Nowhere Left to Look for MH370

Image pilfered from Victor Iannello

The suspension of the search for MH370 has been frustrating for many who care deeply about finding the plane. They feel that solving the mystery is essential not just for the emotional well-being of the passengers’ relatives but to protect the safety of the flying public. One group of MH370 relatives has gone so far as to raise money to fund a search on their own.

Assuming one were to raise the money, though, the question would then become: where to look?

Turns out, it’s not so easy to say.

Officially, of course, Australia says it knows where the plane most likely went. As I wrote in my last post, they’ve released a CSIRO report that uses drift modeling and other techniques to argue that the only plausible endpoint is on the 7th arc between 34 and 36 degrees south.

But as Victor Iannello points out in a recent post on his blog, there are some holes in the CSIRO’s logic. For one thing, according to their drift modeling, no-windage debris that enters the water at 35S will reach the shores of Western Australia in fairly significant quantities, but will not reach the South African coast by December 2015, when the real stuff started to turn up there. (You can play around with the kmz files that the CSIRO has made available online; say what you want about the Australians, they have been fabulous about explaining their work and making gobs of data available to the public.)

There’s another problem: the area between 34S and 36S has been searched out to 10 nm and beyond. I am very skeptical that a plane last spotted accelerating downward at 0.6 g, and already descending at 15,000 fpm, could possibly travel anywhere near as much as 10 nm. If anyone has produced flight sim runs that accomplish this, I would very much like to see it. (The IG said as much in their September 2014 paper.)

I’d add my own third reason to suspect that no wreckage would be found in the ATSB’s new search zone: it doesn’t play well with the DSTG’s Bayesian analysis of the BTO data, which is why it was excluded from the 120,000 sq km seabed search as it was ultimately defined.

So if not the ATSB’s new area, then where? South of 39.5S is ruled out because the plane couldn’t fly that far. 36S to 39.5S is ruled out because it’s been searched. 34S to 36S is ruled out for the reasons discussed above. And north of 34S is ruled out because the debris would have been spotted during the surface search.

This is where we stand, three years after the disappearance: with lots of different kinds of clues delimiting where the plane could have gone, it’s hard to make a plausible case that MH370 went anywhere.

UPDATE: Elle Hunt has written a story in the Guardian about Victor’s criticism of the ATSB’s new search zone. Unfortunately it takes seriously the idea that 30S is a plausible alternative. In addition to the ATSB’s assertion that the debris here would have been spotted during the surface search phase, there are the additional problems that:

  • Low-windage debris would have reached the coast of southern Africa in early 2015, and the flaperon would have arrived in Réunion late 2014. Both are way too early.
  • This endpoint was calculated as having a zero percent probability in the DSTG Bayesian analysis of the Inmarsat data.

125 thoughts on “Nowhere Left to Look for MH370”

  1. @Laura

    No mention in your linked accident theory about the data points in the SIO found on Shah’s simulator. That is what makes all accident theories not credible particularly when the author makes no attempt to include any discussion of why these data points are meaningless, but simply choses to ignore them.

    I pay no attention to theories that due not address all the data in some way.

  2. @all

    Nice to see the discussion return here after a brief hiatus.

    Two bits of recent news, not directly related to MH370 in any obvious way, but still, it does make one wonder…

    Mystery of North Korean bodies:
    Recently, a number of mysterious ‘ghost ships’ have been running aground on the Japanese coast filled with unidentifiable rotting corpses of people, the most recent one being adorned with a tattered North Korean flag and “Korean Peoples Army” written across its hull. As the boats continue to wash up on Japan’s west coast, theorists have been attempting to piece together the eerie puzzle, the ‘go to’ claim being that these were North Korean defectors.

    In respect to NOK, I won’t go into too much crass theorizing. But as I’ve said before, NK is a perfect fit for Jeff’s “state actor,” maybe even more so than Russia (?) And recently, we also had the (mysterious) North Korean assassination in KL… All seemingly random bits of news that may be linked somewhere down the line? Then again, maybe I’m trying to join the dots where none exist – for that’s what MH370 does to you!

