MH370: Mission Accomplished

Three years, six months, and 26 days ago, a sophisticated hijacker (or hijackers) made of with a Malaysia Airlines 777 with 239 people aboard. In the course of doing so he, she or they expended considerable effort to befuddle pursuers. Today, that effort has officially been crowned with success. The Australian agency charged with the conducting the pursuit, the Australian Transport Safety Board, has thrown in the towel. In a final report issued today, The Operational Search for MH370, it stated that “we share your profound and prolonged grief, and deeply regret that we have not been able to locate the aircraft.”

There’s a good deal of material here–the whole report is 440 pages long–and I’d like to boil down the key takeaways.

Major omission

As I’ve said many times before, the key clue in the disappearance of MH370 is the fact that the Satellite Data Unit–the piece of equipment which generated the all-important Inmarsat data–was turned off and then back on again at 18:25. This process cannot happen accidentally, and is beyond the ken even of most experienced airline captains, and thus provides powerful evidence that the disappearance was the work of sophisticated operators. This document does not even mention the SDU reboot. Only by ignoring it can the ATSB can maintain a state of indeterminacy as to “whether or not the loss of MH370 was the result of deliberate action by one or more individuals, or the result of a series of unforeseen events or technical failures.”

Budget

Various figures have been thrown around for the total cost, but on page 7 we actually get an official tabulation: $198 million Australian, or US$155 million.

Radar

One of the most significant revelations in the new report comes in this paragraph on page 10:

Radar data shows the aircraft then headed to the northwest, eventually aligning with published air route N571 from IFR waypoint VAMPI. The validity of this section of the radar data was verified using the track of a commercial flight that followed N571 about 33 NM behind MH370. The aircraft continued to the northwest until a final radar position for the aircraft was recorded approximately 10 NM beyond IFR waypoint MEKAR at 1822:12

This seems to be a validation of the “Lido Hotel” image, showing near-continuous radar coverage of the plane as it flew up the Malacca Strait, and is a direction contradiction of the description provided by the DSTG in their “Bayesian Method” report, which unequivocally stated that

The radar data contains regular estimates of latitude, longitude and altitude at 10 s intervals from 16:42:27 to 18:01:49. A single additional latitude and longitude position was reported at 18:22:12.

This description now seems like a deliberate misrepresentation. To what end? It seems to me that the DSTG’s characterization makes it easier to discard the radar data after 18:01:49. By doing so, they were able to avoid concluding that the plane was turning rightward, to the northwest, between the final radar return and the first ping. This, in turn, would alter the calculated probability distribution such that routes to the north would be more prevalent vis a vis those to the south.

Flight Simulator

On page 98, the report describes the data recovered from Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah’s flight simulator, without reaching any firm conclusions about the implications for the investigation. It states that the simulated flight was conducted on February 2, 2014, but doesn’t state the reason for believing this. Curiously, the report then almost immediately describes this date as “six weeks before the accident flight,” when of course February 2 is less than five weeks before March 8. Also, the report mischaracterizes the simulation data points as showing a continuous flight up the Malacca Strait and then down into the southern Indian Ocean. In fact the data points show a series of iteratively spawned flights with altitude, location, and fuel loads changed between flight segments.

The report comes to no conclusion as to whether the existence of this data points to Zaharie’s culpability.

Debris

The report spends considerable time weighing the possibility that the pilot carried out a long controlled dive followed by a ditch in the ocean, but ultimately concludes that the plane hit with considerable velocity, as stated on page 101: “While no firm conclusions could be drawn given the limited amount of debris, the type, size and origin on the aircraft of these items generally indicated that there was a significant amount of energy at the time the aircraft impacted the water, not consistent with a successful controlled ditching.” This would tend to put the plane’s final resting place close to the 7th arc.

Barnacle temperature analysis

There was not, unsurprisingly, any mention of  the distribution of the barnacles around the entire surface of the flaperon, nor was there any attempt to grapple with the fact that his distribution is not commensurate with the flotation test results which show that the piece rode high in the water. As with the SDU reboot, the default setting of the ATSB appears to be ignore whatever evidence counterindicates its narrative.

