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MH370 Australian search looks at location 3000 km from Perth

AMSA provided guide to initial sweeps

Australia is using the satellite tracking data for missing flight MH370 that Malaysia authorities have refused to make public to refine its southern search missions which have begun flying from Perth.

Its Maritime Safety Authority has identified the furthest extent of the southern search zone for the lost Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER and its 239 passengers and crew as being most promising yet most difficult area to sweep, and is in the process of making its third examination today of a section of ocean 3000 kilometres SW of Perth using RAAF Orions.

The distance to those sweeps put the Orions near the end of their capabilities, an observation of interest to analysts because the AP-3C Orions have the best range and endurance performance available at least in current widespread use in the world of maritime surveillance today.

AMSA manager search and rescue operations, John Young, revealed that Australia had specific information based on  satellite data that had caused it to choose a comparatively small part of the southern hemisphere arc along which the last electronic signal from the lost Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER at 8.11 am KL time could have been made on 8 March.

That location had been chosen after modelling based on higher and lower speed assumptions for the flight, surface water movements and drift patterns across the remote section of ocean.

Wider perspective of best estimates early sweeps: AMSA

While AMSA had been able to exclude much of the southern hemisphere search arc from immediate consideration, it was left with a zone covering 600,000 square kilometers.

Young said AMSA had used earlier satellite pings send by the ACARS equipment on MH370 to produce a best estimate flight path for the 777 before its final standby signal was received. The signal came 7 hours 31 minutes after MH370 had taken off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing at 12.40 am local time on 8 March on a 5 hours 50 minute flight.

Young acknowledged that at that time the 777 had around 30 minutes fuel left, and the higher and lower speed estimates used in AMSA’s modelling were important factors in setting the various limits for the target areas for sweeps looking for floating debris.

In a lost opportunity in the press conference in Canberra, Young wasn’t asked if the satellite data was confined to information picked up by the Inmarsat platform in a geosynchronous location over the equator above the east Indian Ocean or took in ‘other’ satellite fixes.

However Australia had worked on the satellite intelligence that the US National Transportation Safety Board had already made available to Malaysia authorities, and adjusted it for currents as well as wind and ocean surface conditions that would shift debris from an initial impact point.

AMSA said ships using southern Indian Ocean routes would play a crucial role in any debris was sighted by the search effort, which by tomorrow will include four Australian Orions, one NZ Orion, and a US P8 Poseidon, a new maritime surveilliance platform based on the civilian 737 design, which will bring greater speed to the task of reaching areas of interest.

Its SAR manager John Young said one merchant ship has passed through the area of most immediate interest to AMSA today and another was due in the area tomorrow. If debris was sighted such isolated shipping movements might be used to retrieve objects faster than could be the case if naval or other suitable vessels were sent from Australia or elsewhere.

Young said the safety of those onboard the missing jet was “a matter of great concern” and that ascertaining if there were any survivors, should wreckage be found, would be AMSA’s first priotrity.  He wouldn’t be drawn on the possibility that MH370 has come down along the mirror image northern hemisphere arc from which the last known electronic trace from the jet could have come, other than to give the media a lucid explanation as to why both arcs were, signal wise, of equal validity.

That answer implied that AMSA only has Inmarsat data analysis at its disposal, but did not, because he wasn’t specifically asked, clear up the possibility that there was information gleaned from other satellites, presumably performing military surveillance.

Young said that conditions in the sweep zones today included a three metre swell. He said that AMSA had not detected any distress signals from MH370, and also estimated that it could take several months to intensively search the southern hemisphere zones of interest for debris from the flight had it come down in that part of the world.

He said that China was interested in participating in the the southern searches with shipping and was in discussions with AMSA as to what assets it might be able to deploy.

AMSA would constantly check and vary its modelling and estimates as to targets to sweep based on every single piece of intelligence that it received as to the course of of MH370. “That’s what we do,” he said. “We take every single piece of information we can get in relation to our duties and work through them right back to their source and eveything they could mean.”

