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New Potential MH370 Debris Found on Mauritius — UPDATED x3


The photo above is from an article on a French-language website. It says that the object was found two weeks ago by a French tourist, who gave it to a boat captain, who only gave it to the authorities on Tuesday, May 24. The piece is 80 cm by 40 cm and was discovered on a small island called L’ile aux Bernaches, which lies within the main reef surrounding Mauritius. It is now in the possession of the National Coast Guard, who will pass along photos to the Malaysians and, if they deem it likely to be a part of the missing plane, will send experts to collect it. (According to a second story here.)

The photograph above is the only one that seems to be available so far, and is quite low-res, but it seems to lack any visible barnacles, but has quite a lot of the roughness that barnacles leave behind after they’ve detached, as seen in the Mossel Bay piece. Perhaps worth noting that so far, pieces found on islands (Réunion, Rodrigues) have had substantial goose barnacle populations living on them, while pieces found on the African mainland have been bare. This piece breaks that trend.

Also worth noting, I think, is that all of the objects discovered so far were found by tourists, with the exception of the flaperon, which was found during a beach cleaning of the kind that only happens an tourist destinations. Drift models predict that a lot of the debris should have come ashore on the east coast of Madagascar, but this is not a place that tourists generally frequent. There are also large stretches of the southern African coast that probably see little tourism. All of which is to say that a concerted effort to sweep remote beaches should turn up a lot of MH370 debris.

I haven’t seen any speculation yet as to which part of the plane this latest piece might have come from–any ideas?

UPDATE 5/25/16: In a surprising coincidence, another piece of potential debris has also turned up on Mauritius. According to Ion News, the object was found by a Coast Guard foot patrol along a beach at Gris-Gris, the southernmost point on the island. It was found resting about six meters from the water.


UPDATE 5/26/16: In another surprising turn of events, Australia’s Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Darren Chesterhas issued a media release in which he “confirmed reports that three new pieces of debris—two in Mauritius and one in Mozambique—have been found and are of interest in connection to the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370.”

The release goes on:

“The Malaysian Government is yet to take custody of the items, however as with previous items, Malaysian officials are arranging collection and it is expected the items will be brought to Australia for examination,” Mr Chester said. “These items of debris are of interest and will be examined by experts.”

This means of announcing findings related to MH370 marks a departure for the Australian government, which in the past has provided updates from the ATSB (Australia Transport Safety Board) itself. The items are picture below, courtesy of Kathy Mosesian at VeritasMH370:

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Egyptair Flight MS804 Disappears From Radar — UPDATED

UPDATED 5/21/16: Egyptian authorities have released photos of MS804 debris recovered from the ocean. Here’s a cropped version of one of them:


The size, the shape of the edges, the amount of exposed honeycomb and even the presence of fasteners is quite reminiscent of MH370 debris found in the western Indian Ocean, especially “No Step.” Of course, marine fouling is absent.

UPDATE 5/20/16: CNN has posted a screengrab showing ACARS error messages just before MS804 crashed:


Right-click and open in a new tab to expand


As you can see in the diagram below, there is a lavatory directly behind the captain’s seat. If there is thick smoke in there, it could penetrate down into the avionics bay below:


Gerry Soejatman points out: “It appears that aircraft may have had an in-flight fire and if so, the aircraft maneuvers could be due to Smoke Removal Emergency Procedures, which involves descending the aircraft to 10,000 feet and also opening the cockpit window.”

A reader interprets the ACARS messages:

00:26 ANT-ICE R WINDOW; a fault is in either the right sliding window or fixed window (not the windshield).
00:26 R SLIDING WINDOW SENSOR; the right window heat control unit detects a problem with the sliding window sensor circuit.
00:26 SMOKE LAVATORY SMOKE; smoke detected in the lavatory.
00:27 AVIONICS SMOKE; smoke is detected in the Avionics bay.
00:28 R FIXED WINDOW SENSOR; the right window heat control unit detects a problem with the fixed window sensor circuit.
00:29 AUTO FLT FCU 2 FAULT; autopilot flight control unit (Mode control panel) channel 2 is faulted. Channel 1 still OK so no big deal.
00:29 F/CTL SEC 3 FAULT; the number 3 spoiler elevator computer is faulted. Number 1 and 2 still OK.

