The MH370 Miracle (updated)

If after nearly five years the disappearance of MH370 is still regarded as an unsolved (and perhaps unsolvable) mystery, that’s because something that happened in the course of MH370’s vanishing is generally talked about as if it were unremarkable when in fact it is ridiculously unprecedented to the point of being virtually impossible. And if that fact could be more generally understood, the case would seem a lot less mysterious.

Call it the MH370 miracle.

OK, back up. Here’s the story of MH370 in a nutshell: a plane takes off and vanishes from air-traffic control radar. Weeks later, it turns out that the plane had reversed course, flown through an area of primary radar coverage, and then vanished from that. It’s gone. It’s dark. Off the grid. There is absolutely no way that anyone is ever going to know where this plane went.

Then a miracle happened. Something that has never happened before in the history of air travel and in all likelihood will never happen again. It’s this: three minutes after disappearing from primary radar, the plane began sending out a signal. A signal with unique and wonderful properties.

A Miracle Signal.

The general public has never heard about the remarkableness of this occurrence. It has been glossed over entirely. The ATSB and the mainstream press talk about the signal as something generated as a matter of course, like the cell phone data carelessly left behind by a fugitive criminal. But the Inmarsat data set is not like that at all. Not only was it not normal, it was unprecedented and produced in a way that cannot be explained.

Those of you have have been following the case know what event I’m talking about. At 18:25 UTC, MH370 starts sending signals to one of the satellites in the Inmarsat fleet: Inmarsat-3 F1, aka IOR, hovering in geostationary orbit over the equator at 64.5 degrees east.

The standard story goes like this: “Then scientists studying the signal realized that it contained clues about where the plane went.”

What gets omitted is how completely bonkers this is. In fact, there are two insane things going on here.

The first is that the signal exists at all. As far as I know, never in the history of commercial aviation has a plane been flying around with all of its communications equipment turned off, except for this one piece of gear. It. Just. Never. Happens.

Not ever.

Now at this point you might say, “But these were extraordinary circumstances, the plane had just been hijacked.” Okay, sure. But the point is that in order for this signal to exist, the hijacker/s must have done something extraordinary to the electrical system, something that pilots never normally do, that isn’t called for in any checklist, and for which there is no rational explanation that anyone has been able to come up with. And yet—voila! There it is, right at the exact moment it’s needed.

The second insane thing about the Miracle Signal is that it just so happens that this fortuitously appearing signal has embedded within it revelatory information—the BFO. Now, under any but miraculous circumstances, you would not expect this signal to tell you anything about the planes position or velocity. It’s a communications signal. It’s designed specifically to not have any navigational information. But lo and behold, it turns out that because of a quirky convergence of happenstance, the system is working in an unusual way that does indeed provide a hint—but only a hint!—of where the plane is going in a way that cannot be cross-checked with any other source.

This is the astonishing convergence:

1. The plane is equipped with a piece of equipment called an SDU that was manufactured by Thales. If this box had come from the other leading manufacturer, Rockwell Collins, there would have been no navigational information in the BFO data.

2. The plane is flying under the footprint of a satellite that is past its design lifespan and has run low on the fuel it requires for stationkeeping and so has started to wander in its orbit. If it had been functioning as designed then there would be no navigational information in the BFO data.

3. The subsequent path of the plane is along a north-south axis. It turns out that the information can’t be used to tell you where the plane traveled with any precision where the plane went, but it can tell you whether it went north or south.

4. The path lies entirely under that one satellite’s area of coverage. If the path had crossed over into another coverage zone, the connection would have been transferred over and the nav information would have been lost (but the direction of flight would have been unambiguously confirmed). For instance, if MH370 had flown east at IGARI instead of west, it would have flown into the coverage zone of POR, aka Inmarsat-3 F3, and re-logged on with that satellite.

5. The path lies entirely over water. If the plane had turned south earlier, or had headed east instead of west, it would have passed over land and either potentially been spotted or detected on radar.

6. MH370 used a satcom service called Classic Aero. If it used a newer, higher grade of service called SwiftBroadband, the transmissions between the plane and the satellite would have included position information.

So when we talk about MH370, and how the plane went into the southern Indian Ocean, what we’re talking about are six hours of data whose existence is nearly as miraculous as a little baby Jesus lying in a manger.