    Boeing X-37 OTV (Orbital Test Vehicle):
    The Boeing X-37, a top secret unmanned spaceplane, has recently been in the news for concluding another orbital space mission, its fourth to date. Its actual purpose, and the work it performs on these missions, are both shrouded in mystery. The X-37 began as a NAS A project before being transferred to the US Department of Defence. Although officially denied by the Pentagon, there has been speculation that the X-37B could be used as a spy satellite or even to deliver weapons from space. The Air Force has stated that the plane performs “risk reduction, experimentation and concept of operations development.”

    I appreciate that most posters here are American so naturally I don’t want to offend anyone’s sensibilities. But in regards to MH370, it would be fascinating to know what the orbital position of the X-37 was on the night of March 8th 2014. And without wanting to sound heartless to NOK, its tantalizing to consider the possibility that there may be some kind of connection between this top secret spaceplane and the MH370 disappearance. (Well, the most obvious being that both machines are Boeing). Could such an orbital vehicle be used to spoof… ok, I’ll stop right there…!

    But utterly fascinating and certainly
    deserving of a multinational cover-up if ever there was any!

  3. @Nederland
    I estimate 180S CTH (True Heading) from ISBIX hits Arc7 between 32.5S and 33.5S. Perhaps the actual total (Arc2 – Arc7) MH370 path was BEDAX 180S CTH with a speed change between Arc2 and 3 (will be checking that next).

    I will check BFOs and if it holds up, I will make a report like yours. Do I have your latest case (February date)? I thought you may have a later update but could not find it.

    Yes I am currently arguing in favor of the proposed ATSB 32.5 to 36.0S search zone, because I am thinking it is near perfect match to BTO/BFO. Basically I like DrB’s path, but my path is the intentional diversion variation to go approx. “straight” down 93E-94E into deep waters. “Straight” is a misnomer as BTO fit necessitates some shifting with the winds.

  4. @Laura
    On 15-Mar-2014 when Prime Minister Razak said intentional diversion seemed to fit, he was really saying two things:

    (1) Based on B777 design and MAS B777 aircraft flight software configuration and operating policy, everything we witnessed (loss of communications/flight path) was technically consistent with what a hypothetical rouge pilot (not saying who) could do inside a MAS-configured B777 cockpit.

    (2) and, at the time, that appeared to PM Razak to explain what may have actually happened.

    Once I realized Item#1 above was true, my curiosity about the accident was quickly deflated (my orginal Week 1-2 MH370 theory was full tank explosion).

    I agree we do not know the definite cause of the accident, but seems to me we do have a most likely case. Most alternate theories I am hearing are vigorous defense against the likely case, to protect various interests, such as pilot profession, but with little likelihood.

    We must hold open the possibility of a remarkably rare and unexpected set of mechanical or fire failures. Credible? maybe – depending on the definition of credible. Likely: so far, probably not.

  5. Covert activities remain hidden from the world, it is nothing but a paradox to expect knowledge of them.

    For a planned operation, it’s a no brainer when the number of people included rises, so does the risk of leaked information. Whatever strategy may be applied to best ensure secrecy, it is not a guarantee. Therefore it is logical to include only the minimum for success.

    Rarely, a spontaneous event may trigger a sequence of unplanned actions, meant to contain or
    cover-up it’s existence. Here, the risk of discovery is much greater as the individuals tasked with this secrecy are not chosen, but random, victims of circumstance, not willing participants.

    It would be nothing short of a miracle to control and then stymie truth from the witnesses.

  6. @TBill
    “We must hold open the possibility of a remarkably rare and unexpected set of mechanical or fire failures.”

    That just made me realize how badly I want to hang onto that hope, not belief, but hope. None of us want to find evil in truth and while we follow the path toward truth, it is okay to keep hope.

  7. @ Susie Crowe “….proponents of a political motive in which Z did not intend killing anyone ….. For me, it still ticks a lot of boxes ….”

    Further to DennisW and StevenG’s proposal of a political motive in which Captain Zaharie did not intend killing anyone I am convinced he had every intention of landing the plane in Indonesia and seeing all the passengers safely offloaded. As it turned out he came up just short of the Indonesian coast having come up past Christmas Island.

    In looking at the possibility of MH370 ending up further North of the searched area it is a long way from there to the coast and there are arguments for it being in any number of locations in this stretch of sea near the 7th arc.