If a bomb has gone off near the forward toilet the blast may have damaged the right window heating somehow. There would be a short delay until the toilet smoke detector goes off.


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Image of Barnacle-Encrusted Debris Surfaces in South Africa — UPDATED



Above is a picture that Neels Le Roux Kruger recently posted on the ‘MH370 In search of the truth’ website. He writes:

An interesting development with regards to “Klein Roy”.

‘This morning I was in contact with an individual from the town of George inland from Mosselbay in South Africa. The person, who is a frequent visitor to Klein Brak beach, was walking on the beach at Klein Brak on 23 December 2015 on an amateur ocean photo assignment. He captured images of the ocean and the beach – and he also took a photo of an object he though was part of a signboard. He said he did not think much of the object at the time and he didn’t examine it (or handle it) since it smelled of decomposing marine life. The fragment was covered in barnacles and mussels. He took a random photo and also notes that when he returned later the day the fragment was gone – probably washed back out to sea by the incoming tide. After reading about the investigation into the MH370 debris and the identification of “Roy” he made the connection to my photos of the piece and came into contact with the media.
Quite amazing – this is definitely the “Rolls Royce” fragment I picked up 3 months later in the same area!

This is exciting since it brings the time frame for the washing up of the RR fragment 3 months forward to at least December 2015. It is also an indication of the presence of substantial amounts of marine life on the fragment when it first washed up along the South African coast.

For reference, here’s an image of the piece as it was found by Kruger in March near Mossel Bay, South Africa:


Taken together, these photos make a compelling case for the idea — which I have strongly disputed here — that barnacle-encrusted pieces could be thoroughly cleaned by wave, sand, and sun after coming ashore.

The implication, then, is that the pieces were not “ineptly planted,” as I asserted, but that the lack of biofouling is due to the pieces spending time ashore before they were discovered.

UPDATE 5/18/16: Today an Afrikaans-language website published an article entitled “MH370 piece all photographed in December” by Eugene Gunning explaining how the photograph at top came to be taken. Below is the translation courtesy of Google Translate with a bit of cleanup on my part. Obviously parts are still pretty baffling, if anyone cares to help to polish up them up in the comments section that would be most welcome. Thanks to readers @SA Reader and @Afrikaans for alerting me to this story.

The debris of the missing flight MH370 Malaysia Airlines which was conducted in December on the beach of Little Brak River by a resident of Knysna.

Dr. Schalk Lückhoff, a retired physician from Knysna, may help to solve the mysterious disappearance of the missing flight MH370 Malaysia Airlines.

In December last year Lückhoff came accross a piece of debris on the beach of Klien-Brakrivier, which is presumaby from the missing aircraft. He didn’t realise at the time that it is from the missing aircraft.

This is the same debris that more than two months later by Neels Kruger, an archaeologist from Pretoria, seen on the beach and picked up.

The debris has been sent to the Malaysian government.

The plane went missing on March 8, 2014, shortly after it Kuala Lumpur took off en route to Beijing. There were 239 passengers and crew on board.

The Australia Transport Safety Board announced Thursday that the debris probably came from the plane.

Lückhoff said he walked at Klein Brak River on the beach on 23 December. It was about 07:22 when he saw an object on the beach. It lay on the riverbank. He took a picture of it.

“I was really busy,” he told to take pictures of fast-flowing water for a photography project. “The piece caught my attention because it was the only thing on the bare expanse of sand. Because it stank because of the decaying barnacles, I did not touch it and took a casual photo.

“I did not recognize what it was and thought it might be part of an old notice board. It was full of sand and mussels and just a small part of the letters put out.

“After the next high tide I haven’t seen it again and supposed that it washed back into the sea.”

When he saw the story about Kruger in the Cape, he recognized it.

Kruger said on inquiry that he is very excited about it. “It can make a contribution to the investigation.”



The SDU Re-logon: A Small Detail That Tells Us So Much About the Fate of MH370

MCS 6000

The Honeywell/Thales MCS6000 Satellite Data Unit is the middle of the three boxes shown here.


