The Drive: The Crucial Clue MH370 Investigators Missed

Angus Houston, chief coordinator of the Joint Agency Coordination Centre

[Note: this piece ran today on TheDrive.com. It hits upon some points I’ve made here previously, but ties them together more concisely than I’ve managed in the past and also fits into the series of major points and revelations I want to make over the next few days. So bear with me… thanks!]

This much we know: Precisely five seconds after MH370 left Malaysia-controlled airspace, someone turned off all of the communications equipment and cranked the plane into a hard left-hand turn. Beneath a clear starry sky, the plane completed a one-eighty, skirted the edge of Thai airspace, and barreled over the Malay peninsula. Hanging a right around the island of Penang, it flew pedal-to-the-metal up the Malacca Strait. Then, an hour and 20 minutes after takeoff, at 18:22:12 universal time, it slipped off military radar coverage.

At this point, MH370 had gone completely dark. It could have flown anywhere in the world and no one would have been the wiser. But then something happened—something that might rank as the strangest part of a very strange story. Two minutes after it slipped out of radar coverage, someone turned the power to an obscure piece of equipment called the Satellite Data Unit, or SDU, back on. One minute later, at exactly 18:25, the SDU finished its reboot process and reconnected with the Inmarsat communications satellite orbiting 22,000 miles over the Indian Ocean.

Over the course of the next six hours, the plane exchanged hourly pings with Inmarsat. These pings didn’t contain any overt information about the location of the plane—this is a communications system, not a navigational one—but by closely examining the associated metadata, scientists were able to extract clues about where the plane had gone. Their analysis led them to a patch of ocean 1,500 miles west of Australia. The plane, they deduced, must be within this area.

Five years later, we know they were wrong. The plane wasn’t there. Hundreds of millions of dollars were spent scouring the seabed with the latest technology, only to ascertain that the plane’s endpoint lay nowhere within an area the size of Great Britain. How could this be? The Australian investigators in charge of the search have declared that based on their analysis, the search has exhausted “all prospective areas for the presence of MH370.”

One of their assumptions must have been wrong, obviously. But which one? Continue reading The Drive: The Crucial Clue MH370 Investigators Missed

Wouldn’t MH370 Have Been Seen By Radar If It Went North?

The flight line at Hetian, China’s largest airbase in the extreme west of the country, shows only intermittant use, with jets on the field in September, 2013 (left) but none a month later (right).

[Note: As I wrote earlier this week, I’ve released an ebook “The Taking of MH370” summing up my research into the disappearance of MH370. For those who haven’t already read it I’m planning over the next few days to excerpt some of the chapters that I think will be the most useful in driving the conversation forward. Here is the chapter in which I explore the state of radar surveillance along the northern route.]

It seems like a common-sense assumption that most countries routinely monitor their whole airspace. That, however, turns out not to be the case. Military radar is expensive to build and requires a lot of electricity and manpower to operate. Unless there is a valuable target to defend, and missiles and planes capable of defending it with, running a radar station 24/7 is a waste of resources. So in most parts of the world coverage is like Swiss Cheese in reverse—the gaps far outnumber the areas under surveillance.

“During the Cold War, we got used to the concept that the radar is constantly on and jets are scrambled if anything unexpected is seen” Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Asia, told the Wall Street Journal in 2014. “We sort of expect that to be the normal response, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into comprehensive coverage in other parts of the world.”

Still, there are areas of the world that probably are under watch for most of the time. It would be interesting to know if MH370’s presumed northern route passed through any of them.

Let’s start with the beginning of the route. A half hour after leaving the Malacca Strait, according to the DSTG’s calculations, the plane would have passed over the Andaman Islands. The islands belong to India, which maintains a radar station there. But the radar is only turned on when a crisis is looming, which wasn’t the case on March 8. “We operate on an ‘as required’ basis,” the chief of staff of India’s Andamans and Nicobar Command told Reuters. Continue reading Wouldn’t MH370 Have Been Seen By Radar If It Went North?

New MH370 Book Ties It All Together

As readers of this blog well know, I’ve spent the last five years delving into every aspect of the disappearance of MH370, looking at everything from orbital decay and flight dynamics to marine worms and garbage patches. I’ve presented a lot of my findings in this space, and worked through some of the questions and difficulties with the help of a superb group of readers. Much of what I’ve found, however, had to be kept under wraps for fear of undermining further reporting.

With the five-year anniversary upon us I feel that the time has come to put it all together into a single narrative that lays out what we know and suggests how we can best make sense of it. And so, ladies and gentlemen, I here present:

The cover was designed by my lovely wife and I think it is peachy.

