About That MH370 Inmarsat Data…

Earlier this month France announced that it will reopen its investigation into the disappearance of MH370:

French newspaper Le Parisien reports that investigators are keen to verify data from Inmarsat — the British operator of a global satellite network — which tracked the aircraft’s pings to the southern Indian Ocean off Western Australia, where it is believed to have crashed.

I was happy to hear that, because for the last four years I’ve been making the case that there is one known way by which the Inmarsat data could have been falsified as it was being transmitted from the plane. This falsification would make the plane look like it was heading south when it was really heading north, and would explain why an exhaustive quarter-billion-dollar search of the southern seabed found no trace of the plane.

Of course, there are other reasons to suspect that the plane went north. One of the less probative but more elegant is the simple fact that when it was last spotted, that’s where the plane was turning. The above image comes from page 4 of Appendix 1.6E of the latest Malaysian report, entitled “Aircraft Performance Analysis,” prepared by Boeing. I think this appendix is one of the most important sections of the whole report, as the authority of the source is unimpeachable and its assertions are laid out with such clarity. In this image we see a summary view of what is known about the first two hours of the plane’s flight, based on a combination of secondary and primary radar as well as the first ping from the Inmarsat data. It shows, as I and others have pointed out, that after an aggressive turnback at IGARI, and a high-speed flight over peninsular Malaysia and up the Malacca Strait, the plane disappeared from primary radar and then turned to the north.

Some have proposed that this is best explained by the assumption that whoever was in charge of the plane wanted to avoid conflicting traffic on the airway, but that is absurd–there was no conflicting traffic, and anyway it would be very simple to avoid any such hypothetical traffic by flying at a nonstandard altitude. A simpler explanation is that they turned to the north because they were heading north.

The report has another similiarly compelling illustration that combines fuel-burn data with ping-ring distances to illustrate the various routes the plane might have flown, assuming a constant altitude and turns only at ping arcs:

This picture neatly illustrates a point that the DSTG arrived at more conclusively through the heavily application of mathematics: namely, the only straight-ish flight paths that wind up at the 7th arc at the correct time and distance for fuel exhaustion are ones that fly around 450 to 475 knots, and at relatively high altitude. This is where the Australians originally looked for the plane, and really it was always the only rational place to look.

The absence of the plane in this area could have told the authorities two years ago that something was up–and that would have been the right time to start being suspicious about the Inmarsat data.


479 thoughts on “About That MH370 Inmarsat Data…”

  1. @Jeff Wise
    Hi again. Been off for some time. Manufacturing “semi-expert” for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
    Still think MH370 did not go South. Prefer to somewhat believe the eyewitness reports; however unreliable eyewitness reports are plus debris locations.
    I was wondering. Has anyone flown a 777 with the same satellite communications configuration as MH370; including antennas and including Malaysian Airlines setup for satellite communication (I believe, they did not buy the data package); along the Northern and Southern routes that MH370 might have taken?
    Did the data mimic that which was received from MH370?

  2. @Suzie Crowe, perhaps I mistyped, as I agree entirely that MH370 was retaliation—and also a threat of more action, should purloined money not be repaid.

    As for motive, absent a confession expressly staring so, facts do not prove a motive—the why of a crime. Facts do, however, prove intent—the what of a crime. This is an important distinction, and a legal one in many jurisdictions, where it is ultimately intent and not motive which proves innocence or guilt (while motive may point toward who to bring to trial, it does not close the cell door as intent does)

    In any case, as I wrote earlier, exploring who invested in the investments that went into 1MDB and who was involved in the recent agreements that will lead to the return of much of the money, will go a long way toward confirming both intent and motive.

  3. @Kenneth Goodwin, Welcome back. The idea you describe has been proposed many times, but unfortunately it wouldn’t work because none of the initial conditions (declination of the satellite, winds aloft, etc) would be the same.

  4. @Scott O.:
    Thank you. I am in agreement with your posting, including the different stages of suicidal persons. Where do you think we “ultimately differ” on ?

    @Scott O: “Such a scenario also requires Shah to either committed mass murder first or left all the passengers and crew alive on the other side of the cockpit door for the whole flight.”

    My posting did not focus a lot on MH370’s passengers. It’s a very heavy subject. But you are right that both scenarios require some kind of premeditation and planning, distinguishing it from the suicide scenarios I described in my previous posting, which I would rather describe as “pilots unable to save the passengers from their own downfall”.