Imagine if the authorities had announced back in March, 2014: “We’ve just realized that after it disappeared from military radar, the plane waited three minutes and then started broadcasting a Miracle Signal. This Miracle Signal has never been seen before, and will never be seen again, and it happens by a crazy quirk of circumstance to provide us a super intriguing clue, but instead of questioning how it came to be, we’re going to just accept the data it’s giving us and treat it as unimpeachable fact.”

Oh, and that’s not the end.

The really gobsmacking thing about the miracle signal is that it took place in the context of a bunch of other equally unlikely things. Namely:

— If the data are accepted as face value, the only explanation for the plane’s behavior is that the captain hijacked his own plane. That means a man with no manifestations of stress or mental illness spontaneously decides to commit mass murder/suicide.

— On top of that, he decides to do it in a way that no suicidal pilot ever has: by waiting impassively hour after hour until his fuel tanks to run dry.

— Once his fuel tanks run dry, he dives the plane toward the ocean, thinks better of it and glides it in what just happens to be the right direction, and then dives it into the ocean once more. This sequence of events is psychologically implausible but is the only way to explain how the plane could have ended up outside a seabed search area the size of Great Britain.

— The debris then floats in a way that is not reconcilable with any known drift model. Despite being adrift for over a year, none of it picks up any biofouling organisms more than a few months old, and the flaperon picks up goose barnacles that somehow manage to grow in the open air.

I’ve always said that the 18:25 reboot is the crucial clue that lies at the heart of the MH370 mystery. What I’m saying now is that it should be understood in even stronger terms: the extreme improbability of the Miracle Signal means that it can’t be construed as an unintentional byproduct of a “normal” suicide flight. It just could not have occured that way by happenstance. It must have been engineered.

One of the most common things you hear from normal people (by that I mean non-obsessives like present company) about MH370 is, “I just can’t believe that in this day and age a modern airliner could just vanish.” Of course, they’re absolutely right. Things don’t just vanish, except in one context: magic. Magicians make rabbits disappear out of hats, then make coins disappear behind kids’ ears, they make themselves disappear behind clouds of smoke.

If you don’t like the idea that something inexplicably miraculous is the handiwork of a magician, then your other option is to suppose that events have been arranged by sheer luck. Indeed, every “innocent” explanation that anyone has proposed to explain the vanishing of MH370—like a pilot suicide scenario, or a lithium battery fire, or accidental depressurization—assumes that the fact that the plane was never found is due to an incredible chain of coincidences.

And sure, bad luck happens in life, but once the odds get astronomical—when you start having to start calculating the odds that a rabbit could spontaneously teleport out of a top hat—then it’s time to start thinking about possible sleights-of-hand.

Here’s a historical analogy. In May of 1942, a Japanese fleet invading New Guinea was attacked by US aircraft carriers in the Coral Sea, suffering heavy damage. How, just half a year after Pearl Harbor, had America’s thinly stretched naval forces managed to intercept the Japanese task force amid the vastness of the Pacific? There were two possibilities. Either the Americans had just gotten lucky, or they had managed to break Japan’s naval cipher, JN-25. The former was a stretch, but the admiralty was certain that the Americans couldn’t have broken their code. A mentality later branded as “Victory Disease” convinced them that they were vastly superior to their enemy. They themselves couldn’t imagine how to break their most sophisticated code, so there was no way the Americans could have done it. The Japanese Navy had nothing to fear.

Then, bad luck hits again. As the Japanese carriers are moving against Midway Island, lo and behold, the beleagured American fleet not only shows up but gets a jump on them, sinking all their aircraft carriers and turning the tide of the war. How lucky could those gaijin get? Apparently really lucky, because the Japanese leadership didn’t understand their codes had been broken until they’d signed their surrender on the deck of the U.S.S. Missouri.

The search officials tasked with finding MH370 were in the same camp as the wartime Japanese. As far as they were concerned, it was inconceivable that they were dealing with an adversary capable of outwitting them. When I asked Mark Dickinson, vice president of satellite operations, how Inmarsat could be certain that the MH370 data hadn’t been tampered with to mislead investigators, he dismissed the idea out hand, saying: “whoever did that would have to have six month’s worth of knowledge of what would happen, in essence have to know how the data would be used.”

To be fair, some among the Japanese leadership were suspicious of the Americans’ good luck all along. And in the case of MH370, some of us have long smelled a rat. Earlier this year David Gallo, the man who found AF447, wrote, “I never accepted the satellite data from day one,” adding: “I never thought I’d say this….I think there is a good chance that MH370 never came south at all. Let’s put it this way, I don’t accept the evidence that the plane came south.” And this fall we learned that investigators conducting the last extant investigation into the disappearance of MH370 are looking into the possibility that the Inmarsat data could have been hacked.