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  • 1
    caf
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    The NYT is reporting that the ACARS transmitted a change in the flight plan from the FMS before it went offline.

  • 2
    Jeff
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the update Ben. Your blog is one of the best sources of accurate information around for this incident.
    Regarding this latest information I wonder if you or anyone could tell me how long a P3 can search for given that it appears something like 7 hours of flight time has to be devoted to getting to and from the search area and presumably when they descend from their cruising altitude to an optimum search altitude their fuel burn rates climb too.

  • 3
    Darryl Smith
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    I was going to suggest that the search location does not line up with the cruising speed of the P3-C Orion. After all, they only travel at about 628 km/h, so the 3.5 hours is nowhere long enough.

    Then I looked at the AMSA Web Site, and they have published detailed charts in their media kit…

    https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B4w6RpGjTiQpM1dxMzdSTHRMeW8&usp=sharing

    The shape of the search area is interesting, but I think some of this is to maximize search time and to compensate for ocean currents

  • 4
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Groan.
    Let’s hope the Orions aren’t the only search tool being deployed because the likelihood of them finding something seems depressingly low. Are they even equipped with modern digital photography systems or is it dependent on human eyeballs and binoculars?

    In addition to this event bringing change to commercial airliners, I hope it makes the ADF think about its capabilities.

  • 5
    sim86on
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    NYT article:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/malaysia-airlines-flight.html?hp&_r=0

  • 6
    David R
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    If the plane has crashed in this area of the Indian Ocean, how long before debris begins washing up on the shores of mainland Australia?

  • 7
    David Walker
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Michael @2, I might be naive but the Orions seem a little way past stick-your-head-out-the-door. From the airforce site: “The significantly upgraded Australian AP-3C Orions were introduced into service in 2002 and are fitted with a variety of sensors, including digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures, electro-optics detectors (infra-red and visual), magnetic anomaly detectors … and acoustic detectors.”

    I’m sure they have some binoculars stashed in a locker somewhere …

  • 8
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Co-pilot sounds like everything was normal; ACARs switched off before last radio chatter – ergo, one or both of the pilots did it. Unless, one or both of them were under duress. Which points to the flight engineer, who would probably know how to disable the ACARs as well. No one seems to know much about this guy, except that he is being probed and that he is knowledgeable about small, executive jets, so that does not necessarily make him knowledgeable about the T7. I wonder if one of the Chinese passengers had any aviation connections? The Chinese certainly isn’t saying much, for a Government that is obsessed about wanting more information from the Malaysian authorities but not sharing any themselves.

  • 9
    Anton Szautner
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    This seems to be consistent with a scenario involving a (relatively) straight-line flight course southwards that focuses on an area near the southern terminus of that southern ping arc. (I have posted on the relevant issue of potential range of the aircraft in the previous thread).

  • 10
    Elizabeth Hamilton
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    I just wanted to take a second and thank you for your fabulous blog. I have lurked since the beginning and have been very impressed with your coverage.

    Thank you!

  • 11
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    David Walker, any distraction from hunting for boat people would probably be a welcome change (or maybe not).

  • 12
    nonscenic
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Crowd sourcing high resolution satellite imagery would be difficult in this area,given the cloudiness. However there are clear areas each day that could show up areas of interest. Perhaps there are some areas of interest in the defined search area.

  • 13
    Anton Szautner
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Addendum: I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noticed at the time the inferred INMARSAT final ping location arcs maps came out, (it seemed a trivial peculiarity, but it annoys one accustomed to reading ground-track and other similar maps) but that map cut the southern arc off at the edge, introducing yet another uncertainty: is that actually how far that data painted that arc in its extension southward, or was it cut off the edge of the map? If the latter, it is yet another example of imprecision due to sloppiness or incompetence, or deliberate misdirection in a growing heap of them.

