Australia Issues Perplexing New MH370 Report

Garbage in, garbage out.

Earlier today, the Australian Safety Transport Board released a pair of reports that are being billed as a significant new development in the search for the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, MH370. The Adelaide Advertiser described it as “an explosive new report that effectively narrows the search zone for the missing plane down to an area half the size of Melbourne.”

The first report was produced by Geoscience Australia, a government research body, and is entitled “Summary of imagery analyses for non-natural objects in support of the search for Flight MH370.” It describes a number of pale blobs seen in French satellite imagery taken two weeks after the plane’s 2014 disappearance in the vicinity of the area that the ATSB now considers its most likely crash site.

The second report, “The search for MH370 and ocean surface drift – Part III,” was produced by another arm of the Australian government, the CSIRO. It builds on the information presented in the first report to claim that the new information effectively narrows down the range of possible endpoints to an area east of the 7th arc just 50 km long.

Indeed, the CSIRO paper states: “we think it is possible to identify a most-likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty. This location is 35.6°S, 92.8°E.”

It certainly sounds like something important has transpired. But if the last three years have taught us anything, it is that confidence on the part of Australian investigators correlates poorly with their ultimate success. And here, in particular, we have an example of big talk with little to back it up.

Everything hinges on the satellite imagery. In the early days of the mystery, there were a great number of reports of what appeared to be debris spotted by satellites. None of them resulted in debris being located on the surface. Many of these suspicious-looking objects, as I recall, turned out to be white caps. The effort to find traces of the plane by satellite proved so fruitless that I thought it had been abandoned.

The Geoscience Australia paper makes no convincing argument that the blobs seen in the image are man-made, let alone that they have to do with MH370. The only reason to suspect that might be the case is if you assume that the plane went missing in the area. To then use these presumed potential MH370 bits to validate your search area is then a good example of petitio principii, or begging the question.

In the course of their discussion, CSIRO authors Griffin and Oke highlight in passing a major problem with the ATSB’s new preferred search area: it stands at odds with the board’s own conclusions about how the flight ended. They write: “If impact was between 36°S and 32°S, as concluded by the First Principles Review, the aircraft must (obviously) be farther from the 7th arc than the region that has been searched, but still within a distance that it could have glided after commencement of descent.” The key word being “glided.” Griffin and Oke recognize that the only way that the plane could have gotten beyond the already-searched area is if it glided, which requires conscious piloting. This contradicts the previous ATSB conclusion that, based on the BFO data, the plane was in a high-speed plunge as it transmitted the final ping, and was probably not under the control of a conscious pilot.

Why were these paper released? I’d put it down to an effort by the Australian government to be seen as prodding the Malaysians to re-start the seabed search. Personally, I would like to see this happen, because all the evidence points to it being a failure, and once everyone recognizes that the plane didn’t go into the southern Indian Ocean, we can start to make progress.

I fear, however, that Malaysia will see this latest effort for the hot mess that it is, and remain unmoved.

22 thoughts on “Australia Issues Perplexing New MH370 Report”

  1. …and let’s just presume…that the early presumptions of the ATSB were wrong..and even the later argements by the ATSB insisting the plane was not under pilot control.

  2. It’s worth pointing out that these images, from French Military satellites, were disregarded before ATSB’s involvement. No-find, no-fee search by Ocean Infinity armed with this info is worth pursuing.

  3. @JW

    You said: “once everyone recognizes that the plane didn’t go into the southern Indian Ocean, we can start to make progress.”

    If not the SIO – where do you think it did go – are you still thinking North – or elsewhere ?

  4. I increasingly feel that it didn’t make it beyond Exmouth in Northwestern Australia. There is a Learmonth RAAF base thereabouts and it’s radar didn’t pick up any signals. JORN, that much vaunted tracking system, didn’t pick up any signals. Even Broome further north to Exmouth didn’t record anything. So where did it go? Most likely it fell into the ocean after passing Christmas Island but not quite reaching Australia if we go by the ping theory. That plausibly explains why the one piece retrieved ended up in Reunion as currents swinging left from upper Western Australia beached it there.

  5. So the French sat on these images for 3 years and only released them in late March 2017 to ATSB.
    Wonder what made them do that?

    Was is it possibly the hacking in early March 2017 of then presidential candidate and now president of France Emmanuel Macron’s campaign by Russia-based hackers?
    Macron’s opponent Marine Le Pen was an admirer of the Russian president.

  6. @ventus45, Yes, I do think that the physics of the Inmarsat signal, and the way that it could have been spoofed, constrain it to a northern route. The DSTG did the math; it results in a fairly narrow path that ends up in central Kazakhstan.

  7. The image analysis seems far fetched. Spatial resolution is 0.5m and one pixel is approximately 0.5mx0.5m. All objects which were spotted are way too large to be aircraft debris. However, ocean drift analysis did narrow down the search area, even without the satellite images.

  8. @Marijan, You’re right that the CSIRO report did include some analysis that did not hinge on the satellite images, but it was the images which provoked headlines like the Adelaide Advertiser’s “Explosive new report virtually pinpoints location of missing flight MH370.” We’ve seen this kind of press over-reaction over and over again, unfortunately.

  9. I’m glad to see this possibility suggested. As I posted in response to Jeff in October 2014:

    “Considerable debris was spotted in the vicinity of the current search, adjusted for drift in the direction Jeff suggests.