    Starting right at the top near Java is one possibility, this is one of the locations for which an argument can be put forward and which fits the motive.

    If Captain Zaharie followed through on what DennisW outlined earlier on this blog he could have continued up past Christmas Island towards an Indonesian airfield running out of fuel and ditching no more than 100nms from the coast.

    Some points to back this up.

    To keep passenger suspicion to a minimum there was a need to be on a NE flightpath at sunrise to emulate an approach to Beijing.

    To further reduce suspicion it was an advantage that in the early hours on that day there was no moon above the horizon.

    The Indonesian police chief said he knew what had actually happened with MH370.

    The RAAF did a search of the area up near Java for debris in the days after MH370 disappeared. Why?

    Soon afterwards a number of Chinese ships including a specialist search vessel passed through the same area. Why?

    It comfortably fits with the Kate Tee sighting.

    Straight tracks between three waypoints at a constant speed fit all the BTO’s from 19:41 onwards and depending on altitude change towards the end of flight the BFO’s also fit.

    DennisW has shown us an article on Tsunami triangulation at sea level from four stations written by a Russian analyst. The four stations intersected at 10°S 107.50°E.

    There are three drift analyses with unbiased calculations provided by independent parties without overt pressure applied to comply with the official doctrine of a ghost flight into the southern Indian Ocean.

    The analyses coming out of Germany/Great Britain, France and Canada, all came up with a high probability the aircraft is well North near Java while drift analyses associated with countries involved in the search have locations in the southern Indian Ocean near or in the areas searched.

    Météo France’s drift analysis talks of latitudes from 9°S to 23°S.

    Brock McEwen’s drift analysis has a number of three consecutive east-west two degree squares of high probability up near Java near the 7th arc, they are at 9°S to 11°S, 15°S to 17°S and 21°S to 23°S.

    Geomar’s drift analysis soon after the flaperon was found gave a strong indication MH370 was up near Java, they determined there was a 95% probability that it was between 8°S to 10°S near the 7th arc.

    There is a high probability MH370 ditched in an area between 8°S and 10°S near the 7th arc.

    What is hard to explain is running out of fuel within 100nm or so of a couple of airfields and no communication during the ditching.

  8. @Sajid UK
    More on your NK angle …

    Cargo Handler: Posted February 28, 2017
    “North Korea spy agency runs arms operation out of Malaysia, U.N. says | Reuters
    And it does have a business, the draft U.N. report says. Last July, an air shipment of North Korean military communications equipment, sent from China and bound for Eritrea, was intercepted in an unnamed country. The seized equipment included 45 boxes of battlefield radios … ”

  9. @TBill

    “We must hold open the possibility of a remarkably rare and unexpected set of mechanical or fire failures. Credible? maybe – depending on the definition of credible. Likely: so far, probably not.”

    Including Shah’s clairvoyance relative to such an incident and practicing the emergency on his simulator.

  10. @DennisW

    Thank you for those graphics on your site, a picture certainly helps an explanation.

  11. @Freddie
    Agree with it or not, Your opinion deserves respect for being thorough. Below are a few observations, not sure about the flight path and sim data questions, they may be a real duh.

    “….I am convinced he had every intention of landing the plane in Indonesia….”
    •why not fly south from Igari instead of burning excess fuel from a more elaborate path?
    •Christmas Island, or Indonesia are much farther east than the erased sim data points

    “To keep passenger suspicion to a minimum there was a need to be on a NE flightpath at sunrise to emulate an approach to Beijing.”
    •The plane was scheduled to land in Beijing at 6:30AM, before sunrise at 6:37AM, the pax would have expected to be on the ground before it was light, not to mention the additional almost 2 hours of flying.

    “The Indonesian police chief said he knew what had actually happened with MH370.”

    •That one intrigued me also. After spending quite a bit of time on it, it was fairly obvious to me, the statement was misconstrued. I did not want to see it that way but that is the way it played out.

    “What is hard to explain is running out of fuel within 100nm or so of a couple of airfields and no communication during the ditching.”
    •It would help to have a plausible explanation for that

  12. @Susie

    Yes. I abandoned CI because of your last point. The sim data came later, and reinforced that conclusion.

  13. My gut feeling tells me the situation on board was everything but regular during the last 2-3 hours of flight, thus I can’t abandon CI yet.