One of the peculiarities of the MH370 mystery is that, while we have only a very small handful of clues about the fate of the plane, some of them often get overlooked due to their highly technical nature. Today I’d like to revisit a topic that I’ve touched on before but which I feel continues to be get short shrift: the re-logon of the  MH370 Satellite Data Unit, or SDU. Just on its own, this little data point tells us a great deal about what happened to the missing plane.

First, some basic background. Flight MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur International airport at 16:42 UTC on March 7, 2014 bound for Beijing. At 17:07:29, the plane sent an ACARS report via its satcom. At 17:20:36, five seconds after passing waypoint IGARI and a minute after the last radio transmission, the transponder shut off. For the next hour, MH370 was electronically dark. The next ACARS transmission, scheduled for 17:37, did not take place. At 18:03 Inmarsat attempted to forward an ACARS text message and received no response, suggesting that the satcom system was turned off or otherwise out of service. At 18:22, MH370 vanished from primary radar coverage over the Malacca Strait. Three minutes later the satcom system connected with Inmarsat satellite 3F-1 over the Indian Ocean and inititated a logon at 18:25:27.

The question is, by what mechanisms could MH370’s satcom have become inactive, then active again?

Logging on and off the satcom is not something airline pilots are trained to do. A pilot can deselect the satcom as a mode of transmission for ACARS messages so that they go out over the radio instead, but this is not what seems to have happened in the case of MH370. According to the ATSB report issued in June of 2014,

A log-on request in the middle of a flight is not common and can occur for only a few reasons. These include a power interruption to the aircraft satellite data unit (SDU), a software failure, loss of critical systems providing input to the SDU or a loss of the link due to aircraft attitude. An analysis was performed which determined that the characteristics and timing of the logon requests were best matched as resulting from power interruption to the SDU.

Like most of us, I’d never heard of an SDU before MH370 happened.

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Updated MH370 Study Reiterates Seabed Search Uncertainties


In an earlier post I described research conducted at the GEOMAR-Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research in Kiel which suggested that, based on reverse-drift analysis of the Rénion flaperon, its starting point most likely lay in the tropical latitudes of the southern Indian Ocean, far north of the current seabed search area.

Today the same scientists published an update of their research, with a press release available here and the full report here. The upshot can be seen in the chart above, which shows the probability distribution of where the piece likely began its journey to Réunion island. Once again the authors have concluded that the greater part of the probability (98.7 %) lies far north of the seabed search area, shown as a white rectangle. The study’s authors suggest that their results might justify a shift of the search area:

The Australian search authorities are aware of this report. “Whether or not these new results will be used to facilitate the last few months of the ongoing search for MH370 is not clear,” Arne Biastoch summarizes.

One of the refinements included in the new study is that while the authors continued to assume that there was no direct wind effect on the flaperon (it being presumed to be floating essentially flush with the surface), they have included for the first time an effect called Stokes Drift, which results from wind-generated waves:

“In our recent calculations we included more physical processes in order to simulate the drift more realistically,” Prof. Biastoch explains. “In particular the drift induced by wind generated ocean waves is now included,” Biastoch continues. “Even though we use state-of-the-art modelling systems, representing the ocean currents in the Indian Ocean quite well, all simulations naturally contain limitations. Our investigation is one important piece of the puzzle in finding MH370.”

As a result of the new calculations the possible source region of the flaperon was refined, and “While it is shifted a bit southward from the initial study done last September, our basic result that most particles originate from a region north of the current search area remains unchanged,” states Dr. Durgadoo.

So should Australian search officials call a halt to the current search and relocate its ships further north? Actually, I don’t think they should. If the GEOMAR scientists are correct and MH370 did crash into the ocean west of Exmouth, the plane must have been following a low and curving trajectory of the kind that is not supported by any simple autopilot mode. That is to say, the plane would have been either conscious control the entire time or flying along a series of arbitrary user-defined waypoints.

