the 5th [February] 2007”. (The latter in light of that he in his last fit-for-flying-certificate renewal ensures that he has never been admitted to hospital (pdf p. 106, §54, 3 December 2013).

    I am not suggesting this is unusual or dishonest, but it indicates that there might be something there below the optimal.

    The treating doctor lasts sees him in May 2008, when he returns with cervical spondylosis, which should be age- and injury-related spinal problems due to, what do you say, wrongloading? Wiki says “constant abnormal pressure, poor posture etc.”, i.e. probably too much sitting down due to pain and fatigue and change of lifestyle etc.

    It is also interesting to note that there is no record of Z renewing his Medical Certificate (p. 105) between December 2004 and January 2011, which is quite a long time for him. His last exam (December 2013) was also the first where he turned to another (private?) clinic than the one (company?) used before. A cut-out is here below but the original is preferrable:

    “14.06.2000 DrJaniil MMC SZB Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    22.05.2001 Dr tee MMC SZB

    13,09,2001 Dr Kee MMC 828 Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    04,06.2002 Oriarnil MMC SZB Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    02,12.2002 DrJamil MMC 528 Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    12,06.2003 Dr thairul MMC SZB Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    08,12.2003 DrJamil MMC SZB Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    12.06.2004 DrJamil MMC 528 Tech Crew Renewal Of Licence

    01.12.2004 Dr Oaljit MMC SZB Tech Crew Renewel Of Licence

    26.01,2011 LOCUM DOCTOR MMC 528

    09.05.2011 Dr Khairul MMC SZB

    23.05.2011 Dr Moganarajan MMC $26

    15.09.2011 Dr Selvi MMC SZB

    03.12,2013 Dr Mohd Salleh Nordin tueur Miedi Utama Sec 13 Shah Alam

  6. @VictorI @Ge Rijn
    The thing I notice about the sim data is the 40,000 flight level at 10N/90E in combination with the increased G-force history suggests to me a dive maneuver (possibly after a climb) which seems possibly analogous to whatever happened at IGARI, which of course we may never know as long as MY keeps the raw radar data secret.

    Thank you for pointing out the similarity to the Jeddah flight plan which I was wondering typical waypoints for those flights and also EU flights.

  7. @Susie

    Yes, the flight Z piloted to JED, 4 Feb 2014, had a scheduled departure of 11:45AM.

    However, Malaysia Airlines announced an additional flight from KUL to JED for the period 28 Jan. 2014 to 29 Mar. 2014. This flight, designated MH168 had a departure time of 22:30. It would have been well suited for Z’s purpose if he had a “suicide and make the plane disappear” motive, which I am not inclined to believe.

    It is also true, as you point out, that March 8 has particular significance for the PKR. My guess is that is what served as the trigger point, and that the flight to Beijing was better suited to a negotiation scenario for reasons I have already beat to death.

  8. @Nederland

    Thanks a lot.
    The first call-try lasted ~1 minute as I understand:

    “18:39- Ground Initiated to Air TelephonyCall- Zero Duration {Not Answered)
    P-Channel TX
    Ox20- Access Request/Call Announcement Telephone/Circuit-Mode Data
    P-Channel TX
    Ox33- C-Channel Assignment (Regularity)
    P-Channel TX
    Ox20- Access Request/Call Announcement Telephone/Circuit-Mode Data
    P-Channel TX
    Ox33- C-Channel Assignment (Regularity)
    C-Channel RX
    Ox30- Call Progress- Test 88
    84 C-Channel and 2 P-Channel messages moved into separatebelow table {see appendix 1) to ease the reading of key events.C-Channel messages have no
    BTO values
    7/03/2014 18:40:56.354 IOR-3730-21000 lOR 305 6 C-Channel RX Ox30- Call Progress- Channel Release”

    The second call also lasted ~1 minute (a little more than the first though):