So far, these skeptics are still in the minority, but I think that their numbers will continue to grow. A more people become aware of the circumstances of the MH370 miracle, the penny will continue to drop.

UPDATE 12/23/18: It seems to me that mysteries can be divided into two categories. 

The first I’ll call mysteries of indeterminacy. When Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan departed Lae Island on July 2, 1937, they were flying a primitive aircraft, by modern standards, and relied on the most rudimentary form of navigation. It’s no wonder that they never made it to their intended destination. What we don’t know, and may never know, is where exactly in the western Pacific they crashed.

The second type I’ll call mysteries of inexplicability. When a magician puts a ball into a closed fist, then reopens it to reveal that nothing is there, you’re astonished at how he could have done it. 

In science, the question of whether an unknown planet X lurks at the edge of the solar system is a mystery of indeterminacy. The struggle to reconcile quantum mechanics and relativity is a mystery of inexplicability.

MH370 started out looking like a mystery of indeterminacy. The authorities had a good data set in hand, and developed an analytic method to generate a search area. They were extremely confident that, while they didn’t know exactly where the plane had landed, a few hundred million dollars worth of brute-force seabed scanning would give them an answer.

They turned out to be wrong. The plane wasn’t there. So now we understand that what we’re really grappling with is a mystery of inexplicability. There simply are no simple, widely-accepted explanations for how it could be that the plane wasn’t found. This kind of problem needs to be tackled in a fundamentally different way.

207 thoughts on “The MH370 Miracle (updated)

  1. Jan 2016 – Chinese Fishing Fleet shadowing the ‘official’ MH370 search vessels in the SIO
    Not sure if this was covered by anyone else back in 2016 but a large fleet of Chinese fishing vessels was reported to have been ‘shadowing’ the 3 official MH370 search vessels (FUGRO EQUATOR, FUGRO DISCOVERY, and HAVILA HARMONY).
    In late 2015, MV Havila Harmony was equipped with a side scan sonar in Perth, Australia, and joined the 2 FUGRO ships.

    The AUV aboard Havila Harmony was used to search the most challenging underwater terrain, which could not effectively be searched by the towed sonar used by other vessels in the search.
    On 2 January 2016, the AUV aboard Havila Harmony was used to investigate an anomalous, possibly-man-made seafloor feature; high-resolution sonar imagery from the AUV revealed the feature was a shipwreck, probably an iron or steel vessel from the turn of the 19th century.[9]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MV_Havila_Harmony

    On Jan 5, 2016, the Chinese Fishing Fleet came within a few miles of the HAVILA HARMONY.

    Over the past month we’ve been watching an unusual Chinese fleet in a remote area of the Southern Indian Ocean. These vessels identify themselves as fishing but were not found in any public fishing registry and appear almost 500 miles distant from the nearest known fishing vessels.
    This self-identified fishing fleet is currently operating in very close proximity to vessels searching for Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370). This fleet, with vessels broadcasting the name Fu Yuan Yu, has been in the general search area over the past month but today appears within several miles of the MH370 search vessel Havila Harmony.
    …We’ve shared vessel tracks of the Fu Yuan Yu fleet with members of several regional fisheries management organizations but so far no one has been able to confirm the activity of the fleet though all agree that the location is unusual for fishing vessels.

    https://skytruth.org/2016/01/unusual-vessel-behavior-in-mh370-search/

    The same website reported a few days later that all of the AIS signals from the Chinese fishing fleet were switched off and a single vessel showed up much further north in the Bay of Bengal.

    In Feb 2016, a rescue vessel was sent by the Chinese govt. to join the search efforts.

