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.