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be walking readers through some of my most important findings. If you want to cut to the chase, you can click through the image above and get a copy of the ebook right now. It hardly needs saying but I would be extremely grateful to anyone who does and even more so if you leave a positive comment. {here endeth the shill}

The quest to unravel the mystery of MH370 is something that all of us have poured ourselves into for a very long time. At times the journey has been exciting, at times it has been exasperating or even despair-inducing. But the goal has always seemed important. And bit by bit we’ve steadily made progress, building up an impressive depth of knowledge about every aspect of the case.

Five years on, many people in the wider world believe that MH370 is an unsolvable mystery. That’s due in no small part to the fact that the two countries primarily in charge of the case, Australia and Malaysia, have given up. Adding to the general dismay is the fact that countless ideas have been put forward, some of high quality and some of low; the press has generally been unable to tell the difference, so everything gets lumped together into the stew of conspiracy theory. “Nothing is true and everything is possible,” as the saying goes.

Those of us who’ve had the opportunity to dive into the technical minutiae have a much clearer picture of where things stand. We’ve worked through which things are possible and which are not. By carefully tackling the evidence at hand, I believe we can arrive at a well-founded understanding of what happened to the plane and why.

The most important thing I can say about the case is this: it has been a collective undertaking, and I am extremely grateful to my collaborators, the readers of this blog. I haven’t always seen eye to eye with everyone all the time, and many of you may may feel that at times I’ve been kind of an asshole. But I hope not! At any rate I appreciate your patience, your enthusiasm, your ideas, and above all your determination to see this thing through to some kind of an ending.

More to come soon…

Identity of MH370 Mystery Caller Revealed

Kristin Shorten, a journalist working for The Australian newspaper, has published an article revealing that the aircraft engineer with whom MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had a 45-minute phone conversation prior to the missing flight was Shah’s cousin.

The call had been the subject of speculation since it was mentioned in the leaked Malaysian police report. Folder 4 of the report, entitled ‘SKMM Analysis’, states:

The analysis on the phone call made and received by MH370 Pilot showed that he received noticeably long call duration from 019-3394874, registered under Zuihaimi Wahidin, an aircraft engineer who works for Malaysian Airlines System Berhad. The call was made on 2 February 2014 at 9:49 am for 45 minutes. Further analysis showed no indication that the two have called each other from January to March 2014. Records also showed that Zulhaimi made an attempt to call the MH370 Pilot on 8 March 2014, when the aircraft is announced to be missing.

Who was Zuihaimi, and why did he call Shah before and after the plane’s disappearance? Had he, perhaps, provided Shah with the technical expertise needed to abscond with the plane?Shorten’s story puts paid to such speculation.

Speaking for the first time, former Malaysia Airlines engineer Zulhaimi Bin Wahidin ridiculed conspiracy theories that he had provided Zaharie with technical details to enable him to hijack his own aircraft. In an exclusive interview, Mr Zulhaimi told The Australian he was Zaharie’s first cousin, had been close to him all of his life, and insisted the experienced airline captain was not the sort of man who would take himself and 238 passengers and crew to their deaths.
Mr Zulhaimi last called Zaharie on February 2, 2014 — just weeks before MH370 vanished during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. Royal Malaysian Police interviewed Mr Zulhaimi “three or four” times at his home and police headquarters following the plane’s disappearance on March 8, 2014, because of their suspicion he had provided his cousin with the technical advice to hijack the Boeing 777.
“I was at police headquarters for three days. It spanned from morning to evening,” Mr Zulhaimi said. “I told them that Zaharie is a smart guy. He doesn’t need me to get all of the information.” Mr Zulhaimi noted that Zaharie was a highly experienced aviator who held licences to train and test other pilots. “So he knew a lot about the aircraft.”

Zulhaimi insisted that Shah could not have been responsible for hijacking the plane.

Mr Zulhaimi, who now works for a different airline, feels “uneasy” about his cousin’s “name being tarnished”.

“They’re trying to blame him for what happened and it’s very hard for me to swallow that because he’s not that kind of a person,” he said.

“He was a jovial person. He had a lot of money. He was enjoying his life. Why would he kill himself for no reason? He had a good family and a good life. Successful children. I don’t think people are crazy (enough) to kill themself for nothing. Of course (he is innocent).”

While most staff at Malaysia Airlines knew the men were related, police initially did not. “I asked them to get all of the information from the telco company to see how many times he has been calling me,” Mr Zul haimi said. “When they found that he had been calling me so many times for the last 10 years then they did not question me anymore. They knew it was a genuine relationship.”