One of the surprises for me was the revelation that the Réunion barnacle shell sent to Australian scientist Paul De Deckker was among the largest found on the flaperon (page 107). This shell had previously been described as 25 mm in length, whereas one of the leaked French reports described the largest barnacle as 39 mm. The former is much closer to the measurement I came up with through my own informal image analysis back in 2015 (23mm), and revives my questions about the age of the barnacles. Indeed, De Deckker writes on page 14 of his attached report (Appendix F) that “It could be assumed the specimens analysed here were quite young, perhaps less than one month.”

I hope to return to the topic of De Deckker’s temperature analysis in the near future.

Appendix G

The ATSB had long signaled that it would ultimately release the results of a biological examination of aircraft debris, and that came in the form of the attached report “Summary of Analyses Undertaken on Debris Recovered During the Search for Flight MH370.”

One aspect of the examination dealt with sediment found within the pieces, to see if they had come ashore and then been washed back out to sea before coming to shore once more. I imagine that if this had been found to have been the case, then it would explain the relative absence of marine life on some of the pieces. But in the event, no evidence was found than any of the pieces had come to shore more than once.

Another aspect was to try to gauge the age of marine organisms found on the pieces, in order to judge how long they had been in the water. Obviously, the presumption was that they had been in the water since the crash, about two years previous. But between the Liam Lotter’s flap track fairing (item 2) and Blaine Gibson’s “No Step” (item 3) only a single specimen, of the species Petaloconchus renisectus, appeared to be more than two months old. This individual was judged to be 8-12 months old. Likewise, the barnacles found on Item 5, the door stowage closet, had been growing “likely between 45 to 50 days.” What happened to the sealife that we would expect to have colonized the objects during their first year in the water? Either it vanished without a trace or it was never there in the first place, for some reason.

A third aspect of the examination was to determine what part of the ocean the pieces had traveled through, based on the types of species they contained. Only tropical species were found, with no trace of colonization in the cooler waters where the plane is presumed to have impacted.

Remarkably:

About two-thirds of the molluscs recovered from Items 2 and 3 must have been lodged onto the aircraft part(s) by waves when /they drifted ashore or were cast up on the beach(es) or by accidental human contamination [as in dragging the wreckage across the beach during its recovery]. Any handful of sediment, even a small one, from a tropical locality in the Indian Ocean would contain a very high diversity [hundreds] of dead shells of such species.. The natural habitat of the recovered molluscs is shallow water, on clean coral sand or in seagrass meadows. None of them could or would ever attach to drifting debris.

In other words, none of the sealife on these objects indicated that they had floated large distances across the open ocean. So much of it was indigenous to near-shore habitats that the scientists examining it assumed that it must be due to contamination.

Acknowledgements

However one might feel about the perpetrators of MH370, one has to admit a grudging admiration for the audacity of their feat. They managed to make a massive airplane disappear into thin air, and to defeat the best efforts of the world’s leading aviation experts to figure out what they had done. I would call it the greatest magic trick of all time. Needless to say, achievements of this scale cannot be accomplished without some skilled help. The latest report takes time on page 120 to offer special recognition to some familiar names, including Mike Exner, Victor Iannello, Don Thompson, Richard Godfrey, and of course Blaine Alan Gibson. Their determination to keep all eyes focused on the official narrative helped prevent the ATSB, the press, and the general public from asking the hard questions that might have prevented the current outcome.

185 thoughts on “MH370: Mission Accomplished”

  1. It’s incredible to put so much trust on that SIO location while the credibility of the evidences past IGARI way point are still at stake and questionable (or maybe past BITOD based on ATC transcript). Nevertheless I support this search finally rule in or rule out that SIO scenario.

  2. jeff – your last comment is awesome. can’t wait to read what you are going to report.

    are you suggesting the search is unnecessary? or totally necessary? could be either I guess. anyway looking forward to it!

  3. @Billy

    One suspects or hopes an explanation of 9M-MRO’s disappearance provides a better understanding of what happened to 9M-MRD.

  4. @MH:
    “…can anyone find any details with the sources you might have on how 9m-mro’s wing was fixed due to the accident in Shanghai?…”

    Still not been able to find info on how the repair was completed. However, I spoke to a contact who used to work at Pudong Airport and he was 90% certain the work would have been done at the Boeing Shanghai MRO Pudong workshop. I’ll keep looking.