The latter seems extraordinarily unlikely. First, we would have to surmise that whoever was in control of the plane decided to fly a basically random path, and to choose a cumbersome way of doing so, entering by hand pairs of latitude-longitude coordinates. This would be bizarre behavior, to say the least. Furthermore, as explained in the DSTG report issued last December, it is extremely unlikely that a randomly chosen set of slow segments would happen to match the ping rings. Instead, random sequences are only likely to match if they conform to a fast-and-straight flight to the south: in other words, if they end up in the current search area.

The former is problematic for the same reasons, and for an additional one as well. If the plane was under conscious control until the bitter end, then we cannot assume that, as in the unpiloted scenario, it spiraled into the sea once its fuel ran out. Instead, the conscious pilot might have chose to hold it into a glide far beyond the seventh arc. We have no reasonable expectation, therefore, that a narrow search along the seventh arc would yield the wreckage.


French Judiciary Report Raises Fresh Doubts About MH370 Debris

Zero windage

After French authorities retrieved the MH370 flaperon from Réunion Island, they flew it to the Toulouse facility of the DGA, or Direction générale de l’Armement, France’s weapons development and procurement agency. Here the marine life growing on it was examined and identifed as Lepas anatifera striata, creatures which have evolved to live below the waterline on pieces of debris floating in the open ocean.

Subsequently, flotation tests were conducted at the DGA’s Hydrodynamic Engineering test center in Toulouse. The results are referenced in a document that I have obtained which was prepared for judicial authorities by Météo France, the government meteorological agency, which had been asked to conduct a reverse-drift analysis in an attempt to determine where the flaperon most likely entered the water. This report was not officially released to the public, as it is part of a criminal terrorism case. It is available in French here.

Pierre Daniel, the author of the Météo France study, notes that the degree to which a floating object sticks up into the air is crucial for modeling how it will drift because the more it protrudes, the more it will be affected by winds:
Buoyancy extract

This translates as:

The buoyancy of the piece such as it was discovered is rather important. The studies by the DGA Hydrodynamic Engineering show that under the action of a constant wind, following the initial situation, the piece seems able to drift in two positions: with the trailing edge or the leading edge facing the wind. The drift angle has the value of 18 degrees or 32 degrees toward the left, with the speed of the drift equal to 3.29% or 2.76% of the speed of the wind, respectively.

The presence of barnacles of the genus Lepas on the two sides of the flaperon suggest a different waterline, with the piece being totally submerged. In this case we derive a speed equaly to zero percent of the wind. The object floats solely with the surface current.

This suggests a remarkable state of affairs.

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MH370 Debris Questions Mount


German oceanographers Arne Biastoch (left) and Jonathan Durgadoo


Earlier this week the indomitable Brock McEwen completed a much-anticipated statistical analysis of where MH370 debris would most likely wash ashore given a presumptive start point within the current seabed search zone. It’s definitely worth a look, but for the moment I’ll stick to the punch line, which is that while it is quite possible for Indian Ocean currents to carry debris from the search zone to the discovery locations in the western Indian Ocean within the appropriate time frame, Brock was not able to run any simulations in which debris turned up in Africa/Madagascar/Réunion but not in Western Australia. No matter how he changed the parameters, the result came back the same: debris should have washed up in Western Australia long before it washed up anywhere else.

The gap between Brock’s simulations and the actual state of affairs—five pieces of debris in the western Indian Ocean, and none in Australia—indicates, as Brock points out, that “either something’s wrong with the model, or something’s wrong with the search.”

A similar conclusion was reached by a different set of researchers using a different methodology. According to an article in the German newspaper Kieler Nachrichten, scientists from the GEOMAR-Helmholtz Institute for Ocean Research in Kiel (above) have completed a detailed drift analysis of their own in collaboration with colleagues in Great Britain. Simulating the course of two million pieces on a supercomputer, the researchers found that the locations of all five pieces found so far are compatible not with a point of origin in the current search area but instead “the plane, which had 239 people on board, must have crashed a lot further north.” (Hat tip to reader @MuOne for alerting me to this.)

It has long been clear that the wreckage of MH370 will not likely be found in the current search area. This, in turn, means that the “ghost ship” scenario can be ruled out: MH370 did not fly south on autopilot until fuel exhaustion and then plunge into the sea without human intervention. As this fact has become increasingly clear, the most popular backup scenario has been that a suicidal pilot flew the plane southward until it ran out of fuel, then held it in a glide so that it flew further south beyond the search zone. Both of these new drift analyses, however, suggest that this scenario is not correct, either. If the debris originated north of the search area, then the plane must have taken a slow, curving flight under pilot control.