    MTS Dong Hai Jiu 101 was a rescue and salvage tug supplied by the Chinese government. The vessel joined the search in February 2016; it left the search area on 3 December 2016. In September 2016, Australian media pointed out that the Dong Hai Jiu 101 spent few days participating in the search—an estimated 17–30 days between February and September—but spent a significant amount of time anchored in or near the port of Fremantle; the media suggested that the Chinese vessel was likely engaged in espionage—signals intelligence gathering and monitoring of Australian and allied naval traffic—around the port of Fremantle.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Search_for_Malaysia_Airlines_Flight_370

    Conclusion
    It is widely suspected that the vast partly state-owned commercial fishing fleets from China (and also from Russia/Soviet Union) performed a dual function of both fishing and espionage. The first piece of debris from MH370 washed ashore on Reunion island in July 2015, and Chinese fishing fleet was spotted ‘shadowing’ the search vessels in Jan 2016.
    Clearly, if the Chinese govt. knew of the location of the crash of MH370 it didn’t have to instruct the fishing fleet to press in so closely to the official search vessels when an ‘area of interest’ was discovered. However, the behaviour of the Chinese fishing fleet appears to have triggered a reaction from the Australians because the fleet seems to have disengaged from the search vessels and in its place a Chinese ‘spy’ ship was sent to monitor things.

  2. @JeffW
    Even the more sophisticated home flight sims (such as PMDG) tell the pilot on his EICAS message screen when the SDU is off (for example, if the Left Bus is depowered from the overhead panel). So I find it hard to believe an experienced commerical B777 pilot would be unaware of how the aircraft SDU works as far as satellite coms. To be clear, I believe we probably witnessed a highly expert pilot conducting an extraodinary B777 flight with some “outside the box” manipulation of the flight controls.

    @SteveBarratt
    As a thought experiment, I am curerntly mapping out the logic structure of Freddie’s MH370 extortion plot rumor. Which is how I came up with “victim” terminology I used above. So I would be interested in seeing a counter-proposal where Razak was the perpetrator.

  3. Correction above post:
    Above please delete the word “SDU” and substitute the word “SATCOM”. SATCOM is what pilot’s are very familiar with, SDU is technical jargon that satellite experts talk about, and has become common in MH370 discourse.

  4. @TBill, Good, just to make absolutely sure we’re on the same page, pilots need to worry about whether the SATCOM system as a whole is engaged or not engaged, but the SDU is a part of that system that they would not be familiar with, and the turning on and off of the SDU specifically (as happened during the abduction of MH370) is not something that a line captain would reasonably be expected to know about or know how to carry out.

  5. @JeffW
    Except I would say pilots do know SATCOM can become disabled, because that is part of the standard B777 EICAS alert messages on the pilot’s video screen. For example, when the overhead panel switches on the electrical system are manipulated, if power is removed from the SATCOM, the pilot gets a EICAS message “SATCOM” alert.

    I am thinking of upgrading to PMDG flight sim vs. PSS just so I can better understand what switch configurations turn off the SATCOM. And I am just a flight sim novice with zero experience with flying, except now I know a thing or two.

  6. @TBill, Absolutely essential to distinguish between disabling the SATCOM and powering down the SDU. Also, no flight sim models the electrical wiring of the 777, which is proprietary information closely held by Boeing.

  7. @Vernon Sullivan:
    “…I know the why and where of the MH370 but who will recognize me?…”

    The ‘who’ is also very important to understanding the MH370 affair.

    Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Please inform us of what hard evidence you’ve got.

  8. @ Jeff @all

    The Express here in the UK seem to be running with MH370 articles as of late. Jeff’s Kazakhstan theory got another mention on 29 Dec: MH370 SHOCK: The missing Malaysia Airlines jet could be in Kazakhstan

    https://www.express.co.uk/news/weird/1058788/mh370-news-latest-missing-malaysia-airlines-jet-kazakhstan-indian-ocean

    An interesting paragraph in the article states: “At first, the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak appealed to Kazakhstan’s President, the soviet era leader and Putin ally Nursultan Nazarbayev. Mr Razak asked the Kazakhstani leader to allow Malaysia to set up a search operation in the country. However, this soon got sidelined by the efforts searching in the Indian Ocean…”

    Really??? Did he ask this of every single Northern Arc country? Or just Kazakhstan? In any case, this is news to me…!!!

  9. @JeffW

    Good summary article. You have expressed in the past great respect for the DTSG modelling. I have raised several concerns about their assumptions in past posts. The result is only as the assumptions. But I thought I would raise my concern with the DTSG work again.

    I think it is POSSIBLE that a pilot would perform or program a slow clearing (holding) turn of 360 degrees at least once during the flight. This was specifically excluded from all of the DSTG modelling.