    “23:13- Ground Initiated to Air TelephonyCall- Zero Duration {Not Answered)
    7/03/2014 23:13:58.407
    P-Channel TX
    Ox20- Access Request/Call Announcement Telephone/Circuit-Mode Data
    7/03/2014 23:13:58.407
    P-Channel TX
    Ox33- C-Channel Assignment (Regularity)
    7/03/2014 23:14:00.904
    C-Channel RX
    Ox30- Call Progress- Test 216
    Channel Name
    Unit ID
    Channel Type
    SU Type
    Burst Frequency Offset {Hz) BFO
    Burst Timing
    48 C-Channel and 1P-Channelmessages moved into separate below table {see appendix 2) to ease the reading of key events. C-Channelmessages have no
    BTO values
    7/03/2014 23:15:02.032 IOR-3737-21000 lOR 305 6 C-Channel RX Ox30- Call Progress- Channel Release 219”

    The BFO’s from the first call were; 88Hz at the start and 90Hz at the end.

    The BFO’s from the second call where: 216Hz at the start and 219Hz at the end.

    It’s on the experts to say if this has any substantial meaning though..

  9. @Nederland

    I know I repeated you partly with my previous post but I felt the urge to be more specific if you don’t mind..

  10. @VictorI

    There was an ethiopian hijack only 10-15 days before MH370.

    Pattern? Take the plane to another country and request asylum meanwhile (unintentionally) embarrassing swiss airforce that didn’t work outside standard 9-17 working hours…

    You could notice the same pattern here (if planned destination was CI which has an asylum centre). Take the plane to another country (Australia), embarass the hated government and request asylum.

    Moreover if he stumbled upon that page on wikipedia while checking the news about the hijack there is a direct link to another wikipedia page which has another ethiopan hijack that had CI as the planned destination. That one didn’t succeed as well.

  11. Ge Rijn said, “I see the main diversion at SIM-point 10N/90E. That’s still a long way from SIM-point 5N/98E I would say.”

    Let’s review what I did. I looked at destinations flown by MAS out of KLIA, and then looked at which flight plans would begin WMKK(RWY32R)-VKL-GUNIP-TASEK. I used FS9’s native flight planner. There were two notable routes: Jeddah and Chennai. Of these two, the distance to Jeddah was consistent with the takeoff fuel load of the simulation.

    If you compare the flight plan to Jeddah with the simulated flight, you see that instead of proceeding to TASEK on airway B477, there is a turn near 5N to track towards VAMPI on airway N571, just before the plane would have crossed from the Malaysian FIR into Indonesian FIR. This is why I believe it is possible that the simulated flight corresponded to a diversion before TASEK of a flight to Jeddah.

  12. @KarenK

    You say you know KLM pilots and crew who request flights often and those often are granted. I worked with the KLM and never heard of this.
    You are familiar with Dutch pilots and crew members? You’re Dutch yourself connected to KLM?
    You assume Z. could have requested this MH370 Beying flight and it was granted?

  13. Here’s another important question: Why in the March 2015 Factual Information was there no mention of the cell phone registration on the Penang tower? This connection positively links the radar captures to MH370, and therefore has importance.

    When rumors of a cell phone connection first surfaced in April 2014, Hishamuddin Hussein, then the acting Transport Minister, was questioned, and answered

    “…that authorities in [Malaysia] have received many reports and leads which later turned out to be baseless, and that he could not confirm whether Mr Hamid had tried to make a call.”

    “Unless we can have verifications, we can’t comment on these reports,” he said.
    But he suggested that the report was improbable.

    “If this did happened, we would have known about it earlier.”

    So instead of taking the opportunity to set the record straight and stating there was a cell phone registration but no evidence of an attempted call, he answered with his typical doublespeak, which led most to believe there was no cell phone connection at the Penang tower.

    And the Factual Information (FI) in March 2015 was another missed opportunity to disclose pertinent facts in the case. The omission of the cell phone connection from the FI again led people to believe that it never occurred because no doubt would be relevant to the investigation.

    So what is it about the registration of the First Officer’s cell phone on the Penang tower that concerns Malaysian officials?

  14. @Jeff
    I’m sorry, but I can’t let this accusation unanswered.

    “I have a grand total of…zero…comments deleted by Jeff. So clearly there are no “repeated” personal attacks, other than you calling me chickens**t in a few posts. So that’s rich, the guy who calls me chickens**t demanding more reasoned arguments.