  5. @TBill, No! Those kinds of silly theories have only ever been a distraction. There were, and remain, two possibilities regarding MH370: hijack inside the cockpit, or outside. It’s just been a matter of assembling the evidence. The ATSB’s final report has, I think, information that constitutes irrefutable smoking gun evidence. Of course it’s buried in the back, overlooked by the media…

  6. On pages 7 and 8 Holland explains how 7 previous re-logons (given in table 3) were used to analyze the BFO-s:

    “The periods of SATCOM outages followed by log-on events were identied from Inmarsat-provided ground-station logs by identifying sequences of three or more unsuccessful log-on interrogations to 9M-MRO (suggesting the SDU was likely powered off) followed by a log-on to the satellite system initiated from 9M-MRO at some later time.”

    Does it mean that the SDU was occasionally staying without a power? If so, isolating the left AC bus might not be the reason for the SDU power outage, but some kind of occasional technical issue.

  7. @Jeff, the obvious one stiking the eye is the hydroaccoustic study results incompatibility from the Satcom data calculated range but compatible with Satcom data timing. I always wondered how it is possible to have a crash impact which is not recorded by those probes in the SIO. I presume these are quite reliable. But not sure if this is a smoking gun on its own, the report is not very conclusive and it is one of the many unverified clues ignored for the sake or more credible satcom data derivative calculations. At least this location would explain better the debris in Western Africa.

  8. @HB, @TBill, @Billy, Not to ruin the suspense, but the smoking gun I referred to is the biofouling assessment. This report makes clear that 22 pieces of aircraft debris spent two years crossing the ocean and none of them wound up with any fouling organisms more than two months old (despite being collected up to a year apart, thousands of miles apart, and some of them collected fresh out of the surf).

    I think this is very flatly impossible and am in the process of reporting it out. I’m also pursuing some other leads as well that could be even more conclusive but which present various challenges.

  9. The chief stumbling block to your hypothesis appears to be the flaperon, which French authorities conclusively linked to MH370. If that was planted, how did the planting come about? Bear in mind that, as of July 2015, nothing of MH370 had been found, but Australian authorities were still convinced that it had crashed in the South Indian Ocean. So, removing the flaperon from the plane to plant it there would seem to be an unnecessary and highly risky maneuver.

  10. @Crobbie: Re. Daily Mail article on possible resumption of MH370 search…

    Strange company who are proposing to resume the search on a no-find / no-fee basis. The earliest reference I can find about them is at the April 2017 prestigious Portsmouth Business17 Exhibition.

    Interesting that they are listed as a business registered in that deep pit of off-shore pseudo companies, The Caymen Islands, rather than the media quoted USA, or their own claim to be a UK business?

    “Ocean Infinity, Cayman Islands
    Utilises state of the art equipment to collect high resolution data for large scale seabed mapping, exploration and monitoring through use of multiple AUVs and USVs. Simultaneous AUV missions are executed from one host vessel, where processing and reporting are conducted.”

    It seems that the business only employs a staff of four people and that the search vessel, wAUV’s and crew are on charter to them. I’d love know who is the real backer behind this outfit and the motivation for the companies formation. Time for me to jump into the rabbit-hole again and do some more research.

    If I were the Malaysian government I wouldn’t go near this spooky business with a barge-pole!

  11. @Boris, As I write this, Don Thompson has just tweeted that Australian transport minister Darren Chester has put out a statement saying that the Malaysians are going ahead. I tweeted asking him for a link, since no such statement appears on Chester’s website. (A release put out today about something else does appear.)

    I agree, this sounds pretty fishy. Searching 25,000 sq km is a big-ticket item, and chances of success are low, IMO. If this goes forward, my first question is going to be who’s staking the hundred mil or so.

    @Rodney S, The question isn’t whether your or I think this would be a good idea to try to pull off, it’s whether the physical evidence indicates that it happened. By your logic, Richard Nixon never ordered the Watergate break-in.

  12. First, as an aside, we still don’t know whether Nixon ordered the Watergate break-in. 🙂 Second, there is still uncertainty about the flaperon biofouling. For example, Australian National University scientist Patrick De Deckker was quoted as follows: “We just don’t know if the barnacles have been growing since the flaperon’s been floating, or if they started growing in the last few months. But my findings are consistent with the current search area and the drift modelling done by the CSIRO.” See http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/national/what-flaperon-barnacles-revealed-about-mh370-mystery/news-story/cfbbafabc138a6756dcddebc109c0dc7

    If you can take down the analysis of Professor De Deckker and others who support the conventional wisdom, please do so point-by-point.