    The undersea search was primarily based on a DTSG statistical Markov simulation model, called a particle filter. The simulation creates many thousands of possible flight paths randomly generated based on specific assumptions of how the aircraft can turn, climb or descend, change speed, and/or change altitude. The dynamic model was trained to represent typical airline flight paths. It was not allowed to ever turn more than 180 degrees for a turn event and the interval between turns was modeled based on airline flights during cruise. Turn intervals would be weighted such that two back to back 180 degree turns would be extremely remote and likely eliminated by the particle filter. The most probable crossing of arc 7 was at 38 S Latitude.

    If DSTG ran the same simulation, but required exactly one 20 minute circle to be randomly made after 19:41, this would have shifted the most probably crossing to the north on arc 7 – maybe above 25 south latitude.

    If you allow that MH370 performed one hold and DSTG reran the filter for this possibility, this would create a new heat map. And each hold would move the crossing up arc 7. Because of the SW-NE slope of the arcs, a hold moves the course between arcs from south to southeast.

  10. Assuming it did not end up in the Southern Indian Ocean as many experts speculate. And assuming the tracking data cannot be truly believed as Mr. Wise is suggesting. Then why would someone to this effort? This is not some school kid hacking a computer to get a peek at a test, and it’s not about creating a distraction from some other world event (Putin didn’t care what others thought of his Crimea annexation). If some group of people (cause you know it was not just one person) went to this amount of trouble to make this plane vanish they would have a motive. So my question to all you followers out there, what was the motive. Some one or thing was on this plane that needed to go away, there would’ve been considerable planning into exactly which plane was going to be taken, it could not have been a random selection. Forget about where it ended up (even if it’s even there yet) and how it got there (or will get there)…why was it so important that this plane and all that were in it and on it never see the light of day again?

  11. @David, I noticed the same thing, and spent a couple hours last night searching the web for images of similar floating debris. One particularly good source is here: http://iprc.soest.hawaii.edu/PICES-MoE-database/

    #151 is particularly good. Overall it seems clear that Lepas can grow to healthy size above what would be the waterline in calm seas. I find this surprising, obviously, and would like to study the matter more, but I think the evidence is strong enough that I should back away from the assertion that the distribution of barnacles on the flaperon in itself is evidence of tampering.

    Having looked through a considerable number of images, I am also struck by how consistently and heavily encrusted these floating things are. If a piece spends time ashore it can quickly become bleached and picked clean, but pieces that are found floating should not be clean.

    Then of course there is the issue of the age of the fouling organisms found on the debris.

  12. @Hank
    It goes almost without saying the orig DSTG analysis prioitzed for passive flight with least maneuers, and assuming the FMT turn south was completed early (by 1840). But I would say the second part of the search by OI from 35 South up to 25 South was less guided by DSTG analysis, and more guided by the final BFO’s which have been interpreted to show a crash somewhere near Arc7 (+/-25nm). Many observers would like to resume the search and keep going north on Arc7 to 20 South.

    You are voicing a frustration that I share that more could possibly be done to predict/model end points for active pilot flights, but maneuvers can take the aircraft pretty much anywhere, so if you model that, you get no solution, unless of course we start making assumptions what the maneuvers were, and that gets us back to any assumptions made dictate the results we get. Nonetheless a series of scenarios might gives us more some clues.

  13. @JeffW – maybe the lack significant population of lepas on found debris may indicate a less amount of time in the ocean. It would have shown more evidence of previous Lepas growth even if picked clean when debris items was found.

  14. @Jeff Wise. Yes, while the expert opinion encountered in ATSB reports is that they attach up to just below water level it seems that that is in a static situation and awash is good enough for and after attachment. An occasional dip maybe is all they need dynamically.

    Conceivably their initial survival, growth rate and longevity is affected by frequency.

    We look to be in a research vacuum here.

    PS # 151 seems to be missing from the data base. Incidentally, intriguing that #54 is described as having no bio fouling.

  15. @TBill
    Thanks for your response to my post.

    I have been mostly bothered by the deference given to the DTSG particle filter (PF) modelling, which to me looked like a flashy science project based on very flawed assumptions. Over $200 million spend searching based on a ghost ship model. Inmarsat used a different approach to define the surface search at the beginning, but the DTSG approach was used for the undersea search.

    I realize that with any maneuvering this expands the problem, but maneuvers can’t take the aircraft almost anywhere. Maybe half of anywhere. 🙂 All of the arc crossing constraints still apply. The net effect of maneuvers between two arcs would be shift the flight path to the east because of the SW-NE slope of the arcs. I can accept the some holds maybe could shift the arc 7 crossing above 25 S.