    @Matt M

    You said in the post from 24.11.2016
    “If you’re trying to bait me into showing a Zapruder film of the cockpit event that I believe transpired between 01:01:17 and 01:07:56, I’ll pass.

    But thx for the macabre prurience!”

    My answer was:
    Thank you, that’s what I expected.
    If the only way you could explain your term “eliminated” ends in macabre prurience, then I accept your chickening out move.

    Does the same apply for the easy going no sweat easy chickensh*t weather forecast in your ditching area?

    Please elaborate your false accusation.
    No apology required though.

  15. @Matt M. One more for you and your Honeywell conversation. If you were in ECON CI=52 before EOR, what speed mode do you end up in at discontinuity. Presume that the stepped climbs /lower speed required in later flight don’t happen. Do you end up in constant M or something else? In case you didn’t ask, could you?

  16. @VictorI

    But then what could have been the reason to divert the plane to Jeddah?
    Z. was a Muslim, not practizing to the letter maybe, but still.
    He considered it a save haven for asylum there for some reason? Or/and make Saudi Arabia the country he would proclame his demands from to the MY government?

    A possibly derailed flight (on the way to Jeddah?) you mention.
    Derailed by what?
    Interception and damaged by Malaysian Airforce between 18:22 and 18:39?
    Could be IMO still. Other reasons?

    Kate Tee’s sighting around that time. Could have been a burning engine orange glowing B777.
    Maybe a steep emergency descend was done somewhere after ~18:22 (after hit) and then flying on to the South-West after climbing back to altitude when the engine fire was out.

    A one engine slightly slower flight on ~25.000ft into the SIO ending North of the current search area.

    Just thoughts to the discussion.

  17. @Ge Rijn

    Z was not considering Jeddah as a diversion destination. You are missing the point. The point is that the flight path to Jeddah would serve as an excellent launching point for the diversion to the SIO. It would follow an expected flight path all the way to the FMT.

  18. @VictorI
    I also use the FS9 native flight planner as a quick tool, but I know FS9 seems to be missing a lot of flight paths such as N571 so I do not take it as a go-by. Maybe it’s better than I thought, and of course could be what Z used in his cases. Once you get the PLN file you can simply text-edit the Lat/Long of the waypoints, so I do that a lot.

    Re: FO Phone connect- Pls elaborate if you have a thought. To me it suggests FO was locked out of cockpit. I feel like MY tries to hold everything secret unless there is international knowledge, and then U.S. or others force them to admit certain things, especially if it appears someone is trying to weave a mechanical failure scenario, then there is pressure from U.S. to release known facts which suggest otherwise.

    Certainly most interesting if CI is a known asylum spot.

  19. @TBill: My guess is that whether or not the FO was trying to make a call, Malaysia wanted to minimize speculation about this possibility, and tried to bury the evidence of a cell phone registration at Penang tower. There is no good reason to eliminate this evidence from the FI because it validates the radar data, and Malaysia should be questioned. Likely, they will get a pass.

  20. @Ge Rijn: As @DennisW says, I never mentioned a diversion TO Jeddah. I talked about a diversion AWAY FROM the Jeddah flight plan at 5N.

  21. @TBill: Zaharie mentioned in one of his online posts that there are good navigational database add-ons to FS9. Likely, in his version of FS9/PSS777, all the waypoints and airways near Malaysia were included.

  22. @VictorI,
    For me, the appearance of trying to sweep the Penang cell phone registration under the rug is another indication Malaysia may have been more aware of the flight than they have claimed

  23. @VictorI

    The interim report was written “not for the purpose to apportion blame or liability.”

    The known details suggest it may have been a pilot hijacking. The phone call, as it was interpreted when first made known, may suggest the co-pilot was trying to call for help and was possibly locked out of the cockpit.

    If it was a pilot hijacking, the above interpretation substantially narrows down the range of possible culprits, and the information may therefore amount to apportion blame or liability.

    So, this information could have been a legal concern and something that is part of the criminal investigation rather than the technical one.

  24. @StevanG: I don’t know whether or not the flight to Jeddah was ever considered as a target flight. I’m just asking the question because it may help us to understand why MH370 on March 8 was chosen.

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