French MH370 Investigators Eye “Spoof” Scenario

Interest in MH370 revived earlier this month after next-of-kin Ghislain Wattrelos held a press conference at which he revealed that he had been briefed by French judicial authorities about their investigation into the case. As the UK’s Daily Star reported,

Ghyslain Wattrelos lost his wife Laurence, and two teenage children Hadrien and Ambre when Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 vanished on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board.

Mr Wattrelos today revealed he was told by the French Gendamarie Air Transport (GTA) team investigating the jet’s disappearance they had found “inconsistencies” in the Malaysian investigation’s official report.

He claimed experts are investigating if navigation data from the missing plane could have been hacked to disguise the route it took before crashing into the ocean.

He also said he had been told several “curious passengers” warranted further investigation – including a Malaysian aeronautics expert seated directly beneath the satcom.

This was of course enormously interesting to me, as I had publicly pointed out in early 2015 that if the plane wasn’t in the southern Indian Ocean, the only conceivable explanation was that hijackers outside the cockpit had managed to perpetrate an extremely sophisticated hack of the satcom in order to make the signals seem like they were coming from a plane heading south when it was actually heading north. This idea met with widespread ridicule at the time, as most experts believed that the plane would certainly be found in the southern Indian Ocean where the satcom signals indicated it had flown. Subsequently, of course, it wasn’t–nearly a quarter billion dollars was spent on a seabed search that covered an area the size of the UK but turned up nothing.

At last, it seemed, the authorities were willing to take my idea seriously.

The Daily Star contacted me for a follow-up article:

[Wise] told Daily Star Online: “This (hacking lead) is an interesting development, because it’s exactly what I’ve been talking about for the last five years or so.

“While I haven’t looked at this particular passenger, the core of the argument I’ve been trying to make is that the Satellite Data Unit, or SDU, has a vulnerability that could be exploited to make the plane look like it went south when it really went north.”

He added: “What I pointed out is, are there any way these signals could have been tampered with?

“Is there some way that someone with ill-intent could have changed them?

“The answer is yes, there actually is a way that it’s physically possible that a person could get into the electronics bay, or directly access the data unit from ceiling of the cabin.

“And they could alter either the inputs into the SDU itself in such a way it would look like the plane was going south when it was going north.

“Do we have any reason to believe that’s the case? I would say yes.

“I think the main and most obvious one is having searched the seabed, based on signals of where the plane went, the plane is not there.”

Inmarsat data has led investigators to believe the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean west of Australia after running out of fuel.

But he has urged a re-analysis of this information, claiming that it could in actual fact have flown north instead.

The radius of one of the “handshakes” runs through Kazakhstan.

And Wise holds Russia as a suspect because of the shooting down of MH17 by a Russian military missile, and how the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea fell off the news radar following MH370’s disappearance.

He told us: “What’s the motive? I can tell you this was happening in the context of Russia getting a lot of heat for the annexation of Crimea.

“I was on CNN six times a day, and CNN didn’t talk about Crimea anymore, they only talked about MH370 and so it was possible a diversion, a show of dominance.

“Because if I’m right and Russia did take the plane, they completely fooled, ran circles, the western authorities and experts have been completely bamboozled, with their pants caught down.

“I would say, only one other 777 has ever been lost mid-flight, that was the sistership of MH370.

“It was shot down by an operation carried out by the GRU. If you’re a chicken farmer, and you’ve never lost a chicken in 15 years, then you find one of your chickens murdered, and a week later you see a fox jumping over the fence with a chicken in its mouth, what would you think?

“What would be your primary suspect here? The only known cause of 777s coming to grief.”

All of which I stand by. I think the headline was unfortunately sensationalistic and misleading, however: “Plane ‘HIDDEN in Russian base’ as investigators swoop on new ‘hacking’ lead.” I’ve never said that I thought 9M-MRO is hidden on a Russian, and certainly not in all caps–though I am intrigued by the possibility that the plane might have touched down on the remote airstrip at Yubileyniy within the Baikonur Cosmodrome.


243 thoughts on “French MH370 Investigators Eye “Spoof” Scenario”

  1. @Ben S, the question of radar coverage of the northern route is certainly an interesting one, I hope to address it in a blog post soon.