    If a pilot wanted to fly to fuel exhaustion but decouple the maximum range and maximum endurance problem to complicate any post-incident simulations, this can easily be done using a few holds. This makes sense even if thee pilot knows nothing about SATCOM pings.

    On another blog that you contribute to someone was recently suggesting some hold-like maneuver near the Cocos Islands. If true, this would shift the arc 7 crossing north.

    I support the north of 25 S concept.

  16. Jeff Wise: “@Niu Yunu, I’m not sure what comment you’re referring to, your last two comments have posted without problem–why don’t you try again?”

    @Jeff Wise: I have tried twice, same result. I suppose my comments have gone to your spam folder or moderation folder. Could you check them? Thanks.

  17. Jeff Wise: “I don’t know what the motive would be to get a plane so high, given that the result is that you would wind up having to fly slower, since the speed of sound (and hence true airspeed for a given Mach number) decreases with altitude.” (source)

    Jeff Wise: “Real basic point: you’re flying higher, you’re flying slower. You want to go fast […] you just fly lower.” (source)

    @Jeff Wise, your comments got picked up over on aviation.SE:
    https://aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/57209/how-does-maximum-speed-vary-with-altitude

    I always thought that you can go faster at higher altitude.
    Could you please explain why you think this is not the case ?
    (preferably as an answer over there if possible, or otherwise here)

  18. @Niu Yunu, I see the problem. If you try to include more than two links it goes to the spam filter. So, if you want to post multiple links just put them in separate posts.

  19. @Niu Yunu, One of the commenters on that site had this to say: “You’ll fly the fastest through the air at the altitude at which your VNE and your MMO match. Higher than that, you MMO is limiting, and you can fly your MMO but your indicated airspeed will decrease as you climb — and your TAS will decrease as well, since the speed of sound (of which you’re now flying a constant fraction) is going down with the colder temperatures. Below that crossover altitude, your VNE (i.e. limit in indicated airspeed) is limiting, and it’s immaterial what the speed of sound is — you simply can’t fly faster than the VNE, and you aren’t getting as much benefit from the delta between TAS and IAS at lower altitudes.”

    I should be clear that I was talking about flying at cruise altitudes, where airspeed is indicated in Mach. If you’re flying at 10,000 feet, it’s true (as I understand it) that going higher will let you go faster. It’s kind of a complicated topic and I’m pretty tired so forgive me…

  20. Jeff Wise. Thanks. There can be implications for the various studies done on growth rate vs temperature and thence possible routes. Maybe submersion and exposure frequency and aggregate and extreme times would enter into that for some. A clue as the effect would be any gradation in size from most exposed to least, which could indicate differing growth rates and/or longevity.

    While this may be unknown territory it does seem possible that the work done on ages of samples in France and Australia depends on the site of the sample.

  21. @David, I spent a tremendous amount of time talking to experts about the possibilities of determining where the flaperon might have drifted from based on chemical analysis of the Lepas shells. Unfortunately, it turned out that the shells sent for analysis were only about a month old.

  22. If they came from a less immersed area they would have less access to food and life would be more arduous between wettings, particularly in calm weather. Could they have been much older if from there, ie runts? Or is shell growth like annual rings in a tree?

  23. @Niu Yunu:

    VMO and MMO are maximum operating airspeeds which must not be deliberately exceeded. With autopilot and autothrottle engaged those systems will prevent exceedance of the limit speeds. With autoflight systems disengaged the pilot can exceed these speeds either inadvertently or intentionally. The maximum speed that can be attained in level flight is determined by the engine thrust available. The maximum engine thrust is defined by the thrust ratings embedded in the Electronic Engine Control system (EEC), but these can also be exceeded by the pilot, up to some physical limit.

  24. It seems very obvious to me that he did it. The simplest explanation usually tends to be the correct one. A plane took off, communication signal was turned off, it veered course, and flew South over the ocean for the next 6 hours. I mean, duh? Obviously the pilot did this. The plane didn’t do it on its own. I’m not sure why this is still such a big mystery… I suppose people dont want to believe an airline pilot would do something like this. Which is understandable.

  25. @LadyPilot, The story is only simple if you leave out the details of the case. I can’t imagine, for instance, that you’ve read the above post.

  26. @LadyPilot: Of course, “The plane didn’t do it on its own.”

    That’s the simple part. But who did the piloting, and for what purpose did he do it?