    @Scott O: “if Shah chose sleeping pills, surely they could have provided just as much a chance of success had they been swallowed on the ground—at home”


    I am not sure.
    With this scenario:
    – There is a high chance you’ll vomit, especially if you take many.
    – Chances are you will survive – especially if you don’t take enough – possibly with irreversible brain damage.
    – Even if you succeed, you might still suffer from an hour of agony (which might appear to you as 10 hours while your drug-induced thoughts are in slow-motion). It might be a very slow, gruesome death.

  5. @Me Ja Yung
    Thanks for the interesting post. I’m not Asian and to be honest, I don’t know much about Asian culture other than some hearsay from a Vietnamese friend and having briefly taught an after-school class at a Chinese school.

    Perhaps if I then set aside the shame aspect, what I was proposing is an impromptu suicide triggered by a catastrophic onboard event, such as the accidental suffocation of passengers by flying at high altitude.

    I think by adding this aspect in, it is possible to tie up some of the loose ends that are inconsistent with either a pure suicide theory or a crew incapacitation theory.

    In the impromptu suicide scenario, the pilot sets course for the southern Indian Ocean and then either ends it all by plunging the nose down when he gets there, or by killing himself by some other method (e.g. cockpit depressurization) leaving it to crash by fuel exhaustion. The inability to find the plane while still surprising, is not as remarkable in this scenario, because with the impromptu suicide, the entire arc and max range has to be considered, and not just the proposed area.

    If there is one more piece of evidence I could point to, I would point to the final BFO/BTO data, which indicated that the plane was in a steep, accelerating dive. If MH370 made a steep, accelerating dive and crashed in Kazakhstan somewhere, wouldn’t this have been far more likely to be noticed, regardless of whether the Kazakhs and/or Russians tried cover it up? Unless this last data point was also somehow spoofed, the steep accelerating dive is hardly consistent with landing the airplane. That said, I suppose there is nothing about the northern route theory that rules out a crash.

  6. @Ben S, I want to clarify a point that I think some people are still confused about–the absence of the plane in the seabed search area means that the plane, if it went south, must have been actively piloted at the end such that it glided far from the seventh arc. This rules out any “ghost plane” scenario; the pilot did not commit suicide or inadvertantly die sometime around the turn south over the Andaman Sea.

    Also, if the plane went north, then the BFO data must have been spoofed; this being the case, there is no reason to attach meaning to any particular BFO value, such as to infer that the plane was in a steep dive at the end. In fact, if someone went through the enormous effort necessary to hijack the plane and spook the Inmarsat data, presumably they were smart enough to get it on the ground in one piece.

    I agree with what Jeff said above, in addition the specific quartz crystal has a certain unique transient behavior that changes with time and history.

    What was done, is that Inmarsat provided the detailed satellite data for the prior day’s flight MH351 from Beijing to KLIA. That data was thoroughly analyzed and found to be generally consistent with expectations.

  8. P.S.- That is not to say there would not be merit to a test flight (a bit late now, would have been nice to use MAS B777 before they got rid of them).

    Let’s look at all the evidence that Malaysia has no interest in fidning the answer: (1) no test flight, (2) no flight path proposals, (3) no sesrch for debris, (4) keeping data/into secret, etc.

  9. @TBill

    I agree that things would not be the same and this is an old point of mine.

    My only interest is the angle to the satellite from the airplane in flight and how it changes with location on earth. I have never seen the configuration document for MH370 that specifically states that the array antenna was hooked to the satellite transmitter and not to a stick antenna. Plus; mistakes are made in installation and design. Possibly if you don’t buy the data package. Reason: The antenna gain map is different for an array versus a stick antenna. The stick losses gain as the antenna points to the source. The circuit for the satellite and the airplane might, and I don’t know, put the signal through a amplifier loop to boost the signal thus delaying the signal transition. Thus changing the delays in the Inmarsat data. The resulting curves in the Inmarsat data could be additional loops/delay through the boost circuit. Thus making it look like the A/P is getting further from the satellite when in fact it is getting closer.

    The Beijing to KLIA flight is moving away from the Satellite thus the gain in the antenna would improve with distance if the antenna were a stick antenna.

    This is all just a guess on my part. I tried to fit the debris sightings and eye witness reports of a plane on fire and of one flying low and the sonar water impact data and the original direction of the airplane to the Inmarsat data.

  10. @Scott O.

    “As for motive, absent a confession expressly staring so, facts do not prove a motive—the why of a crime. Facts do, however, prove intent—the what of a crime.”