The father of three said Zaharie was actually “like a brother”. “He’s my father’s younger brother’s son,” he said. “We share the same grandfather. So that was the reason why (we had that phone call). Nothing more than that.”

Shorten points out that questions about the call had been brought to the fore by the Independent Group.

Police suspicions about the phone call became public when their initial investigative report from May 2014 was leaked online. This information, including that Mr Zulhaimi had tried to call Zaharie’s mobile three times after the plane was announced missing, fuelled wild speculation about their conversation.

Late last year, members of an independent group of experts urged Malaysia to provide “confirmation of the role and technical area of expertise” of the aircraft engineer.

“What was the substance of that long conversation?” the experts had asked through the media. “And who made the three attempts to contact Captain Zaharie Shah later on the morning of the disappearance?”

Mr Zulhaimi said he tried to call Zaharie three times between 10.27am and 11.12am on the day of the flight’s disappearance because he was in disbelief that his cousin’s flight was missing.

There were already many reasons to believe that Shah was not responsible for taking MH370, not least the fact that he had neither a motive nor in all likelihood the knowledge necessary for turning off the plane’s Satellite Data Unit and then turning it back on again. The absence of wreckage on the seabed of the Southern Indian Ocean also suggests that Shah was not the culprit. This latest testimony, however, serves to considerably bolster that position.

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. Continue reading The MH370 Miracle (updated)

What Sort of Person Was MH370’s Captain?

After nearly five years of investigation, it has long since become glaringly obvious that if MH370 did fly south into the southern Indian Ocean, as the Inmarsat data and recovered debris suggest, then the perpetrator was almost certainly the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah.

But Shah’s character poses a riddle. As I wrote in a post last year,

In the months after the disappearance of MH370, Malaysian police searched for any clues that might suggest that the plane’s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, was the culprit. This would have been the simplest explanation for why the Boeing 777 suddenly went electronically dark and pulled a U-turn forty minutes into its flight, and scarcely a minute after Shah’s voice was heard over the radio calmly telling air traffic controllers “Good night, Malaysia 370.” But to their chagrin, the evidence was slim. Zaharie had left no note. His family and friends had noticed no sign of mental disturbance. There was no evidence of political or religious extremism or of marital discord. He was under no financial pressure. He just didn’t fit the profile of someone who would kill hundreds of innocent people and take his own life in the process.

The suicidal pilot who brought down Germanwings 2925 (covered in my Kindle Single “Fatal Descent”) had a long psychiatric history and left numerous clues in his browser history. In contrast Shah seems to have been a boringly stable personality. Two of the leaked Royal Malaysian Police Reports contain detailed information about him. “Folder 1: Pilot” includes documentation of his work history, an assessment by a psychologist, and raw data pulled from his flight simulator. “Folder 4: SKMM Analysis” looks at his internet and cell phone use, as well as that of other crew members. The totality of all evidence left investigators with the impression that:

“The PIC’s ability to handle stress at work and home was reported to be good. There was no known history of apathy, anxiety, or irritability. There were no significant changes in his lifestyle, interpersonal conflict or family stresses… there were no behavioural signs of social isolation, change in habits or interest, self-neglect, drug or alcohol abuse…” (Safety Investigation Report, 1.5.11-1.5.12)

However, a recent  article in the UK’s The Sun suggested that, based on Shah’s Facebook activity reported in Folder 4, the MH370 captain was “self-destructive” and “should have been fired.” The main focus of the article is the 97 responses he reportedly posted to Facebook postings by minor-league Malaysian models, which prove (the article alleges) that Shah was a googly-eyed pervert.

This claim struck me as eminently worth investigating. In modern life one’s computer is practically a part of one’s brain; what one browses, emails and texts about is virtually a life cast of one’s personality and interests. If Shah was deranged, it would certainly show up in the tracings of his internet use.

According to Folder 4, Zaharie’s favorite site to comment on was one of two Facebook accounts maintained by model QiMin Lan. I scrolled through her feed and found that the pictures she posted to be chaste. They are mostly head shots; where her full body is shown, she’s fully clad.

She posted about 50 times a month, so over 100 posts from the beginning of 2014 until Zaharie’s disappearance. In that time I was only able to find a single comment from Zaharie:

He wrote:

Two months earlier he had posted the same comment…

Before that…

I don’t know what “chomel u!” means.

And that’s all I was able to find, going back to November 1, 2013. Far from a pestering nuisance, he seems to have commented rather sparingly, and his comments were benign (at least as far as I could understand them).