    We don’t know where the plane went let alone its technical state and functionality right before the crash. Not to mention all the stress for whoever was flying it at the time.

    Just can’t perceive it as your typical A to B flight.

  14. Looking at the diversion with a hijack scenario only, the transponder and IFE would be the immediate threats to disable right?
    Removing the ability for ATC or passengers to track the plane.

    To accomplish this, the logical choice would be, the very doable, easy, expeditious way.

    Because there was no indication of a rush to terminate the flight, it would make more sense for the actions to be sequenced according to plan.

    Why then, an overcompensation of system shut down, making the task more difficult?

  15. @Susie
    Thank you for your reply.
    A few comments on your observations.

    From IGARI the flight path was planned to allow a two stage negotiation period by the team on the ground doing the negotiating. Having travelled up the Malacca Strait and being out of Malaysian radar range loiter in the Andaman Sea before returning to Banda Aceh, if more time was needed come round below Sumatra to Cocos Islands then run up to Java.

    He had every intention of landing safely so turned at Cocos Islands up towards an airfield on Java. The sim data goes past Cocos Islands. He was using the sim data to evaluate a track that included loitering but he didn’t need to test the run in to an airfield.

    Because of the longer flight time the plan was to announce to the passengers that a diversion airfield was necessary and landing would be delayed.

    The Indonesian police chief knew because the team on the ground contacted Indonesian authorities after Banda Aceh was no longer a viable option and advised that MH370 had an emergency and was approaching Java from the South for an emergency landing, as had been prearranged.

    I don’t have an answer as to why one would run out of fuel in a 777 with excellent fuel monitoring and why no distress message was sent.

  16. “Airport staff at KLIA seized hundreds of critically endangered tortoises worth £200,000 following a tip-off…

    …The confiscation of the tortoises follows the interception of African pangolin scales worth £1.6m a fortnight ago at the same airport. Last month, rhino horns worth £2.4m were also seized at Kuala Lumpur International Airport.”

    So the very lucrative international smuggling hub at KLIA is being compromised by a person or persons unknown. Like the disappearance of MH370, it is tortoises all the away down.

    Article here…

  17. Regarding the cockpit access codes an employee “accidentally” made public

    “Cockpit security was heightened following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when hijackers took control of four commercial airliners. Passengers aren’t allowed in the front bathroom on an aircraft when the cockpit door is open, and access to the flight deck is blocked, sometimes using a food cart.”

    “food cart” as a cockpit barrier? It had to be a misunderstanding.

  18. @Susie Crow:
    “…’food cart’ as a cockpit barrier? It had to be a misunderstanding.”

    Recently flew home from Sicily and observed young slender girl stands in front of cockpit door looking at PAX. Door opens and pilot nips in the front loo. Cockpit door left open several minutes until pilot returns and closes cockpit door behind him.

    Anyone in the front seats could have disabled the stewardess and entered the cockpit in a few seconds. Security on this plane was just a joke. Perhaps they only bother with trolleys on high security flights?

  19. “Bermuda triangle: Private plane carrying New York family goes missing near Bahamas

    Air traffic control loses contact with aircraft as it flies over Eleuthera island in Bahamas archipelago…”

    Article here…

    Another ‘disappearing plane’ mystery in the making perhaps? The media always get plenty of cheap mileage out of Bermuda Triangle stories, especially when wealth celebs and young children are involved.

  20. @Nederland
    “…as far as I know, a direct, straight path from ISBIX would lead into the area searched unsuccessfully, if BFOs/BTOs are taken into account.”

    No – direct south of ISBIX has not been searched inside on Arc7 (outside Arc7 it was searched). One could argue that was the first place to look from the start.

    Good news: your path seems to be the only one that meets Arc2 BFO=111. CCYap added an ascent to make the BFO data match. Do you recall what people said about that 111 BFO for Arc2? Seems to me to inconsistent with straight level flight assumption, which I have no problem *not* making that assumption.

  21. @Jeff Wise:
    “…It seems that some debris has been found from that missing Bermuda plane…”

    thanks Jeff, I can only find confirmation that the debris found was from a MU-2B, but they are still trying to prove whether or it came from the missing lane. I’ll keep a watch on this for a while as I too find this event quite odd.

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