    You are absolutely right, thank you for correcting me and making the distiction.

  11. Jeff Wise:“the absence of the plane in the seabed search area means that the plane, if it went south, must have been actively piloted at the end such that it glided far from the seventh arc. This rules out any ghost plane scenario.”

    scientists on the other blog differ

  12. @Peter Norton

    The ATSB search was a ‘loss of control study’ which gave a very high probability that 9M-MRO was not in the primary and secondary search zone as defined by the ISAT data (~120,000 sq km);


    It depend if ‘loss of control’ = ‘ghost flight’.

    From the Geoscience website;

    “From 2-4 November 2016, experts in data processing, satellite communications, accident investigation, aircraft performance, flight operations, sonar data, acoustic data and oceanography gathered in Canberra to reassess and validate existing evidence and to identify any new analysis that may assist in identifying the location of the missing aircraft. They agreed that the methodology and effectiveness of the underwater search meant that if an area had been searched there was little to no chance that any aircraft debris had been missed.”


  13. @Peter Norton, per your note of October 28, which said:

    “Thank you. I am in agreement with your posting, including the different stages of suicidal persons. Where do you think we “ultimately differ” on ?”

    Perhaps I’ve misunderstood your position, but for me a suicide ending to MH370 is, if you will given all we’ve discusses, too hard a pill to swallow. I don’t see any scenario in which it makes sense to me. Of course that could be said of all of this saga, so grain of salt….

  14. @Scott O:
    If by “position” you mean a strong believe of what happened to MH370, I don’t have any. So far my impression is that almost every theory has pros and cons, almost of equal number.

    One of the points I wanted to make is that sleeping pills + flight into oblivion is one of the best life-ending methods, technically speaking, if you disregard the PAX. Once they are in the picture, this scenario obviously has all sorts of elements that are hard to explain. But apparently there have been a handful of pilot suicides with passengers (although, personally, I still have a hard time believing in such disregard for their lives, so I am very reluctant in all those cases) so history seems to suggest it is possible. Likely? I don’t know. None of the proposed scenarios thus far seems very likely. I think whatever proves to be MH370’s fate, I am sure it will be a very “unlikely” scenario, so my position is that all cards are on the table (except for scenarios that can be ruled out by evidence).

  15. @SteveBarratt
    “Forgive me but you could have been talking about 9M-MRO. A bit too political.”

    After reading this several times, it still confuses me.
    Are you implying it would be “A bit too political”, if “9M-MRO” was connected to 1MDB?

  16. @Susie Crowe,

    Further to the geopolitical intrigue, please keep in mind that in April of 2017, 1MDB struck a deal to repay more than $1 billion to the Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth fund, which as one of your links notes had invested more than $6 billion in 1MDB.

    This came just two months after a meeting was held in the Seychelles with the notorious mercenary Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater and now the Frontier Resource Group of Hong Kong; the United Arab Emirate’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who is also the emir of Abu Dhabi; and Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

    That is curious in itself but becomes more so when one knows that in 2013 the Russian Direct Investment Fund and the UAE launched a $2 billion co-investment fund. And…that between the Seychelles meeting and the April deal to repay the 1MDB money, the UAE and Russia announced a series of three agreements to replace the UAE air force’s American-made aircraft with Russian aircraft.

    Does this provide anything? Not necessarily, bu it would be illuminating to know where the payback money ultimately ends up.

  17. @Susie Crowe

    “Are you implying it would be “A bit too political”, if “9M-MRO” was connected to 1MDB?”

    Basically yes. I’m in agreement with you that 9M-MRO and 1MDB are on the same page. In the sense that 9M-MRO benefited the financial position of 1MDB. A hypothesis – no evidence.

    @Peter Norton

    A convoluted way of saying the ghost flight theory is much less tenable than it was in the first few months after the disappearance. Even in the Malaysian final report 9M-MRO apparently was flown manually after IGARI (at least until it disappeared from primary radar).

  18. @SteveBarratt, @Peter Norton, Some other reasons why ghost flight is not tenable:

    1) To produce the final BFO values, the plane must have been actively pushed into a dive.

    2) In order to fly far enough beyond the seventh arc that its wreckage wasn’t found on the seabed, the plane would have to have subsequent to the dive been actively held in a glide.

  19. @all: what was the exact date, time, and source of the first official release of MH370’s planned flight path?

    Trying to be as precise as possible. Thanks!

Comments are closed.