  • 14
    Ben Sandilands
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Jeff,

    On paper a mission time of around 15 hours is often quoted, but it depends on just what is being carried and such operational constraints as flying conditions and time loitering which would not likely apply here. There was an endurance in excess of 20 hours reported some years ago for a New Zealand Orion but that may have been an endurance driven mission rather than one tasked with lots of orbiting and observing. I think the ratio of transit time to observing time might be lopsided with the former taking much longer.

  • 15
    Glen
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    What does 777 autopilot do at fuel exhaustion? Presumably it’s moderately clever: briefly maintain altitude until airspeed falls to minimum, the nose down to maintain airspeed above min for weight / altitude? That would give a long, slow decent. Then at ground effect, it try to maintain speed, which might give a slight flare as lift increased.

    If so, it hits fast and flat; but not nearly as hard as AF447, which was kited-in in a fully stalled configuration (HTF could a professional pilot … OK, stopping now).

  • 16
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    The map wasn’t up when I made my earlier comment. Now I see just how far south the search zone is! That has to be closer to Kerguelen and Heard Islands than Oz mainland–in fact by my calcs about 1000km or maybe less.

    Neither of these island groups has an airstrip (even for small planes; they are essentially rocky volcanic cones sticking out of the ocean). Australia doesn’t maintain any permanent base on Heard but the French do maintain a permanent research base on Kerguelen. I suppose it is wild speculation to think that they may have had some kind of surveillance data that is driving this search? In fact I kind of wondered when several days back the Malaysians invited the French to contribute their data whatever, since they don’t have anything relevant to the SE Asian waters (?), and their territories are in the far western (Ile de Reunion) and far southern (Kerguelen) Indian ocean.

  • 17
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    David Walker at 5:00 pm
    “the Orions seem a little way past stick-your-head-out-the-door”

    I was being facetious (mostly). If not, or in any case, they should enlist that Australian company (NearMap) who at very short notice outperformed GoogleEarth in imaging SE Queensland during the 2011 floods. (Of courses Google only licenses the images.)

  • 18
    dirtysnowball
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    That’s a scarily large chunk of the planet they’re looking to search.

  • 19
    Confirmed Sceptic
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    Michael…when the engines quit the generators drop offline. During the power interruption before the RAT deploys the autopilots disengage. The flight path will eventually go pear-shaped in some random way depending on which control laws are still available. The engines would be unlikely to quit at the same moment, so there would be some initial rudder deflection which would then hasten the departure from stable flight once the autopilot disengaged.

  • 20
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    This (below) is the only thing I have read for days that even mentions (new or planned) satellite-based searches!

    AMSA chief, John Young: “We are looking at what can be done in the way of satellite imagery. We would work through Geoscience Australia ... to see whether there is any imagery that is of value now that the search area has been established or any other techniques that can be used beyond the use of search aircraft,” Young said.

  • 21
    Wobbly
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    A decade ago, i volunteered on some WA CALM (Conservation and Land Management Dept) including a month stationed on a remote beach in Fitzgerald River NP, one of our largest and most under appreciated wildernesses (one of the most bio diverse wildernesses anywhere).

    Due to the Leeuwin current which sweeps warmer waters around the bend of WA mixing with colder currents sweeping up from the roaring fourties, the beaches were far more littered than one would expect.

    There is so much vacant coastline along southern WA and the bight that may need to be beachcombed in coming months if MH 370 ditched in the southern Indian Ocean. Far enough south and it might just enter the Southern Ocean current which just continues to circle the globe unimpeded by land masses.

  • 22
    Dan Dair
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:45 pm | Permalink

    Does anyone know whether any of the Orions or Poseidons have in-flight refuelling capability.?
    I know the A-3 Sentry has it as a option & they’re based on a similarly-aged airframe.!