    On March 21, a French satellite detected 122 objects ranging in size of up to 75′ feet long in a pattern suggesting a debris field.

    On March 24, a Thai satellite detected 300 objects of varying sizes located about 120 miles from the French satellite sighting.

    On March 26, a Japanese satellite detected 10 objects ranging in size up to 26’long and 4′ wide.

    The attempt to recover this debris was abandoned on March 28 when the new search area was adopted.

    None of the debris detected by these satellites was ever recovered or analyzed according to Martin Dolan.”

    The likelihood of this debris being pertinent is increased by the substantial failure of intense scrutiny of other contemporary satellite imagery to locate other suspicious objects. The area being searched by aircraft was huge, the weather was bad, and searched area was so far from land that fuel severely limited the actual search times.

    The acoustic pings were endorsed by Immarsat as consistent with its data and the aerial search was abandoned.

    It seems speculative to pinpoint a location based upon virtually data-free drift analysis of hundreds of objects’ location if they had been riding the stormy seas for two weeks. But it’s a lot better than trying with a handful of floaters, albeit known to belong to MH370, 18 months later. IMHO.

  10. The new location seems to show that the pilot turned the plane around shortly after the last confirmed radar contact (near B Aceh) on a heading straight towards south pole and let the plane fly on autopilot until it ran out of fuel. If you draw a course from Banda Aceh to South Pole and let it intersect with the satellite ping arc you more or less end up at the most likley crash site.

  11. @JeffW
    On the surface, I agree with you this report feels more like prodding rather than a bona fide eureka moment. However, I do feel the ATSB proposed area 32-36S should be searched. The best chance of success will likely require more than a “pinpoint” search, unless someone has some secret military data.

    Based on my path studies, I agree with you that 180S heading seems to fit the data well. Victor Iannello showed (in 2014) that BEDAX to South Pole was a good fit. I like ISBIX as the starting point using True Heading flight mode pointing 180S. It is also possible to pick a oceanic waypoint like 33S94 and with just slightly more complexity a pilot can enter a finely detailed Lat/Long waypoint to any pin-point on the globe.

    The potential weakness with South Pole is that the Arc7 has already been searched outside of Arc7 where many feel it would be found. I feel it could be inside Arc7, in the unsearched area (WEST2 by the recent reports, is my fav spot).

    The is no evidence that anything like that happened (if you are saying O2 fire). Not sure why you say O2 tanks at (~300 psi) pressure…the tanks were pressured up prior to flight to normal full pressure (nominal 1800 psi) per the Factual Information.

  12. @TBill said:

    “Victor Iannello showed (in 2014) that BEDAX to South Pole was a good fit.”

    “The potential weakness with South Pole is that the Arc7 has already been searched outside of Arc7 where many feel it would be found. I feel it could be inside Arc7, in the unsearched area (WEST2 by the recent reports, is my fav spot).”

    What about BEDAX to SPOLE with a -100 ft/min ROD? No pilot, set-up to fly into the water. Victor has shown that will also work, IIRC. But use a starting height at BEDAX of around 25k instead of 35k and see if it ‘lands’ before it runs out of fuel, and where.

  13. Following up on :

    US guided-missile destroyer John S. McCain collides with oil tanker.

    Adm John Richardson, commander of naval operations:
    “This is the second collision in 3 months.
    And it is the last in a series of incidents in the Pacific theater.”

    – 10 Navy sailors are missing
    – 5 are injured

    – 7 sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald rammed a container ship off Japan.

    Add to this Jeff Wise’s report about 20+ US ships with GPS problems and you get the complete picture.

    Maybe there is indeed a GPS spoofing attack going on …

  14. A couple of further thoughts on the USS John S. McCain collision…

    Firstly, although I appreciate it’s a large place, this happened at the other end of the Strait of Malacca…?

    Secondly, regarding the paragraph from the linked article above:

    “In another difference with the Fitzgerald incident, this collision occurred in one of the world’s most congested waterways. “It’s like rush hour in Los Angeles, but with ships, not cars,” Dyer says of the Straits of Malacca. “It’s a choke point, with all the ships going around Southeast Asia going through there.”
    To prevent collisions, ships are supposed to use an automatic identification system to broadcast their locations to other vessels. Navy ships can turn this off for operational reasons, so investigators also will look into why a collision warning didn’t alert the two ships in time.”

    Maybe you don’t need to hack/spoof Military-grade GPS if you can make it sufficiently treacherous for them to make way by putting enough other vessels in the way?

    Possibly nothing. Just some musings for this morning.

  15. Also meant to include this paragraph in the C&P above…

    “Maritime rules dictate that the vessel with right of way maintain course and speed, even when a collision looks possible. That’s to avoid two vessels trying to course-correct, potentially making things worse. If the McCain did have priority, it may not have attempted to take evasive maneuvers until the likelihood of a crash was extremely high. That will be the first thing investigators look into.”

  16. @Will, As the world becomes increasingly automated, it’s becoming increasingly vulnerable to hacks. One of the really scary things about the Fitzgerald story for me was the idea that a massive ship hundreds of feet long was cruising along on autopilot with no one paying attention to the environment around it. And this not out in the middle of the ocean, either. There’s been no evidence so far that hacking or spoofing played a role in the McCain collision, but the fact that the question is being raised is, I think, a reflection of growing awareness of potential vulnerability.

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