    Nice find about Kolkota’s new radars. FYI in case you haven’t seen it the DTSG’s calculation of the northern route can be seen at the top of this post:

    By my estimation the easternmost edge of that cluster of routes is just about 60 nautical miles from Kolkota airport, so right on the range of detection. Of course, whether anyone was looking at the screen at that time is a separate issue.

  2. PS, The Daily Star has yet another story about my MH370 theory. The most interesting part to me is this quote at the end:
    “After an approach from Daily Star Online for comment, Inmarsat responded: “We retain full confidence in the data and the analysis undertaken by the international investigation team, of which Inmarsat was part.”
    Here’s the link:

  3. @all

    Conflicting theories aside, I think the unifying thread to all these posts, is a desire for the truth. This blog, which I just discovered a few weeks ago, has become my go-to place online, just to be amongst those who care to find out what that truth is, making us sharper, more alert in the process. I know I feel like I’ve become a smarter person as a result. I thus thank @JeffWise for keeping eyes on the horizon, that the truth is indeed, out there. Thanks for letting us join the ride!

  4. @Jeff Wise:
    “Inmarsat responded: We retain full confidence in the data…”

    This is a big change from their initial position when the data was first released, with a ‘health warning’. Perhaps they no longer feel the need for deniability. I wonder how this can be?

    BTW, have you considered that this operation could be a joint Russia/Chinese enterprise? Someone in the know tried to blackwash the Uyghurs, which would only be of benefit to the Chinese.

  5. The Satellite Data Unit (SDU) is powered from the Left Main AC bus. The only way to shut off the SATCOM system from the cockpit is to isolate (depower) the Left Main AC bus. This is done by selecting the L GEN CTRL switch on the Electrical Overhead Panel to OFF, and the L BUS TIE switch to ISLN. It is not necessary to select the L BACKUP switch to OFF, because the L XFER bus (normally powered by the L MAIN bus) cannot power the L MAIN bus. (See Figure 1.6H – Electrical Power Panel Switches/Lights, Safety Investigation Report, page 68, PDF page 114/495)

    However, that is not evident from the electrical system schematic shown on the panel. It is possible that a person, intending to shut down SATCOM by isolating the L MAIN bus, selected the L BACKUP switch to OFF and thereby depowered the L XFER bus. According to information from Andrew on the VI blog, that would result in the loss of certain sensors required by the Primary Flight Control System (PFCS), cause reversion to secondary mode, and loss of the autopilot.

    That would explain that the autopilot was off after the turnback at IGARI, evident in the civil primary radar data.

  6. @Gysbreght
    Confusing elec diagram, but are you assuming both XFER buses have to be ON for AP to operate due to the DC TRUs? Because I do not see where it says that both XFER buses have to be on to power all the DC TRUs.

  7. @Gysbreght
    PS- I would ask what all the possibilities are for turning SDU off. I was thinking maybe turn off both IDG’s. In that case APU is needed to turn SDU back on at 18:25, because it says SDU is load shed on BACKUP Gens only.

  8. @TBill, While we’ve discussed the various ways that it’s possible to turn the SDU off and back on again, I think it’s important to bear in mind that none of these methods are generally known, and none of them are called for in any checklist. Which forces us to confront two difficult questions:

    1) How would the perpetrators know how to do this?
    2) What was their goal, in going through all that effort?

  9. @Jeff Wise:

    All the perpetrator needs to know is that the SDU is powered by the L Main bus.

    What needs to be done to isolate the L MAIN bus is shown by the diagram on the Electrical Overhead panel.

    There may have been other reasons for isolating the L MAIN bus.

  10. @Gysbreght, You wrote, “All the perpetrator needs to know is that the SDU is powered by the L Main bus.”

    This is something that no normal airline pilot knows.

  11. @TBill:
    According to Andrew: “I don’t have a comprehensive list, but my understanding is that they are mostly position sensors associated with actuators controlled by the L2 ACE. The L2 ACE is only powered by the L 28V DC bus, which is normally supplied by the L AC transfer bus (via the L TRU).”

    removing power from the L XFER bus causes the PFCS to revert to secondary mode. The A/P is lost in secondary mode.

  12. @Gysbreght, The default mainstream scenario is that MH370 was hijacked by its pilot, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, an experienced but otherwise unremarkable airline pilot.

