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.