  • 23
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    So, an apparent track almost due south along the East 90 underwater ridge. This adds credence to the theory that the aircraft was deliberately flown around Indonesian radar capability and then 90 south (or even just heading 180) as the the final destination for the autopilot to fly.

    It is far too far south to anticipate any survivors, even in life rafts. This would very likely not be the result of a hijack.

  • 24
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    The shape of the search area can be explained by the surface winds. At this time of year the northern extent would be close to the sub-tropical ridge (variable winds). The southern extent would be into the region of west to south westerly winds.

  • 25
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:03 pm | Permalink

    Further to my #16, from Wikipedia:

    Kerguelen has been continually occupied since 1950 by scientific research teams, with a population of 50 to 100 frequently present. There is also a French satellite tracking station.

    February is their peak summer with temperatures rising to a sweltering average of 8.2 °C! “Comparable climates include those of Chilean Patagonia or Iceland, as well as other subantarctic island groups such as the Crozet or Falkland islands. … due to the islands’ location in the Roaring Forties. Wind speeds of 150 km/h are common and can even reach 200 km/h.”
    ……………..
    For Australians here is a trick Trivial Pursuit type question: What is Australia’s highest mountain? (answer in later post)

  • 26
    Confirmed Sceptic
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Ben, have you heard in any of this if MH ops ever attempted to contact 370 via satcom after it was reported missing?

  • 27
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Further to my #20: (but no clue if this includes the southern Indian Ocean).

    State broadcaster China View has confirmed that China’s search ships are moving out of the South China Sea to focus instead on the Bay of Bengal several hundred miles to the west.
    .
    China has also announced that it has deployed 21 satellites to search for the missing plane.
    .
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comments at a daily news briefing (today 18 March), Reuters reports.
    .
    China’s own territory is also being searched.

    …………………
    Q: What is Australia’s highest mountain?
    A: Obviously not Mt Kosciuszko (2,228 metres; 7,310 ft). Equally obvious: Mawson Peak (2,745 m, 9,006 ft) on Heard Island. (Just to the west of the search area.)
    …………………….

  • 28
    dirtysnowball
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Dan Dair, the Orions can’t be refuelled in flight. The Poseidon can, but from what I’ve read the crews of these new jets, only in service a few months, aren’t yet trained for it.

  • 29
    Dan Dair
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps they should have old-time wing-walkers with jerry-cans then.?
    The search zone’s a bloody long way from the mainland to have a lot of time on-station.!

  • 30
    Jithen Bantval Panekal
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

    Time to borrow the ultra long range Tupolev TU-142M maritime recon planes from Russia or India and relocate them to Perth to assist in this search. Their range n endurance of 12500 kms on internal fuel make them ideal platforms for this mission.

  • 31
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Further to: David Walker at 5:00 pm
    “the Orions seem a little way past stick-your-head-out-the-door”

    This (below) sounds exactly like sticking their head out the door! Seriously, at 150 m? This is ridiculously inefficient. Strikes me as impossible to do from Perth like that.

    [Australian authorities have an enormous task ahead in their search of a 600,000 square kilometre area for the missing plane. An ABC news report outlines just how difficult that task can be:
    .
    “This is not just a needle in a haystack, it’s a haystack that gets bigger and shifts under us due to the [ocean’s] drift,” said captain Fareq Hassan, the flight’s navigator.
    .
    While data from high-tech radars, transponders, and satellites has been brought to bear in the hunt for the missing plane that has gripped the world, the low-tech reality aboard search planes is a mind-numbing, naked-eye affair.
    .
    After a 90-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur to the south-eastern Andaman Sea far off the coast of Thailand, the crew began looking.
    .
    Descending to about 152 metres over the water, the plane settled into a three-hour back-and-forth tracking pattern reminiscent of a lawn being mowed.
    .
    “You get dizzy and nauseous trying to track as the sea moves so quickly under you. By the time the flight is over you’re close to hallucinating,” sergeant Nor Sarifah Ahmad said over the deafening roar of propellers as turbulence jostled the plane.]