  13. It is still hard to believe the Ukrainian and Russian passengers on MH370 were flying from KL to Beijing for business. It doesnt pass the smell test. China also doesnt seem willing to investigate this despite losing so many citizens. At some point whatever classified information about MH370 needs to be declassified for the interest of the families of lost ones. Where is the transparency.

  14. @Jeff Wise: I’ve never subscribed to that “default mainstream scenario”, nor does your spoofing scenario.

  15. @Gysbreght
    …key word of Andrew is “normally”…from reading SIC report it says the DC buses are powered from Left and Right XFER buses, but it does not say L DC is powered from *only* from L XFER bus. Without further info, I assume it may be possible to power L DC transformers from R XFER bus.

    When I said “list of all ways” to turn off SDU, I misspoke slightly, what I really meant was “list all ways to use the overhead Elec panel switches to turn off SDU”. So the list looks a little like this:

    1. Turn OFF L IDG and L TIE
    2. Turn OFF L GEN CNTRL and L TIE
    3. and 4. Options 1 and 2 and also L XFER OFF
    5. Turn OFF L and R IDG (keep APU Off in all cases)
    6. Turn OFF L and R GEN CNTRL…
    7. and 8. Options 5 and 6 asnd L XFER OFF
    9. Turn off Breakers in MEC Bay (however, out of scope of this list)

    @Gysbreght is suggesting 3. and 4. are superfluous (do not need to turn off XFER buses, but pilot may have not realized that).

    Other points:
    >>As far as SDU Turn Off, keep in mind there is a message appears on the pilot’s screen (EICAS) says (paraphrasing) “SDU is Now OFF” when the SDU power is removed, so there is that hint, which also appears on FSX Flight Sim PMDG model (but not on the simpler FS9 PSS777 model, to my knowledge).

    >>I believe pijacking can answer all of the operational “why” questions, perhaps not to everyone’s satisfaction.

  16. @TBill; “Without further info, I assume it may be possible to power L DC transformers from R XFER bus. “

    It would be nice if that was substantiated.

  17. @Casual Observer
    If it was me, I would would say essentially ICAO recognizes that sovereign right of countries to control the message of aircraft disasters is of higher priority than notification of families of the truth.

  18. @Casual Observer,

    I can’t speak to why the Ukrainians (who btw, were ethnically Russian) might have been flying to Beijing (you could ask the same of the Iranian asylum seekers with stolen passports, given their final destination was Western Europe), but setting aside any nefariousness for a moment, it is possible that the leg of a trip to Beijing made their entire itinerary cheaper. As for Nikolai Brodskii, the Russian with the diving background–his home was Irkutsk, which is so far east in Russia that it is closer to Beijing than any major Russian city–or any city anywhere else at all, for that matter.

  19. Recently there has been some discussion here on the part of Someone Somewhere, Boris Tabaksplatt and Casual Observer, among others, regarding Chinese behavior around MH370.

    At the risk of introducing a red herring, I find this story–and the many others like it going back to well into 2014-accusing the Chinese of hacking Boeing and its suppliers quite interesting.

  20. @Ben, Thanks for this. I don’t think that they’re planning to look for MH370 per se, they’re just going to be diving on a geographical feature (the Diamantina Trench) that happens to overlap the MH370 search area. Looks like what they’re after is a depth record.

  21. @Ben
    Well, that’s generally where I think the MH370 aircraft might actually be found. I’d have to get a better understanding of their search coordinates, but I am thinking that’s close to where the pilot’s simulator case flew over.

  22. @TBill:

    RE “list all ways to use the overhead Elec panel switches to turn off SDU”

    I think we need a list of electrical configurations that result in the loss of SATCOM and A/P.

  23. @Gysbreght, TBill.
    @TBill said, “Without further info, I assume it may be possible to power L DC transformers from R XFER bus.”
    @Gysbreght said, “It would be nice if that was substantiated.”

    After some reading to confirm my memory, the transfer buses are normally powered by their IDGs via the left and right main buses respectively. If one IDG comes off line and the tie breakers between them are in auto, the other IDG will power both main buses. Normally the right B/U gen then will supplement that by powering the transfer bus on the inoperative IDG’s side. If the right B/U gen is inoperative, the left will do that, if operative. If both IDGs are inoperative the right B/U gen will power both transfer buses if operative. Should that be or become inoperative the left would take over, again if operative.