Meanwhile, no further light has been shed on the obviously problematic absence of marine fouling on the African debris pieces. Neither Australian nor Malaysian officials have released any information based on the analysis that the Australians say they have carried out. This state of affairs should be troubling for everyone interested in the mystery of MH370, but naturally it is particularly difficult for the families of the flight’s missing crew and passengers. After I published my last piece on this topic, Chinese next-of-kin issued a statement which read, in part:

Following aviation writer Jeff Wise’s recent article questioning debris found near the coast of Africa, MH370 China families have restated their assertion the missing may still be alive and call for an offer of amnesty in exchange for the release of the missing… An extensive surface search and ocean floor search have found no supporting evidence MH370 crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean.… The sum of this is that there is no reason to believe MH370 crashed in the Southern Indian Ocean and reason to believe in a wholesale attempt at deception. We believe our missing loved ones may still be alive.

I understand that not everyone is ready to accept that the absence of marine life can only mean that the debris was planted. However, I take issue with the implication (made most publicly in a piece in the IBTimes ) that raising questions about the provenance of these crucial pieces amounts to a “conspiracy theory” or that it unjustifiably raises the next-of-kins’ hopes that their loved ones might be alive. If we want to solve this mystery, then we must deal in facts, not sling innuendo. Anyone who is legitimately concerned about solving this mystery will no doubt hope that authorities in Australia and Malaysia will respond forthrightly to the troubling questions that have arisen. It is not acceptable for this information to be buried.

UPDATE 5/1/16: After rereading the above it occurs to me that a very reasonable question concerning the GEOMAR research would be, “how much farther north must it have crashed?” The following diagram put out by the team in 2015 shows the results of the reverse-drift modeling for the the Réunion modeling, which they say is only reinforced by the inclusion of the locations of the debris found this year.

GEOMAR reverse drift


An Illusion Made FlyDubai Pilots Crash: Popular Mechanics

Even as Flydubai Flight 981 took off from Dubai on March 18, the pilots knew they’d be in for a difficult flight. Bad weather lay ahead at their destination, the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. As the plane skirted the Caspian Sea and crossed over the Balkans, the situation stayed iffy. By the time the plane approached Rostov airport, a landing looked challenging, but manageable, with rain and winds gusting to 40 mph.

Setting up for an approach from the northeast, the Boeing 737 broke through the cloud base at 1,800 feet and had the airport in sight directly ahead. But gusty conditions meant a risk of windshear—a sudden tailwind could cause the plane to drop out of the sky. Playing it safe, the flight crew did a “go-around,” increasing engine power and climbing away from the runway. For the next hour and a half the plane flew holding patterns, waiting for a break in the storm, but none came. Finally the pilots decided to bring it around for a second try. Once again they descended through the clouds, got the runway in sight, and set up to land. Once again, wild winds forced them to abort. The plane accelerated and nosed back up into the sky.

Later, security cameras on the ground would show the plane disappearing into the overcast sky—and then, mere seconds later, zooming back out of the clouds at a steep angle and impacting the runway in a fireball, instantly killing all 62 people aboard.

The reason for this tragedy, we now know, was not wind nor rain nor simple pilot error. It was an illusion.

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ATSB Sidesteps Debris-Planting Issue


Earlier today, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau issued a report entitled, “Debris examination — update No. 1: Identification of two items of debris recovered in Mozambique.” The report confirms that the pieces are consistent with a right-hand flap fairing and a right horizontal stabilizer, pointing out that the lettering found on each part matches stencils used by Malaysia airlines. In the case of the piece found by Blaine Alan Gibson, shown above, the report says:

The fastener head markings identified it as being correct for use on the stabiliser panel assembly. The markings also identified the fastener manufacturer. That manufacturer’s fasteners were not used in current production, but did match the fasteners used in assembly of the aircraft next in the production line (405) to 9M-MRO (404).

