ATSB’s Final Search Area Completed. Once Again, MH370 Isn’t There.

Earlier today Malaysia released its latest weekly report into the progress of Ocean Infinity’s seabed search in the Southern Indian Ocean for the wreckage of MH370. Included was the chart above, which shows the area currently being scanned in red. The southernmost portion of this “T” shape is that last part of the 25,000 square kilometer designed by the ATSB as the final search area. Once it is scanned and the data assessed, the search will be over.

Or rather, the statement above should be in the past tense, because the last weekly report showed this small area as already having been scanned. Thus, the ATSB’s final 25,000 square kilometers has already been finished.

You’ll recall that this area was described in the ATSB report “MH370–First Principles Report” as

 a remaining area of high probability between latitudes 32.5°S and 36°S along the 7th arc. 4. The participants of the First Principles Review were in agreement on the need to search an additional area representing approximately 25,000 km² (the orange bordered area in Figure 14) [I’ve added this figure to the bottom of this post–JW]. Based on the analysis to date, completion of this area would exhaust all prospective areas for the presence of MH370. 

If anyone thinks I am hasty in saying that Seabed Constructor has finished its scan of this area, note that as I write, the ship continues to work northwards well beyond this area. If MH370 had already been found, it would not be doing so.

The designation of the 25,000 square kilometers marked the fourth time that the ATSB has assured the public that it had identified the area where the plane had come to rest. Each of the last three times, it was proven wrong and been forced to designate a new place to look. Today, that game ends. The ATSB has admitted that has no further analytical basis on which to recommend any further search. It’s out of ideas. It has thrown in the towel. It is out of ideas.

To be sure, there are some bitter enders among the “MHiste” community who have come up with reasons for searching further beyond the ATSB’s final 25,000 square kilometers, but their theories now lack any official backing, and to my eye are nothing more than hand-waving based on an inability to admit to being wrong. Seabed Constructor sails on like a headless chicken, with no rational basis for continuing to search.

The ATSB’s search areas were defined using data exchanged between the plane and Inmarsat in the hours after the plane disappeared from radar. Their analysis was quite sophisticated; if the data had been authentic, the odds were tremendously in favor of the plane being found.

But the plane was not found. Was this because of an incredible coincidence/bad luck on the part of the ATSB? Or is the case rather that whoever took the plane played them for suckers?

The bitter enders believe that they and the ATSB were the victims of bad luck. The pilot (most likely) took the plane and flew south, but happened to fly in some weird way that by chance produced data that looked very much like what a normally flown plane would produce. This being the case, the plane must be somewhere in the vicinity.

The other explanation is that they weren’t unlucky. They were fooled. By perpetrators who, based on their behavior before disappearing from radar, were both sophisticated and had every intention of misleading and deceiving. Who went electronically dark and pulled a 180 just six seconds after passing the last waypoint in Malaysian airspace, and had the electrical engineering chops to first turn off, then turn back on the satellite data unit that ultimately produced the clues that the seabed search would be based on.

The ATSB, however, has proven themselves constitutionally incapable of grokking that they have been hoodwinked. Time and again, I’ve asked members of the team how they could be so sure that their data wasn’t tampered with. Time and again, they told me that they hadn’t taken the idea seriously. Most recently, a spokesperson for the Joint Agency Coordination Centre emailed me to explain:

The Inmarsat satellite data unit logs were made publicly available at a very early stage of the investigation and the data has been reviewed frequently by the Joint Investigation Team convened by the Malaysian Government comprising experts from the People’s Republic of China, France, Malaysia, United Kingdom, United States and Malaysian Government officials.

Does this explanation justify confidence in the data? I don’t see it.

Over on other blogs, self-appointed experts will continue to spin out elaborate theories and crunch the numbers to generate new convoluted flight paths. They will tell you that the mystery is incredibly complicated and only the truly erudite come hope to plumb its complexities. Actually, the truth looks quite simple to me. The perpetrators of MH370 set out to baffle and confuse, and they succeeded beyond measure. They have played the ATSB and its fan boys for chumps, and will continue to do so. Game, set, match.

UPDATE: Within minutes of my tweeting about this post, Mike Exner laid into me, calling me all sorts of bad names, and saying that Seabed Constructor had lots of high-probability square kilometerage ahead of it. I responded that if he is so confident of the high quality of the area left to search, then he should be willing to make a bet with me: If Seabed Constructor finds MH370’s wreckage in the months to come, I will publicly acknowledge that he was right all along and I was wrong. And if it does not, he will do the same for me.



162 thoughts on “ATSB’s Final Search Area Completed. Once Again, MH370 Isn’t There.”

  1. @ Ventus, @ all

    I’m sad that one of the most important sources of information in the MH370 sphere is closing down; I want to use this opportunity to express thanks to you (and the other contributors) who spent so much time and effort exploring the issue of MH370 and writing your blog.

    As it happens, it’s actually a funny (…?) coincidence since I was about to write a comment here asking @JW to write an obituary to the search for MH370 as his next piece. It seems that everything is said and done: Theories formed, information analysed, the context established. Oceans have been searched, many millions have been spent, mathematics has been done. I feel for the NOK who may not get final closure for many decades, maybe forever. We should make sure that the major blogs are properly archived for the long term; maybe in several decades, a historian will study this affair.

    (Historian of the late 21st, maybe 22nd century CE, I humbly salute you. How I would relish having a coffee with you!)