    The right transfer bus therefore will not power the left.

    However while the left DC bus normally is powered by the left transfer bus it can be supplied by the right DC bus also via the DC bus tie if the left’s TRU has failed.

    If either of the main AC bus tie breakers is selected to isolation and the left IDG fails through selection or otherwise, the left transfer bus (and hence the left DC bus) will be powered by the right B/U gen, failing that the left, as above.

    This might help:

  24. Gysbreght: “we need a list of electrical configurations that result in the loss of SATCOM and A/P.”

    What conclusions would that allow, given that A/P could just have been switched off manually?

  25. @David

    I see you have the B777 Training Manual.

    Is there a diagram which shows ELMS ability to load shed the EPESC (Enhanced Passenger Entertainment System Controller)?

    If so, then the EPESC, which is the interface between IFE and the SDU, wouldn’t be able to provide the packet data service for the IFE, hence the absence of the IFE after 00:19 UTC?

  26. @Scott O

    Thanks for the link and the interesting article.

    In fact I had been considering this as well, the last few years has seen China aggressively trying to acquire western technology in general and aviation technology in particular. They have been very aggressive about Being able to master the entire development and manufacturing process of aircraft. Having said that, it is not immediately obvious to me how “disappearing” a western commercial airplane could help with that – presumably if they wanted to for example take that plane apart to study it they could just use any one, they are free to buy western planes and are equally free to do as they wish with those planes. Personally my hunch would be that it has something to do with those semiconductor guys (I laid out one theory in an earlier post).

    Another idea I wanted to float (to let you take it apart mercilessly) is the following. As you know by now, I “like” the idea that the plane could have gone east for various reasons. I recently had a long look at the map and realized that actually, one location that would have been comfortably within fuel range is Vladivostok. As you can easily see looking at a map, a route to Vladivostok would be fairly elegant and would be doable by flying entirely over water, safely out of reach of radar. I don’t actually think Vladivostok is a particularly likely destination since I don’t find “Russia” particularly plausible as a pwrp (I don’t see any convincing motive really), but if you insist on Russia, I would probably find Vladivostok less unrealistic than the other theories.

  27. Gysbreght: “Maybe the pilot had nothing else to do, and just loved flying without autopilot.”

    What I am just thinking about … The radar data (if correct) showed unusual high speed. This would be inline with the understandable desire of a fast getaway for whoever piloted the plane. I assume autothrust had to be disabled to bypass the overspeed protections. AFAIK A/P can be used without autothrust, but might there be an advantage or a reason for disabling A/P along with autothrust ?

  28. @Somebody Somewhere, an eastern flight is interesting, though something met with quite a bit of resistance on this blog, particularly if you believe either the existing radar or an of the Inmarsat data is accurate.

    But even if you buy that, taking the plane to Vladivostok is a leap.

    Here is a map of Japanese radar coverage of several types, covering Japan and it’s coast out to 200 miles and across tot the Korean peninsula. This does not include it’s ABM radar which has even longer range:

    Here is a map of Taiwan’s Pave Paws radar, which stretches from Mindanao in the southeast clockwise around to Japan in the northeast and has a reported range of 3100 miles.

    Surely South Korean and China have their own radars covering variously at least parts of the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan. And unlike less professionally managed systems in less contentious regions, I imagine these radars to be in high alert all time. That means a coverup would require complicity from many more nations and from nations that are not usually all that cooperative with each other.

  29. @OXY. As you may know, ELMS load shedding categories and sequence are:
    • Galley Loads
    • Utility buses
    • Equipment cooling vent fan
    • Galley chillers
    • Recirculation fans
    • Lavatory/galley fans
    • Electronic seat equipment
    • Hydraulic pumps

    In the Training Manual there is detail as to the ‘electronic seat equipment’ systems, video and audio, that are shed. They include the EPSEC.
    (From TM 23-34-00 p14, “The MULTP AUDIO ENTMT circuit breakers connects (sic) 115V ac through the AEP relay to the EPESC. The ENTMT CTRL L circuit breaker connects 28V dc to the AEP relay. The ELMS electronic unit connects a ground to energise the relay during load shedding. When the relay energises, it removes the power from the components.”)