  13. Here is the article:

    What flaperon barnacles revealed about MH370 mystery
    Robyn Ironside, National Aviation Writer, News Corp Australia Network
    August 30, 2016 10:30am

    ANALYSIS of barnacles found on a flaperon from MH370 has added to the mystery surrounding the plane’s final resting place — with scientists in France and Australia reaching different conclusions.

    Extensive testing by Australian National University (ANU) scientist Patrick De Deckker has revealed the onstart of growth of the barnacles occurred in warmer waters probably to the north of Perth.

    The most extensive period of growth then took place in cooler water temperatures such as those in the latitude of Perth, and the more recent growth happened in the tropical waters around La Reunion island.

    The French are yet to make public their findings on the barnacles but Professor Emeritus De Deckker confirmed they “differed somewhat” to his own.

    He stressed the process of testing barnacles could only reveal so much about where they grew, because very little was known about when barnacles started to form, and how fast the growth occurred.

    “We just don’t know if the barnacles have been growing since the flaperon’s been floating, or if they started growing in the last few months,” Professor De Deckker said.

    “But my findings are consistent with the current search area and the drift modelling done by the CSIRO.”

    The same 2.5 centimetre barnacle was used by both French and Australian examiners — but different techniques applied.

    “For my analysis, I used a laser to create little holes of 20 microns, over the length of the barnacles. In all we did 1500 analyses,” said Professor De Deckker.

    “The French have done about 100 analyses on the same shell, but they used larger holes.”

    In addition, the French looked at the oxygen isotope content of the shell — which is made from calcium carbonate, whereas Professor De Deckker examined the calcium and magnesium to determine in what water temperature it grew.

    “In order to solve the difference between the French results and mine, we’d need to do more work,” he said.

    “That would be quite an extensive project and (mean) possibly growing barnacles in tanks and so on — and we just don’t have the money or time.”

    Professor De Deckker provided his time and expertise to the Australian Transport Safety Bureau free of charge.

    “It would cost up to $1500 a day (for additional analyses of the type carried out by the French team) and we’d have to book a machine well in advance,” he said.

    The search for MH370 is poised to move into the area of the Southern Indian Ocean that Professor De Deckker identified as the place where the barnacles grew for an extensive period of time.

    Weather permitting, the 120,000 square kilometre search zone will be fully scoured by the end of the year — and investigators remain hopeful the plane will be found in that time.

    MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014 after taking off from Kuala Lumpur to fly to Beijing with 239 people on board.

  14. @Rodney S:
    “If you can take down the analysis of Professor De Deckker and others who support the conventional wisdom, please do so point-by-point.”

    Can’t read the article. However I do remember that someone pointed out to Deckker at the time that a large southerly incursion of warm water had happened throughout March 2014. This inconvenient fact was ignored, meaning the position of the assumed plane crash could have happened well outside the Inmarsat estimated position. HTH.

  15. @Rodney S, Thanks for posting. This is the article that first got me interested in De Deckker’s work. Needless to say it’s been superseded by De Deckker’s own paper in the ATSB final report, which I encourage you to read.

  16. @Jeff Wise:
    If the flaperon was in warm sea during March 2014, then there should have been some evidence of barnacle growth earlier than June 2015, as the larvae would have been able to attach. Why was this not found?

  17. @Boris, I’d broaden your question, and ask: why was no evidence of older marine growth found on any of the 20-odd pieces of debris found?

    Generally, populations of debris (like pumice and Japanese tsunami debris) show a progression of marine organisms as they spend longer in the ocean, just as a patch of ground cleared in the forest will show a progression of smaller, then larger things growing on it as time goes by.

    Here’s another question: How come the flaperon and the Rodrigues “Door R1 Stowage Closet” both have two-month-old (or less) barnacles even though the pieces were recovered eight months apart?

  18. Another question is why debris was not discovered until after it was noted the arrival time of such debris is “late” as discussed here on Jeff’s blog. But then months later the pieces retrieved did show up but with young marine growths. All seems like a poor attempt to rush debris discoveries via planting.

  19. @Boris

    It seems that the business only employs a staff of four people and that the search vessel, wAUV’s and crew are on charter to them. I’d love know who is the real backer behind this outfit and the motivation for the companies formation. Time for me to jump into the rabbit-hole again and do some more research.

    Good observations that pretty much match up with my own. Yes, please see what you can find out, and report back on it.