Now, the Star reports that one of his comments was “just showered?”, which does have a rather leering tone to it. But I wasn’t able to find that particular post. It’s hard to judge out of context, and the article provides none.

I’d be curious to know if any readers have better luck than me in tracking down Shah’s comments. The URLs, and thumbnails of the pictures he commented on, can be found on pages 9-41 of Appendix A-3 of Folder 4 (pages 60- 92 of the pdf linked above).

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.

 

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.

 

Popular Mechanics: When Ground Crew Steal Airplanes

The joyride started just before sunset.

On Friday, Horizon Air ground service agent Richard B. Russell got in one of the airline’s Bombardier Q400 aircraft and took off from Seattle’s SeaTac Airport. In audio recordings released over the internet, Russell can be heard chatting in an upbeat, enthusiastic tone with the air traffic controllers trying to talk him down.

Onlooker John Waldron took video that shows the plane rolling inverted at low altitude, then pulling into a half-loop in a aerobatic high-g maneuver called a “split S.” Whether through skill or luck, Russell managed to pull the plane out of its rapid descent just above the wave tops. F-15 fighter jets scrambled to intercept the Q400, which ultimately crashed into Ketron Island, about 30 miles from the airport.

The incident is bizarre and tragic, but it is not uprecedented. In fact, there have been a number of occurrences in recent decades in which ground personnel made off with aircraft.

May 23, 1969. U.S. Air Force Sergeant Paul Meyer, a 23-year-old crew chief stationed at Mildenhall Air Base in England, stole a C-130 cargo plane and took off. While in the air, Meyer, who’d been married eight weeks before, called his wife and said, “Guess what? I’m coming home!” But it was not to be. An hour and 45 minutes into the flight, Meyer crashed into the English Channel. Meyer had recently been passed over for promotion and had been arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.

August 22, 1979. Recently fired airline mechanic Armando Nieto Jaramillo, 23, stole a military HS-748 transport plane from Bogotá-Eldorado Airport and crashed it soon after takeoff, killing himself and three people on the ground.

July 4, 1986. Marine Corps lance corporal Howard A. Foote, Jr. stole an A-4M Skyhawk ground attack jet from Marine Corps Air Station El Toro and took it on a 45-minute aerobatic joyride before returning to base and landing safely. Foote was an experienced glider pilot and had undergone 100 hours of simulator flying in the Skyhawk and had hoped to become a military pilot before his ambitions were derailed by health issues. Foote served four and a half months in the brig and later went on to become a test pilot in civilian life.

July 13, 1994. A Russian Air Force engineer made off with an Antonov An-26 transport plane from Kubinka Air Force Base near Moscow. He flew until the plane ran out of fuel and died in the ensuing crash.

May 25, 2003. Ben Charles Padilla, an aircraft mechanic who held a private pilot’s license and was a certified flight engineer, was repairing a 727 airliner in Luanda, Angola for a Florida-based company named Aerospace Sales and Leasing. Padilla and an a recently hired assistant boarded the plane, taxied it to the runway, took off, and head out over the Atlantic Ocean. Neither the men nor the plane has ever been seen again. Some speculated the plane was stolen as part of an insurance scam, or perhaps taken by terrorists who planned to use it as a flying bomb, but the truth remains unknown.

Lastly, we’ve been reporting a lot only on the most famous case of suspected pilot suicide, Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, and this weekend’s tragedy bears at least a few similarities. During an exchange with air traffic controllers, Russell mentioned he had some experience using flight simulator software. “I don’t need that much help. I’ve played some video games before,” he said. MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah was a flight-sim enthusiast who is known to have taken a simulated flight path similar to the one authorities believe the plane ultimately took into the southern Indian Ocean. On the other hand, Russell was reported to have been profoundly troubled, whereas Malaysian authorities were unable to find any evidence that Shah suffered from mental illness or was undergoing any kind of stress in his life.

It’s not yet known exactly what pre-existing psychological conditions Russell may have had, but in the course of his conversation with air traffic controllers he expresses racial resentment. At one point he asks the controller, “Hey, do you think if I land this successfully, Alaska [Horizon Air’s parent company, Alaska Airllines] will give me a job as a pilot?” Told, “You know, I think they would give you a job doing anything if you could pull this off,” Russell replies, “Yeah right! Nah, I’m a white guy.”

Acts of wanton violence by white men bearing racial grievance have been on the rise during the Trump administration, which has embraced white nationalism and adopted openly racist policies.