    As to your description of the EPESC as the interface between the IFE and SDU, there is no functional description of it that I can find in the TM. In the 777-300 Maintenance Manual it says it, “…supplies an interface to the Cabin Telecommunications Unit (CTU) for in-flight telephone service.” The CTU is between the EPSEC and SDU. Still, I would have thought that lack of the EPESC could well prevent IFE connections; though “packet data service” aspects are beyond my ken.

    A reason for the 00:21-and-onwards lack of IFE connection, following those that were successful at 18:27 & 28, could be the different generating capacity. For example assuming left main bus restoration led to the earlier connections there might have been two IDGs on line then, with no load shedding.

    I doubt there was just one if EPESC loss means no IFE connection. Had there been that plus a backup generator (as would be likely), that power would have been enough for ‘essential services’ according to a 1992 paper written on the 777 electrical design by Andrade (Sundstrand) and Tenning (Boeing). From my interpolation of a figure in that paper ‘essential services’ includes an avionics load of 6 kVA only, whereas a book by Philip Birtles, “Boeing Jetliner for the New Century” at page 60 says, “……while the in-flight passenger entertainment system alone requires 22 kVA in the 777.”

    To my mind much of that would be in the hundreds of seat displays and control boxes and ‘essential services’ would not include the IFE.

    At 00:21 with the APU plus up to 7kVA from the RAT, load shedding would have been at least as extensive. Based on the above that would lead to lack of IFE connection as you suggest.

    Another deduction is that quite likely there would need to be two IDGs on line for the first log-on (or conceivably one plus the APU).

  30. @David
    “Another deduction is that quite likely there would need to be two IDGs on line for the first log-on (or conceivably one plus the APU).”

    That’s a controversial conclusion. I am thinking turning off IDG’s loads maybe how how MH370 got so much power to ascend to FL430+ at IGARI and also got the speed up. Of course, once the pilot turns off IDG’s they are off for good.

    But if you can prove that, that is important. But also indicates people like Boeing/JIT might know exactly what the electronic options are, but us mere mortals have to guess at the many secrets not disclosed on this accident. Secrets include Malaysia military radar and military non-response explanation, aircraft specifics such as reasons for lack of IFE logon etc.

    So it is somewhat a lost cause to figure out this tragedy without insider knowledge of various types. Generally we only know that apparently the JIT orginally pressured Razak to finally admit on 15-March-2014 apparent intentional diversion, and Razak seemed to be in total agreement with that conclusion until he left power.

  31. @Peter Norton: “The radar data (if correct) showed unusual high speed.”

    The radar data showed not only speeds that were well above approved limits, but alao speed variations that are not compatible with autopiloted flight.

  32. @David

    Thanks for your reply. Is there a diagram?

    If the Enhanced Passenger Entertainment Controller System (EPECS) is load shed (ie Power is automatically removed), then the IFE (InFlight Entertainment) will be unable to establish its Data-3 connection via SATCOM (Satellite Communications) after 00:19.

    This means, it’s possible that the aircraft was airborne longer and that the aircraft crashed further from the seventh arc.

  33. @Scott O:

    Thank you for the very interesting links regarding radar in the Korea strait. I have to admit that though I had considered this a potential problem I wasn’t aware in this detail and yes you have a point. As I said I am not a fan of Russia theories anyway and haven’t looked into it in greater detail. I wonder whether it would be possible to “dive under” those radars in the Korea Strait. Also, another “Russia” possibility would be Sakhalin I presume – a route south of Taiwan, then staying east of Japan, then Sakhalin. That avoids any radars at all. I have to say that I would still prefer this theory to any “western” theories if it had to be a “Russia” theory. The logical problem with this however would be that if Russia had hijacked the plane where it initially went dark and then took it to Sakhalin, you could argue that there would not have been a need for the very very complex and resource intensive red herring of creating that satellite data and some wreckage in Africa. Presumably they could have simply “switched” “everything” off (if you assume they would have been able to falsify the sat data, evidently they would also have been able to just switch really everything, including the SDU, “off” completely and leave no trace at all.) Without sag data and a route as described above nobody would have come up with the idea that the plane could have been flown to Sakhalin. So the existence of the sat data implies for me that the perp is someone who would have been more obviously under suspicion without such sat data.