  • 32
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Mawson Peak (2,745 m, 9,006 ft) on Heard Island.

    Those of us who have worked in Antarctica still call it Big Ben.

  • 33
    anonflightattendant
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Permalink

    China seems to have quietened down after their spectacularly silly satellite image of wreckage that wasn’t. I’m sure their interest ” in participating in the the southern searches with shipping” would be less search and more electronic research of our maritime capabilities.

  • 34
    michael r james
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Bug, is that some kind of phallic metaphor? You know, cos it is also a volcano .. I can see how you Antarcticans work up a fevered imagination over those long work stints ..

  • 35
    Mena
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:11 am | Permalink

    This seems really bizarre but is it worth consideration? I’m confused by the death of the 2 Navy seals….however, google their deaths. Something not quite right here.

    http://indiandefence.com/threads/russia-puzzled-over-malaysia-airlines-capture-by-us-navy.43999/?fb_action_ids=4009750099001&fb_action_types=og.recommends

  • 36
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:27 am | Permalink

    Nothing phallic Michael, that was the original name. And I (and many others) still call it that despite serving a year at Australia’s Mawson station.

  • 37
    SEYMOUR LEVINE
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    Use the Black Box Data in Real-Time to Proactively Prevent Crashes (mh370, etc.)

    So now, 3/8/2014, we have the breaking news that a Malaysia Airlines, Flight MH370, Boeing 777-200 aircraft carrying 239 people is missing. Another plane down, like Air France Flight 447 and we are going through the same problems that should have been solved and implemented a decade ago.

    Commercial aviation if it utilizes the black box data in real-time will make flying safer and more economical. The black box should not only be used in the autopsy mode but should be used proactively to decrease the cost of flying and the fatal crashes. Planes should also have a remote copilot in addition to the on-board for safety and economy.

    The real-time utilization of the black box data could prevent the vast majority of air crashes including decompression, hijacking, pirated, rogue piloting and pilot suicide initiated fatal crashes. The cost of 9/11 alone is far more than the cost of putting in a safe system and yet nothing has intentionally been done.
    By the use of expert systems the problems aboard are automatically recognized and with one second. We do this for our astronauts (that is how they got back from the moon) and there is not technical reason for not providing this to the travelling public. The flight recorder data can be transmitted every second to the ground giving the planes position, velocity and attitude. Getting to the crash site quickly and efficiently can in many cases save lives. This technology has been available for over ten years and hasn’t been pushed by the NTSB, FAA or Airline Association since they felt that the few crashes per year failed their economic analysis. So they have flagrantly let it drop. Yet when we review all of the economies that this technology brings to aviation the reverse is true. Airlines pay only a small fraction of the cost of a crash. For more information on this including the Dutch Magazine article on the use of the Black Box in real-time see http://www.safelander.com

    Sy Levine Sr. Life Member of the IEEE sylevine1@sbcglobal.net

  • 38
    Richard Mosley
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 6:44 am | Permalink

    Ben – I have lurked for far too long, but feel I now have to rear my ugly head to tip my hat to you for your outstanding coverage of this mysterious and harrowing event. I have followed the story on other ‘specialized’ sites (a.net etc), and regular journals (NYT – not too bad) and the Daily Telegraph (awful/useless; just personal ‘interest’ stuff, no actual news coverage), and your reporting and analysis is head and shoulders the best I’ve seen. Great work and many thanks.

  • 39
    Jeff
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    Ben thanks for the response.

  • 40
    Michael James
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve read some of the comments and speculation and perhaps it’s time to bring a little reality to some of the comments.

    1. No, neither the Orion or it’s replacement the Poseidon have in-flight refueling (it’s not normally required for the roles these aircraft normally undertake.

    2. The Orion normally flies to the search area on all four engines then shuts down one or two (depending on weather conditions) engines to allow longer loiter time. This is not really advisable with the twin-engined Poseidon.