    I want to express thanks to everyone here and on other sites and in particular our host, Jeff Wise. We had great discussions, genuinely probed and searched for information in the hope of giving final answers to the next of kin and the world at large. Not all is said and done (it never is): and yet, a lot is.

    I wonder personally how, in a few years’ time, I will look back to this episode of my life (since indeed it is, as it is for most of you!).

    I want to finish this by quoting the German poet Bertolt Brecht, who famously ended his play “The Good Person of Szechuan” with the words: “Wir stehen selbst enttäuscht und sehn betroffen/Den Vorhang zu und alle Fragen offen”! (“Disappointed we stand and watch in concern/the curtain has closed and all questions unanswered!”)

  2. @Havelock, I’ve been writing obituaries about the search for MH370 since 2015, when the plane would have been found if it had flown south into the SIO–it should have been within the initial 60,000 sq km. As you may recall, the second 60,000 sq km was actually shorter than the first, and extended further out, which they later realized was unnecessary. As to everything that’s gone on since then, the 25K sq km and beyond–very little justification for it. In brief, I don’t understand why you’re getting nostalgic, nothing has changed. The mystery is neither unsolved nor actually all that hard to solve, except a certain contingent are trying hard to make it seem that way.

    @Ventus, Agreed, thanks for that.

    @CliffG, I get that all the time! Have never met him. What would you want me to ask Victor? Probably almost anyone else would get better answers than me, we used to correspond quite a bit but things are pretty cool now.

    @Boris Tabaksplatt, You wrote, “The way this information was revealed is also curious – I think this is a red flag that some members of the IG are actually part of the cover operation.” I find it disturbing indeed. The failure of the OI search means that search officials (both Australian and Malaysian) and the IG were all collectively completely wrong in their conjectures about the disappearance of MH370, and yet being in cahoots they are circling their wagons and throttling any attempt to shine a light on where they went wrong. To mix a whole bunch of metaphors.

  3. @Havelock:
    It ain’t over till the fat lady sings. This sorry saga will go on for years.

    @Jeff Wise:
    “…The failure of the OI search means that search officials (both Australian and Malaysian) and the IG were all collectively completely wrong in their conjectures about the disappearance of MH370…”

    Yes, they were all blowing plenty of smoke, but no cigar! In my view, the key players involved in directing the search effort were all happy to support the official story, no matter how untenable their position became. Not the sort of behaviour one would normally see during an air accident investigation. The fingerprints of spooks are all over this fiasco. Here’s hoping some bird with a guilty conscience will eventually sing.

  4. @Jeff: thanks for replying. Do you have a copy of the model you could send me?

    (Per the kind and constructive suggestions of yourself and others, I’m trying to switch from seeking an audit back to analyzing what the models say. I don’t have a working fuel model. The IG claimed to have a really good one. I’d like to subject it to sensitivity testing.)

    Many thanks in advance for your time and consideration.

  5. @Brock – if you have extra compute cycles left, i would suggest to run some validations of the IGARI/BITOD turn back models. I highly suspect MH370 didn’t actually turn back.

  6. ATSB was aware of Boeing 777 E/E bay access vulnerability in late 2013
    Australian Matt Wuillemin, formerly with RAAF, and an airline captain who flies Airbus A330 & Boeing 777 for China Southern Airlines had written a report about the vulnerability of the B777’s E/E bay hatch which was shared with Australia’s ATSB.

    He appears to have become aware of this issue atleast as far back as 2010, and had been raising this issue with some airlines & regulators. He also came up with an innovative technical solution to mechanically secure the hatch.

    The disinterested response he got from regulators and other stakeholders disappointed him.

    Some points to consider
    – the pilot/author appears to be most concerned about the ability to override the cockpit access door, but not concerned about hijacking from E/E bay. However, the low risk attributed to this vulnerability by regulators suggests that it could only be exploited by those with significant resources, and access to a B777. This discounts the probability that MH370 was hijacked by non-state actors, and lends more credence to the Russia angle.
    – the vulnerability maybe intentional to allow In-flight Security Officers (IFSO) regain control of an aircraft in which the flight deck is inaccessible or pilots incapacitated, and may explain the reluctance of regulators to discuss the issue
    – the fact ATSB was in possession of this report in late 2013 (not just Australia’s Transport Security agency) goes some way towards explaining ATSB’s shyness in disclosing details of MH370
    – the E/E hatch on some planes are covered by linoleum or carpet that must be cut out which requires time and effort. Therefore, these planes are not as vulnerable as those which are more exposed. This should be investigated by the MH370 community
    – the author also shared his concerns with Emirates & Virgin, presumably due to concerns about terrorists from the middle-east. Both airlines traverse the Indian Ocean from Europe/Middle East to Australia. Not clear why the author is more concerned about these airlines than the ones he flies (China Southern). This maybe a blind spot in typical airline threat assessments that was exploited by the Russians.

  7. Jeff
    The parallel here is with the NIST report of WT7 collapse , highly trained engineers blindly ignoring the facts and bending the laws of physics to agree with a common group think of a predetermined outcome.

  8. Victor Iannello said on his blog: “There is a small group that has been working together offline trying to reconstruct the timestamps and improve the speed calculations.”

    Reconstructing the timestamps is the easy part, but doesn’t solve the problem. The error in the speed calculation caused by truncating the range value to 0.1 NM is of the same order. Incidentally, reconstructing the time stamps shows that they have been truncated, not rounded.

    Improved calculation of the speeds indicates that the time between 17:36:43 and 17:38:55 (132 seconds) was actually 12 – 13 seconds longer.

    Strange errors.

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