  27. @TBill: Two sentences quoted from your paper:

    “They will insist that the fact is not true despite what may be overwhelming and irrefutable evidence”
    “On the other hand, as soon as possible pilot involvement is invoked, some people require super-proof or will totally reject the possibility unless of course the evidence is, well, undeniable.

    Despite the fact that there is no “overwhelming and irrefutable evidence” in support of the pilot suicide theory, some people require super-proof or will totally reject other possibilities unless of course the evidence is, well, undeniable.

  28. @Gysbreght
    The first quote is not by me, just generic definition of denial.
    The second quote is my personal editorial comment or perception, which you are free to critique, and I will consider.

    I would agree we do not have defintive 100% proof yet so we have to infer what happened from the evidence we do have. I believe there could be cultural differences in how evidence is weighed.

  29. @Gysbreght, @TBill, I think we’re all pretty familiar with the reasons why Zaharie might be considred a prime suspect. What I’d like to propose is that, going forward, whatever theory one wants to grapple with should be weighed against the question: how does this explain the SDU reboot?

    Historically, the answer of choice has been “I don’t know,” but I don’t think that’s acceptable given that the SDU reboot is the core clue of the whole case.

    If there is no way that the captain could plausibly have caused this unprecedent, uniquely meaningful and yet misleading data set to appear, then he should be abandoned as a suspect.

  30. @Jeff Wise:

    I think that the facts that some people like to cite as ‘evidence’ for the captain’s suicidal tendencies are weak and debatable.

    On the other hand, I don’t think that the SDU reboot is of much help one way or the other. Whether the captain or somebody else was in control, he was possibly not aware that an action to reconfigure the electrical system would produce “this unprecedent (sic), uniquely meaningful and yet misleading data set”.

  31. @Gysbreght
    I have not prepared paper on that question. I do not know what the pilot might have had in mind (diversion to airport or intentional crash). I am open, but tend to feel the latter case is what we saw. Right now I am focus on a different subject per below.

    @JeffW
    To answer your question from my perspective, the pilot turned on SATCOM because he knew that would transmit a Satellite logon for the world to see. At the same time, the pilot did not want to leave any explicit evidence as to exactly who was diverting the aircraft.

  32. @all

    If Zaharie piloted this aircraft for the entire flight, that does not mean his purpose was suicide. The 9/11 hijackers were not committing suicide, but they did die as a result of their mission. Zaharie may have planned this as a mission and there would be no behavior trail typical of suicide. His purpose may have been to embarrass the government – he succeeded in this mission.

    If concerns over the SATCOM reset rule out Zaharie, then someone else did it, and that someone could have piloted the aircraft on a mission to the SIO.

  33. @TBill, This is the fatal flaw in the Zaharie scenario–there’s simply no way he could be expected to know about the existence of the SDU, let alone that it when not in use it would respond to hourly pings from the ground station. This is why I keep saying that the reboot implies a sophisticated perpetrator.

  34. @Gysbreght, What I’m saying is that there is no plausible explanation by which a pilot like Zaharie would reconfigure the electrical system in this way. What’s more, pilots do not just go around reconfiguring perfectly good electrical systems.

    This is why I correctly predicted four years ago that the seabed search would be unsuccessful.

  35. Does anyone know where the SDU gets the position/velocity information used to make those doppler offset calculations? Could a malfunction or deliberate manipulation of that input data have caused a similar result? If GPS is the source of that information would a spoofed GPS signal be enough?

  36. @Jason Skidmore, From my ebook “The Plane That Wasn’t There”:

    In order to perform its frequency adjustment algorithm it obtains location and speed information via a 1/8” cable which connects to a box called the Internal Reference System, or IRS, in a compartment 100 feet further forward in the airplane. This compartment is called the electronics and equipment bay, or E/E bay.
    On planes built by Boeing (but not Airbus) the E/E bay is accessible during flight through an unlocked hatch located in the floor at the front of the first-class cabin. If you climb down into the E/E bay and disconnect the SDU cable from the IRS, you could plug it into a piece of electronics that’s generating false position information. (Such gear would have to be manufactured from scratch; “there are certainly no commercial, off-the-shelf boxes like that,” says Exner.) In essence, the signal would be lying to the SDU about where the plane was located and how fast it was going. The SDU would therefore then transmit at a slightly incorrect frequency. If you knew how the satellite communication business worked, you would know that Inmarsat computers would automatically log this information, and that in all likelihood Inmarsat engineers would later find this information and be misled. You would have created a false trail of breadcrumbs.