[Note: A version of this story originally ran on 8/13/18 on Popular Mechanics.]

Seven Takeaways from the Final Malaysian MH370 Report

The report released Monday by the Malaysian government about its search for MH370 runs over a thousand pages, so it’s going to be a while before anyone has a chance to go through every detail, but after a cursory skimming a couple of points stand out.

1) Primary Radar. Right up near the top, on page 3, we read that the plane vanished from primary radar after hanging a right at Penang “only to reappear at 1815:25 UTC [0215:25 MYT] until 1822:12 UTC [0222:12 MYT].” This statement is markedly at odds with the ATSB’s assertion that the plane only appeared after 18:02 as a solitary, instantaneous blip at 18:22. It’s difficult to understand how the authorities could be in disagreement over such a seemingly simple matter-of-fact issue. And it’s an important one, because the DSTG decided not to use the post-18:02 radar information in their Bayesian analysis on the grounds that it was an isolated and hence not-fully-reliabled data point. To ignore a seven-minute long track would amount to cherry picking. I strongly suspect that if this data point were included in the BTO data set, it would strongly increase the probabilistic density of routes to the northwest, that is, to Kazakhstan. Is this why all the primary radar visualizations we’ve seen thus far end before the 18:15 section of the track?

2) Among the report’s conclusions is that “The possibility of intervention by a third party cannot be excluded.” Yet the report offers no indication of who that third party might be, how they might have taken the plane, or why they might have done so. Another paragraph in the section emphasizes the lack of evidence linking either of the pilots to the disappearance. It’s easy to see that the Malaysian Government, which happens to own Malaysian Airlines, would have a vested interest in drawing blame away from the pilots. But it’s nonetheless significant that the official final report in this case undermines what has become the consensus view, namely that Zaharie took the plane. I hardly need point out that the only technically informed theory about MH370 than posits a third-party hijacking is my own.

3) At last we get to see the French oxygen isotope barnacle report, which Patrick De Deckker mentioned but which had never before been officially referenced. This document is in accord with De Deckker about the age of the barnacles (no more than a couple of months) and about the fact that the oldest barnacle started and finished growing in warm water, but it failed to find evidence of a cold-water dip in the middle. On the whole, this new oxygen isotope seems more extensive and better supported by calibration, so that’s where I’d put my money, not that it really tells us much. By the way, one of the enduring mysteries of this saga is why the initial report on the biology of the flaperon’s biofouling reported much larger barnacles, with the implication of an age closer to what you’d expect if the piece had floated since March of 2014. As with the primary radar, this matter is too simple to justify such a profound disagreement.

4) We also see, at last, a much more detailed report by the French about their investigation into the flaperon’s buoyancy. As Steve Barratt points out in the comments of my last post, “The clean separation of the rear honeycomb structure was mainly in traction but some compression (scanning electron microscope). Unusually the leading edge had four vertical impacts or dents that suggested interaction an adjacent part. However Boeing confirmed that there was no adjacent part that would cause these four impacts with the spacing observed.” Thus the mystery of how the retrieved parts came off the airplane deepens. Also: “The tests performed showed that in that, the buoyancy was quite high. The position with the upper surface immersed seemed more stable, which is consistent with a significant presence of crustaceans on the upper surface. However, the waterline noted did not correspond to that suggested by the zones where the crustaceans were located, that’s to say on the water, while the trailing edge was significantly out of the water.” I’ve been thumping this tub for years now, and it continues to baffle me that the Australians have resolutely ignored this issue.

5) We now have a much more detailed understanding of how ATC responded to the plane’s disappearance. (Not well, but then nobody really comes off well in this incident; it doesn’t seem fair to me than an official had to resign over it.) What we still don’t know is why MAS OPS insisted that the plane was over Cambodia, and that there was therefore no reason to go into crisis mode. This seems to me a far more impactful error.

6) One page 276 we read for the first time about a very interesting set of simulator flights recreating the turn at IGARI. The upshot is that in order to match primary radar data tracks the plane must have been banked over by hand into a steep turn. This, together with the high speed at which the plane flew up the Malacca Strait, gives the impression that the hijacker/s were feeling a sense of urgency about getting somewhere.

7) Finally, on page 130 we read about the strange frequencies generated by the Inmarsat logons at 18:25 and 0:19. I’ve long argued that since it led to the generation of the rest of the Inmarsat data, the first of these logons is far and away the most critical piece of evidence in the whole affair, and that it has been under-scrutinized by authorities. The fact that one of its component frequencies cannot be explained should raise concerns about the interpretation of all subsquent data.