  20. @DennisW, and anyone else who feels deeply skeptical about this rumored plan: If you feel, as I do, that there’s less than a 50 percent chance of such a seabed search finding the plane, then what do you say we pool some money together and place a public wager? Offer to bet anyone even money that the plane won’t be found within the designated search area within a specified amount of time. Syndicate it out so everyone can get a piece of the action, and the stake is big enough to attract attention. I’d love it if I could actually make a buck off this sorry business! And it would shine a light on how half-baked this scheme is, despite the respect it’s getting from the mainstream media.

  21. @Jeff

    I suggest waiting until a contract has actually been made with Ocean Infinity. I think that may be a longer road than the press is insinuating.

  22. Professor De Deckker’s Appendix in the Final ATSB Report “Chemical investigations on barnacles found attached to debris
    from the MH370 aircraft found in the Indian Ocean” is not at all definitive regarding the flaperon. For example, Section 7.1 states: “Based on the limited data available in the scientific literature, it is very hard to come up with an age of the barnacles that were found attached to the aircraft debris from either islands. The prime factor that seems to determine rate of growth is temperature (as shown in figure 8). However, as mentioned in the study of Inatsuchi et al. (2010), nutrients can also intervene in growth rate. The study of MacIntyre (1965) demonstrates a very obvious point: barnacles may take time before settling on floating material, and
    therefore we are unable to tell when the barnacles that adhered to the aircraft debris ‘anchored’ themselves. It is unknown whether they grow continuously after settlement. If we follow the findings of Inatsuchi et al. (2010) barnacles that were living in the ocean
    within the range of 19 to 29°C reached a capitulum size of 12 mm within 15 days, ca. 0.7-1 mm/day. It could be assumed the specimens analysed here were quite young,
    perhaps less than one month, considering that some of the scuta we analysed would
    have been part of much larger capitula, but not more than~ 20mm.”

    Similar language appears throughout the Appendix, and indeed throughout the Final Report. So, where is the smoking gun proving that the flaperon must have been planted?

  23. @PS9

    I would not bet against Ocean Infinity finding the plane, but I would be tempted to bet against a contract being awarded. I am not sure what you intended with your link. I have already read a dozen links that say essentially the same thing (which is nothing of substance).

  24. @DennisW:

    The difference – AIUI – is that the MYG has now announced it has chosen Ocean Infinity’s offer and sent notifications to the NOK to that effect. Prior, Fugro and a Malasian company was also making offers and in the running.

    “Malaysia’s deputy transport minister, Aziz Kaprawi, said on Thursday {I assume given the date of the article that means today] that Ocean Infinity had beaten the competition and the government had begun negotiations.”

    Guardian article dated Thursday 19 October 2017 14.20 BST:

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/19/mh370-malaysia-in-talks-with-us-firm-ocean-infinity-to-resume-search-for-plane

  25. DennisW said:

    “I suggest waiting until a contract has actually been made with Ocean Infinity. I think that may be a longer road than the press is insinuating.”

    I agree, a “much” longer road, and I would add, that given the “iron grip” Malaysia held on the ATSB from day one, we are very unlikely to ever know what the terms of that contract are.

    I would suspect, indeed, I think it is certain, that the Malaysians will require conditions that stipulate that OI would only be paid, iff (if and only if)ALL search data went direct to them, and NONE to “the outside world”.

    In fact, I doubt that the Malaysians would even allow release of “where” OI searched, which would mean not even “mother ship” AIS data.

  26. @DennisW, Boris Tabaksplatt.
    Australian Minister’s unenthusiastic statement in full:

    http://minister.infrastructure.gov.au/chester/releases/2017/october/dc315_2017.aspx

    Maybe he has reservations about the proposal.

    Quite a gamble for OI, whether they find the wreckage at all and if so after what effort, (ie cost).

    It seems from the statement that they will look in the area identified by the ATSB first so have no further insight.

    One wonders about the risk not just for OI but for their sub-contractors, thence fall backs and what ifs. It is hardly surprising Malaysia is taking care.

    A curiosity is whether the subs would be on a cost plus arrangement or success reward, presumably the former.

  27. @David

    Thx. I actually had not read that previously.

    @PS9

    My take-away is that negotiations for the OI search are in the early stages which is what I had assumed was already happening (before these recent announcements) based on reading between the lines on Victor’s blog.

  28. Also where David Mearns and his Blue Water Recoveries and his researches would come into this. Maybe a sub contractor again?

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