    3. The complete capabilities of the AP-3C are classified, however I can assure you that it isn’t binoculars at 150 metres when searching for a submarine. The issue however is that if it is searching for small pieces of wreckage floating flat on the surface, it’s unlikely to show up on radar, requiring scanning with the electro-optical gear. This however is turreted and has a relatively narrow field of view at high resolution,. The military is a firm believer on maximum resources to get the job done, so crew members not otherwise occupied will be scanning the seas surface out the large windows provided for just such a purpose.

    @Ace Space Trucker. Please get with the 21st century, The A330 does not have a flight engineer, so they could hardly be responsible for this incident.

    @ Michael R James The article in question dealt with another nation’s maritime reconnaissance capability, not the RAAFs, which id light years ahead of most of the region’s capabilities. The RAAF’s AP-3C air-frames may be getting on but the sensor suite on them is as good as the USN’s new Poseidon’s and will in fact be ported across to those aircraft when the RAAF take delivery of them in the future.

    @ Jithen Bantval Panekal. the aircraft you mention do have long range, but so does an A340-500, that doesn’t make them suitable for the task involved here,. The TU-142M is really a surveillance asset to find shipping and cue in a missile strike by other assets, neither have the surveillance capabilities required for this mission. In addition, neither the Russian nor Indian airframes are suitable for low level work in the gusty conditions at low level in the Great Southern Ocean, both are suffering fatigue life deterioration, which is why the Indian’s are in negotiations with the US to replace them with Poseidon’s from Boeing. The Russian aircraft need to be replaced but they are not a priority for Moscow at the moment.

    The key question that needs to be asked here is what were the people (or person) responsible for that flight path thinking? Any pilot capable of disconnecting ACARs and other systems would be able to work out their flight distance and understand that the course they had set would dump them in the middle of the most empty ocean on the planet.

    It seems a very pointless way to commit suicide, taking hundreds of people with you to no real purpose.

    I could understand if the aircraft was used in a terrorist attack, such as flying into the Petronas Towers, but this seems pointless.

  • 41
    endeavour.paul@gmail.com
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Michael, there was an MH flight engineer on board travelling to Beijing to take up a post there.

    In fact, I see a rather suss line up of passengers that make the Russian theory start to look plausible.

    Initially, I thought the 35 year old Uyghur engineer who had done some flight training being there would be good reason to check the northern route thoroughly. However, the rather flippant “well, okay then, we may as well check our western border region now” attitude by China after 10 days makes it reek of a cover up that China is complicit in. The attitude of Vietnam and India wanting to drop out then being persuaded to stay in to me indicates that someone is buying time with the public.
    If the US is holding the plane and passengers at Diego Garcia, it will be fascinating to see them explain it all if or when they release them.

    By the way, is it true that the depressurisation of the cabin on a 777-200 can only be done from outside the plane?

  • 42
    Andrew
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    What about Australia’s JORN radar.
    That looks out over the Indian ocean as well?

  • 43
    Scott Henderson
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Amazing reporting Ben!

    I believe the NTSB tracks shown on AMSA maps are highly significant. It suggests the hourly satellite pings are consistent with a (constant velocity) straight track. The two variations are likely to be due to different assumed start points and/or different assumed speeds.

    This would almost certainly excluded variable track theories(at least for the later half or more of the flight) / variable speed theories such as the shadowing singapore jet one. Variable speed, variable track options still plausable – but occam’s razor would suggest these are less likely.

    Furthermore as already hinted at – there is an identical mirror set of probable tracks in the northern hemisphere and a similar but smaller search area (no current/wind drift). A straight track would surely discount the terrain masking theories for this region – and therefore you would assume much higher likelihood of primary radar detection.

    All up South search area would appear to have a much higher probability than area other part of the world.

  • 44
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    >I could understand if the aircraft was used in a terrorist attack, such as flying into the Petronas Towers, but this seems pointless.