    To me, the likely falsifying of the famous satellite data actually seems a very important clue to this mystery. If it is really true that the perp went to such lengths to create this false lead, then the obvious question would be why go to such troubles. I mean, as it stands the plane disappeared without a trace, and presumably it could have been equally “disappeared” without such a complex false lead (if such it is, but it seems ever more likely). If the perp went to such great trouble to shift attention and focus to a route west and create highly sophisticated satellite data seemingly to prove that the plane went either into the SIO or maybe to Kazakhstan (but in any case WEST! WEST!! WEST!!!!!), what might one conclude? I challenge you to ponder, where would suspicion have fallen if there was no satellite data?!

  34. MH370 could have flown the normal route to Beijing but only fly past towards a military base near Vladivostok.. perhaps it was looking all so normal until it flew past Beijing mostly over land and not into other countries’ radars.

  35. @MH

    Well in the case that you describe it would not have looked normal because it would have been dark and wouldn’t have responded to calls. Even though I might be willing to accept the possibility of Vietnam and Beijing taking a “wait and see” approach in such a case (under the assumption that it might be a technical issue), at the latest after deviating from the intended flight plan after Beijing I would assume China to scramble. Even if they hadn’t done that for unclear reasons your theory would at the least imply that Beijing would know that it was Russia, and then what? The question would remain, why would Russia do that, why would they do it to China, why would they create false satellite data, etc etc. An act like this with full knowledge of china would be tantamount to war no?? Also, Vladivostok is an hour flight time from Beijing so “going past Beijing and swiftly landing in Vladivostok before the Chinese notice something is up” wouldn’t quite work, the Chinese would have had plenty of time to scramble.

  36. By the way, the reasoning I laid out in the last paragraph of my post from 2:07 also applies to the Kazakhstan theory (and frankly pretty much kills it – apologies Jeff). Here the argument goes:

    If we follow JW in assuming that a perp abducted the plane, flew it undetected across Malaysia, then turned north and managed to fly undetected all the way to Kazakhstan, and we further follow JW in assuming that the perp would have been able to falsify the Doppler shift portion of the data, then we can (should) ask the following: why should such a perp at all go to the trouble of falsifying any sat data?? Would a perp able to falsify sat data in such an expert manner as proposed by JW not presumably also be able to simply switch “everything” off, including all satellite transmitting equipment, and make sure the plane remains completely dark from the point of last contact all the way to Kazakhstan? If a perp had managed to fly the plane all the way to Kazakhstan undetected, would there have at all reasonably been a need/rationale to create a false trail into the SIO by way of such a highly complex deception?? If there had been no sat data at all, would anyone have come up with the thought that the plane could have gone to Kazakhstan?? No way!!

  37. @OXY. “Is there a diagram?”

    Yes. Generally I am reluctant to post these pages despite their carrying no ‘copyright’, except where the gain to be had is demonstrable.
    Under (please read the previous quote in conjunction):

    “This means, it’s possible that the aircraft was airborne longer and that the aircraft crashed further from the seventh arc.”

    Yes, though there is uncertainty still as to whether “electronic seat equipment” would be load shed with just the one main generator. Load shedding could be automatic based on configuration or alternatively on actual load. If the latter some of the loading allowed for under ‘essential services’ requirements might not be needed, for example electric power for hydraulic pumps. The windmilling engines might provide sufficient hydraulics to obviate that need. In that case there might be enough to power the electronic seat equipment including the EPSEC.

    @TBill. “Of course, once the pilot turns off IDG’s they are off for good.”

    I think you are thinking of a disconnect. They can be ‘turned off’ without that.

  38. @David

    Thanks again.

    It’s possible that the missing IFE (InFlight Entertainment) connection after 00:19 is simply due to load shedding of power to the EPESC (Enhanced Passenger Entertainment System Controller).

    What about the missing Flight ID during SATCOM log-on?

    We know that the Flight ID was not manually cleared via the MCDU (Multi-Function Control Display Unit) in the cockpit (Safety Information Report 2.5.2), but was more likely due to the SDU (Satellite Data Unit) not receiving it from AIMS (Airplane Information Management System).

    Is there a diagram which shows the path of the Flight ID/ICAO Address to the SDU from AIMS?

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