This wording is ambiguous–does “current production” mean production at the time that 9M-MRO was built, or now? If the fastener wasn’t used when 9M-MRO was built, one wonders what it is doing in this piece. Hopefully the ATSB will clarify what it means. At any rate, the report concludes that both pieces “almost certainly from the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, registered 9M-MRO.”

Naturally, I was particularly keen to hear what the ATSB would say about the marine life found on these pieces, or lack thereof. The report contains a section entitled “Quarantine and marine ecology” which reads, in its entirety:

On arrival into Australia, both parts were quarantined at the Geoscience Australia facility in Canberra. The parts were unwrapped and examined for the presence of marine ecology and remnants of biological material. Visible marine ecology was present on both parts and these items were removed and preserved. The parts were subsequently cleaned and released from quarantine.

Later, in the “Conclusions” section, the report states: “At the time of writing, ongoing work was being conducted with respect to the marine ecology identification as well as testing of material samples. The results from these tests will be provided to the Malaysian investigation team once complete.”

The key here seems to be to reinforce the idea that the results of the biofouling examination will go to Malaysia, and not released to the public. Which raises the question: why does Australia feel empowered to release a fairly detailed report explaining why they think the pieces came from 9M-MRO, but not to say anything about the marine life on them? Is there a legal distinction between these two kinds of assessment, as pertains to ICAO protocols? Perhaps some legally-minded readers can shed light on the matter.


MH370 Debris Was Planted, Ineptly

Tiny colony

From the paper “Rapid, Long-Distance Dispersal by Pumice Rafting,” by Bryan et al.

In the weeks since MH370 debris began washing up in the Western Indian Ocean, I’ve struggled to understand the condition in which they were found. Particularly baffling were the three that washed ashore in Mozambique and South Africa, which were almost completely clean and free of marine fouling. I’ve talked to a number of marine biologists who study organisms that grow on floating debris, and they told me that given their pristine appearance these pieces couldn’t have floated for more than a few weeks.

Some observers have suggested that perhaps the objects had failed to pick up significant fouling because they drifted through waters that were too cold or low in nutrients, but further examination showed that this could not be the explanation.

One commenter on this blog suggested that the pieces were too shallow, or too small, to permit the growth of Lepas barnacles. This, too, is an unsuitable explanation, since Lepas can grow on bits of floating debris that are as small as a few centimeters across. The photograph above shows a small but vibrant community growing on a piece of pumice spewed from a volcano in Tonga; the largest Lepas (goose barnacle) in the image is 23 mm long.

In acknowledging the very obvious problem that this lack of biofouling presents, David Griffin of the Australian government’s science agency, CSIRO, has written (referring to the first Mozambique piece) that “this item is not heavily encrusted with sea life, so it has probably spent a significant length of time either weathering in the sun and/or washing back and forth in the sand at this or some other location. The time at sea is therefore possibly much less than the 716 days that have elapsed since 14 March 2014, and the path taken may have been two or more distinct segments.”

The idea then, is that these pieces washed across the Indian Ocean, were deposited on a beach, were picked over my crabs and other predators, bleached in the sun and scoured by wind and sand, the were washed back out to sea, then came ashore again within less than two weeks and were discovered.

One problem with this scenario is that while we might just about imagine a sequence of events happening to one piece, it seems incredible to imagine it happening to three pieces independently, in different locations and at different times. (To be fair to Dr Griffin, he proposed this idea at a time when only once piece had yet been found.)

Another problem with Dr Griffin’s idea is that no major storms took place in the two weeks preceding the discovery of each of the pieces in Mozambique and South Africa. Indeed, the region has been experiencing a drought.

In short, there is not plausible sequence of events by which the three pieces found in Africa could have arrived there by natural means.

What about the piece which turned up on Rodrigues Island? As I wrote in my blog post, the size of the barnacles blatantly contradict the possibility that the object was afloat for two years. And given that Rodrigues is surrounded by a reef, hundreds of miles from the nearest land, the idea that it might have washed ashore somewhere, gotten re-floated, and then came ashore again to be discovered is close to inconceivable.

Taken separately, these objects defy explanation. Taken together, however, they present a unified picture. Though discovered weeks and months apart, in locations separated by thousands of miles, they are all of a piece: they are all wrong. They do not look–at all!–like they should.