    Of course it is pointless. Suicide always is. But if your main objective was to prevent anyone from ever knowing that it was a suicide, this example would be very hard to beat.

  • 45
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    >By the way, is it true that the depressurisation of the cabin on a 777-200 can only be done from outside the plane?

    No.

  • 46
    Michael James
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    The issue with the depressurisation theory is thus.

    If the aircraft was climbed to an altitude that forced a depressurisation, it would deploy the oxygen masks. That provides about 15 minutes of air, including a similar amount for the pilots.

    Even if the depressurisation rendered everyone in the aircraft unconscious after 15 minutes and somehow the pilot had oxygen for a longer period, the aircraft returned to lower altitudes allowing the pilot to come of the limited oxygen supply, sufficient for passengers to revive.

    Don’t you think that the cabin crew and passengers, confronted with a non-cooperative pilot, would have either contacted the ground via several different communications methods or stormed the cockpit?

    Curiouser and curiouser.

  • 47
    caf
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    BugSmasher: Or indeed, even if suicide was strongly suspected, at least guaranteeing that no positive attribution of who was responsible would ever be made.

  • 48
    michael r james
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    MJ : “The key question that needs to be asked here is what were the people (or person) responsible for that flight path thinking? ”

    No. that is not the key question at all. Not only will that never be discovered it is irrelevant to the current search. And right here on this particular blogpost the key issue is the southern Indian Ocean search zone and the AMAS capabilities. You have given some clues to that but which sadly don’t inspire confidence that it is really up to this particular job (no criticism since it is not designed for this). As a scientist I put aside all the other noise (other search zones, conspiracy theories, motives etc) and just would like to concentrate on clearly answering the only question: is there any debris within this search zone. Alas, a negative cannot be definitive but I want to know if the search method is up to the job. Unconvinced.

    And to be honest I just have the niggling feeling that it is all a bit for show. Seems to me the US should deploy a naval vessel (from Diego Garcia) that can launch & land one of those surveillance drones and do this job properly. Instead of what appears to be a Mickey Mouse operation that is destined to fail.
    And as I have written earlier, Australia needs to get its act together:

    michael r james Posted March 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm |
    ........
    And to just say the obvious: high-flying hi-tech camera-bearing drones are the ticket. Dirt cheap compared to anything else and are increasingly displacing satellites for this kind of work. I have been arguing in Crikey for at least 5 years that Australia should forget spending >$40bn on F35s and go straight to unmanned craft for everything (surveillance drones, fighters, bombers) and we should make them ourselves not just buy what the Americans deign to sell us. The latest camera tech called ARGUS is a set of 368 chips to create an integrated 1.8 gigapixel image. (It can capture & store one exabyte (=one million terabytes=10e18) each day.) Apparently one such drone hovering above a mega-city like LA will allow instant “rewind” to any earlier time (of crime etc) of a hi-rez image anywhere in the entire sprawl footprint. Anywhere, any time (except the future.. for the moment), all the time. Scary.
    Australia with its vast terrain, low resources, humungous territorial waters should be ahead of the curve for this kind of tech.

  • 49
    michael r james
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    MJ at 11:51 am

    A bit late (like 11 days!) to this blog but I reckon you might have guessed that every single thing you mentioned has been gone over multiple times in previous posts. It is all speculative but the simplest (most parsimonious) method would be
    1. pilot (or one pax with expertise) locks everyone else out of cockpit.
    2. (blogger Discus:) “{pilot in cockpit) de-pressurise very quickly simply by opening the outflow valve and turning off the air conditioning packs. Large hole , no supply, up goes the cabin altitude quite quickly. It would not need to be sudden”
    3. pilot has private/independent oxygen supply in cockpit and enough for at least 4 people (ie. he can outlast anyone else comfortably though he may need to stay vigilant to keep swapping to new oxygen station during subsequent moves)
    4. pilot takes plane up to >40,000 ft to ensure he finishes everyone else off; they are probably already at the end of their oxygen before this maneouvre.
    5. returns to lower altitude to give himself oxygen security and make it faster to repressurize the cabin (again just for himself as he is the only one alive or not incapacitated).