  37. @JeffW

    I submit that it is a grave mistake to assume that Z did not know anything about the SDU, or anything else for that matter.

    Look at his career profile. He was a life long career MAS pilot from his earliest cadet days in his early 20’s. He grew up in the airline, progressing from aircraft type to aircraft type, He was trained on each aircraft and its systems along the way, and we know he was a tech nerd to boot. When SATCOM was introduced to the fleet, he would have been trained on that too, and most likely took a deeper interest in it’s working than most other pilot. But, more to the point, he also knew the groundies like brothers, who they were, what they did, who looked after what, who knew what, etc. If he wanted detailed engineering information on something, he knew exactly where to go, and precisely who to ask, to get it.

    Those reported phone conversations with the MAS engineer not long before the flight are a giant red flag. I can not fathom why everyone ignores them, and the possible, even probable, significance of them. The engineer in question was identified from the phone records, and was interviewed by the Police, and others, yet there is no public information on the content of those calls, or the interviews. Why not ? This is the biggest red flag waving at us, but no one is looking, let alone sees it.

    I reject the suicide notion(s) outright, both the simple suicide scenario(s) and the it is not a suicide because it does not fit the profile of suicides, because, it was not a suicide as such, in the first place. Those who pursue “suicide” theories are barking up the wrong tree.

    I think it is clear, beyond any doubt, or argument, that Z was a man on a mission, his objective being to precipitate the fall of a corrupt (to the core) regime in his beloved country. It was a meticulously well planned, and brilliantly executed mission. The fact that it entailed the demise of all aboard was deliberate, because it needed to be. The reboot of the SDU was a crucial part of the plan, to show that the aircraft had flown for hours to fuel exhaustion, and had definitely not crashed in the SCS. He hoped, that the inability to find MH370, would be enough to bring down the government. As it turned out, it wasn’t by itself, but as part of the mix, with 1MD, that finally happened.

  38. @Ventus45:

    “If he wanted detailed engineering information on something, he knew exactly where to go, and precisely who to ask, to get it.” I agree. Therefore the SDU reboot does not help to eliminate the captain as a suspect.

    “Those who pursue “suicide” theories are barking up the wrong tree.”

    I agree. But the alternative you propose makes even less sense.

    A meticulously well planned, and brilliantly executed mission that was totally ineffective in its purpose ?

    Yes, the government fell, years later, in regular elections, and that had nothing to do with MH370. The MH370 catastrophy had zero impact on the political climate in Malaysia.

  39. @Ventus
    I would say Razak handled MH370 extremely well as far as minimizing politcal impact. He accomplished this by not giving credit to ZS. Razak downplayed that the MH370 loss was probably an attack on his regime, which meant next day he said he was clueless what happened to MH370.

  40. @Ventus45; @TBill:

    Captain Zaharie Shah was not some deranged person.

    I think that it is absurd to suggest that he believed that by silently crashing a MAS airliner with pax and crew he would precipitate the fall of Razak’s regime.

  41. @Gysbreght
    Noted. But just between me and @Ventus45, I would say Razak handled MH370 well, assuming the tragedy was the playing out of a Malaysian inside political intrigue scenario.

  42. @TBill @Ventus45 @Gysbreght

    You all three seem to agree on the major theme. This was a mission planned and executed by Zaharia for a political objective, not suicide, with a specific purpose to take the aircraft full of Chinese passengers and plant it at the bottom of the SIO at a remote location and with minimum fuel slick and surface debris at impact. The aircraft is still missing, so this mission was well executed. He could not control how the government would spin the event. But this clearly is a major embarrassment. I agree this is a very likely scenario.

    I believe Zaharia would have executed one or more holding circles to mess with any max range, max duration simulations. Required if he knew anything about Satcom BTO, but good practice to avoid being at max range when fuel is exhausted. As I noted before, the holds have the effect of moving the arc 7 crossing north of the heat map defined by DTSG and maybe above 25S.

    I wish ATSB/DTSG would rerun their particle filter simulation with one or two preplanned 20 minute holds just to see where the heat maps move.

  43. @Hank
    I personally would not put @Gysbreght in the same grouping. But for those that are thinking intentional diversion by pilot, political motive is probably highest on the list. It is hard to get from that hypothesis to aircraft location, unfort. For example, @Ventus is out at 38S or so. I am more with you.

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