There is only one reasonable conclusion to draw from the condition of these pieces. Since natural means could not have delivered them to the locations where they were discovered, they must have been put there deliberately. They were planted.

In fact, we can go even further than that. Whoever put these pieces on the shores where they were discovered wasn’t even trying very hard. It would only have taken a little bit of imagination and a small amount of effort to put these pieces in the ocean for a few months to pick up a healthy suite of full-sized Lepas. This clearly was attempted in the case of the Rodrigues piece, but no effort at all was expended on the African pieces.

Why? Were they being lazy, or simply overconfident? Or did they know that it wouldn’t matter?

Perhaps the events of last July influenced their decision. After the flaperon was discovered on Réunion Island, it was whisked away by French authorities, given a cursory examination, and then hidden away. The public were never told what the investigators found, or didn’t find. No one seriously questioned whether the flaperon could really have come from a crash in the Southern Indian Ocean. (Well, almost no one.)

Six months later, the failure of the seabed search was looming. The Australian government had already begun saying that it might not find the plane, and preparing the public for the decision to call off the search. The narrative that the plane had nonetheless flown south to some unknown point in the southern Indian Ocean needed bolstering. Given how little inquiry had been directed at the Réunion piece, whoever planted the most recent four pieces might reasonably have assumed that the public would accept the new pieces uncritically, no matter how lackadaisical their preparation.

Maybe they were right. Past experience has shown that people have a remarkable ability to squint their eyes and avoid seeing the obvious ramifications of evidence plunked down in front of them. A good example was the seabed search that took place after acoustic pings were detected back in the spring of 2014. The frequency of pings was wrong, and the physical distribution of the pings indicated that they could not possibly have come from stationary wreckage. So it was clear from the data that the pings were not coming from black boxes. But numerous experts twisted themselves into knots explaining how the deep-sea hydroaccoustic environment was very weird, with salinity gradients and underwater valleys that channeled sound, and so on. I was on a panel on CNN one day when famed science communicator Bill Nye explained that the sound waves probably were refracted by passing through water masses of varying densities, and refraction causes frequencies to change. When you have to start changing the laws of physics to justify your interpretation of the data, it might be time to start looking for a new interpretation.

I’m not saying that people’s attempts thus far to explain the condition of the MH370 debris through non-nefarious means is misguided. Far from it–as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and when presented with evidence like the MH370 debris which invites such an uncomfortable (some will no doubt say outlandish) conclusion, it’s necessary to carefully rule out simpler explanations. However, once that has been done, we must not avert our eyes and say, “Well, I just can’t accept that conclusion, it’s not reasonable, there must be some explanation you’re missing,” or come up with a Nyeism that posits as explanation some phenomenon previously unknown to science.

If the MH370 investigation has taught us anything, is that restricting the discussion to “acceptable” explanations is a fatal trap. Early in the mystery, Duncan Steel hosted a discussion on his web site for people to exchange views and information. He had a rule, however: it was forbidden to discuss any scenarios which posited that the plane had been diverted intentionally, as he felt that this was disrespectful to the people on board. Of course, we now know that the plane was certainly diverted by someone on board, so effectively what Steel was outlawing was the discussion of any scenario that might possible be correct.

This mindset is alive and well. Recently on a discussion forum, one of the participants flatly stated that she was not interested in hearing about any theories that involve a hijacking. The ATSB has shown itself to be equally narrowminded. It has on multiple occasions declared that its interpretation of the Inmarsat data is unassailable. First it said that there was 100 percent chance that the plane was in the first 60,000 square km search area. When it turned out not to be, they drew a 120,000 sq km search area and declared that there was a 100 percent chance it was inside there. Come June, they will find (as we know now because of the condition of the African debris) that it is not there, either. Yet their recurring failure has not shaken their faith in their “reasonable” belief about what happened to the plane.

So maybe whoever planted the debris in Mozambique, South Africa, and Rodrigues weren’t lazy–maybe their understanding of human psychology simply allowed them to take the minimum steps necessary. Whether their calculation was accurate or not will now become apparent.