    Embellishments get into more wild territory of speculation, such as he himself (inadvertently or by suicide) succumbing to oxygen starvation at point 4 or 5 but after he has programmed the auto-pilot for what is subsequently observed by radar or ACARs pings etc. Some have tried to fit these facts into an accident scenario rather than pilot-suicide or hijack-gone-wrong but that is not very credible.

  • 50
    Caroline Nelson
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    The fate of the passengers & crew of MH370

    By Caroline Nelson, March 19, 2014, 14.30

    Originally employed in the health care industry, I worked as cabin crew for British Airways during the 1990’s and frequently operated on the Boeing 777. I then worked as an Aviation Medicine Lecturer in the British Airways staff-training centre.

    Two days ago, I tried to present this theory to various media newsrooms in Australia, where I am now based. The reporters I have contacted have shown no interest in this perspective, perhaps their grasp of aviation physiology is not sufficient to allow adequate comprehension of the theory.

    I don’t intend to speculate as to what happened to flight MH370, far too many people are doing that already. However, I do have a theory as to what did become of 238 of the 239 people on board.

    There is considerable evidence to suggest that flight MH370 was hijacked; most likely by the captain and that it remained airborne for several hours after it’s disappearance. If these two theories are correct then why did no passenger or crewmember establish any form of communication with the ground? Crew also have communication equipment within the cabin and it is likely that almost every adult occupant of the cabin possessed a least one electronic communication device. We know that during the hijacking of the United Airlines Flight 93 on September 11, 2001 some passengers and crew made contact with the ground. How is it possible that details of the emerging crisis on board MH370 were not leaked?

    The answer is simple, mass incapacitation of 238 people is likely to have occurred extremely rapidly. How? The first officer probably left the cockpit voluntarily, most likely to visit the toilet. As soon as the cockpit door had closed and locked behind him, the captain could have adjusted the air pressurisation/oxygenation system in the main cabin. Even if he was unable to disable the automatic deployment of the emergency drop down oxygen masks which occurs when the cabin air pressure drops, the subsequent rapid ascent of the aircraft to 45,000 feet would have rendered the supplemental oxygen useless as gas exchange in the lung could not occur at such a low air pressure. The aircraft appears to have remained at an altitude of 45,000 feet for at least 10 minutes, which is adequate time to incapacitate all inside the cabin, and then descended rapidly. In the event that this manoeuvre had also compromised the air pressure within the cockpit, the pilot could have utilised his own CPAP breathing system to sustain himself until he completed the subsequent descent.

    I note with interest that today, an online article has surfaced “Could MH370 have been ‘swapped’ mid-air? By Rob Waugh at Yahoo! News March 19, 2014, 7:50 am…” (http://au.news.yahoo.com/world/a/22048613/could-mh370-have-been-swapped-mid-air/) This article quotes aircraft expert Ian Black who appears to have extensive aviation knowledge and experience that far surpasses mine. In the paragraph titled “Could one pilot have ‘knocked out’ the entire passenger section?” Captain Black has put forward a theory remarkably similar to the one I presented to the Australian media two days ago.

    This hypothesis may offer little comfort to those anxiously awaiting news of loved ones who were on board flight MH370. However, the reality must be faced that with every passing hour, the chances of recovering survivors is becoming increasingly remote. Hypoxia caused by a rapid drop in cabin pressure would result in a brief period of disorientation and euphoria rapidly descending into unconsciousness. When considering the possible alternatives, if the occupants of flight MH370 have reached their demise as a consequence of hijacking, this is perhaps the most peaceful and trauma free manner in which it could have occurred.

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