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MH370 update underlines shift in control over search zones

Inside an RAAF AP-C3 Orion: AMSA supplied photo

There was a very clear yet nuanced message in tonight’s MH370 search update in Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia’s search partners are running their own shows when it comes to looking for any trace of the Boeing 777-200ER  and the 239 people who were on board when it went missing 11 days ago on a flight from KL to Beijing.

In apparent references to disquiet in China in particular, Malaysia’s foreign minister Anifah bin Aman and  acting transport minister and minister of defence Hishammuddin Hussein repeatedly said MH370 was above politics, and that finding the plane was the first priority.

There were no new technical disclosures or any hints of progress in the now various and autonomous search efforts that Malaysia is ‘coordinating.’

Australian and Indonesia were taking responsibility for their sections of the southern arc of possible locations for the last satellite trace of MH370 at 8.11 am KL time, which had taken off for China’s capital at 12.40 am. (The border for Australian responsibility starts more than 300 kms south of Indonesia according to an earlier briefing by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.)

China and Khazakhstan had committed to running land searches in their parts of the northern corridor of possible locations for the last electronic trace of MH370, and a further 21 countries including the US, UK, France, Japan and NZ were sending aircraft or vessels to support various regional search efforts.

Hishammuddin Hussein said the revised timing for the disconnection of the on board ACARS automated data upload system on the 777 revealed at yesterday’s briefing didn’t change Malaysia’s belief that the changed course and disappearance of MH370 ‘was consistent with deliberate action’.

He said he couldn’t making any comment on continuing police investigations of the flight crew and passengers and in passing again claimed the Australian search effort involved three Orions and one C-130, not four Orions, and said China was contributing one aircraft, type not identified, to the Australian southern search.

The defence minister also said additional satellite resources and data was being provided but that he couldn’t disclose or identify those capabilities. This may be the most important thing the Malaysia authorities said at the briefing, and it was clearly intended to be put on the public record.

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  • 1
    comet
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

    Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein sounded shifty at the press conference.

    At first he said that they only had an approximate time range when the ACARS transponder was switched off, somewhere between 01:07 to 01:37.

    Later, Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said ACARS was switched off at 01:21, which put it two minutes after the “good night” radio call, according to the fluid and rubbery timings that Malaysia revised yesterday.

    What can the world think when these timings keep changing and getting revised. They should have been accurate and ‘written in stone’ from day one.

    The Malaysian investigation cannot be trusted, which is why the various countries searching in the Indian Ocean are calling their own shots.

    As stated in the NYTimes, Malaysia has point blank refused a U.S. request to study the captain’s flight simulator, and get access to information about the Malaysian police investigation.

    Transport Minister Hishammuddin said: “the search for MH370 is bigger than politics.”

    If that’s the case, then he should stop concerning himself with the reputation of Malaysia Airlines, and instead be completely open with other nations trying to help find the aircraft.

  • 2
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    What are you talking about? The transponder stopped squawking at 1:21. The ACARS was disabled between 1:07 and 1:37.

  • 3
    Rourke
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    Ben,

    Your blog is again showing its worth in your extensive coverage of this mystery. I’m a non-expert but a believer in Occam’s Razor. Have you looked at the theory of Captain Desmond Ross in Wednesday’s SMH, and are there holes you can see? E.g. could an explosion take out ACARS? http://www.smh.com.au/world/who-keyed-in-the-fateful-commands-on-mh370-20140318-350gv.html
    (tl; dr: Explosion causes rapid depressurisation, partial entry of auto course back to KL but everyone loses consciousness)

  • 4
    comet
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    You’re right, Ace Space Trucker, thanks for the correction. The transponder was switched off at 01:21. We still don’t have a precise time for ACARS going out, and the other timings were ‘revised’ yesterday.

  • 5
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    It’s too much of a coincidence that the transponder was switched off at 1:21 (assuming it was switched off), two minutes after handover from Malaysian to Vietnamese airspace. An explosion which disabled the transponder and the ACARS at the same time is still entirely possible, and in the ensuing emergency the pilot tried to reprogram the FMS in order to head back, but was overcome by fumes or something of the sort, thus leaving the plane to fly whatever set of waypoints was in the route he put in. Or he may have tried to set heading manually (presumably south) after passing the Malay Peninsula, but died shortly after.

  • 6
    comet
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

    The NY Times reported earlier today that U.S. investigators have confirmed the person flying the plane added waypoints into the Flight Management System (FMS), sending the plane back towards the Strait of Malacca.

  • 7
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

    Ace, it is entirely possible that Kennedy was not assassinated too. Maybe a gun in a holster of someone accidentally went off and killed him. The evidence is inconclusive. So it is possible?

  • 8
    comet
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

    Ace’s theory is similar to one put forth by Australian commercial pilot Desmond Ross, in some of the Australian newspapers.

  • 9
    moa999
    Posted March 18, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Permalink

    So given Australia seems to be searching at the very Southern reaches of our zone based on latest information, what are the Indonesians doing?

  • 10
    Wobbly
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:22 am | Permalink

    ‘what are the Indonesians doing?’

    Ferry runs to Ashmore Reef?

  • 11
    Mena
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:27 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

  • 12
    michael r james
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:31 am | Permalink

    I just noticed the pic which, if I am not mistaken, is of a man peering thru binoculars!
    Please Ben, or someone who knows, tell us the Orions are equipped with more than that.

    In response to my cynical query about this very thing, on the previous blog David Walker assured me the planes had been upgraded “including digital multi-mode radar, electronic support measures” blah blah. But I don’t believe you use radar to detect floating debris. What it needs is a hi-rez specialist digital imaging system like what the mappers use. Not least because you can fly much faster and higher and cover much greater area much faster. Then farm the analysis to teams of others (even crowdsourcing etc).

  • 13
    wendal
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    FFS!!!!

    Thailand is only just now telling us that they may have tracked the plane on their southern radars. ABC news (US) reports that they believe they may have tracked it on a “twisting” flight path that was across Malaysian soil. Apparently they haven’t shared that until now because Malaysia didn’t ask them specific enough questions.

    What haven’t other countries revealed?

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/thailand-radar-data-10-days-plane-lost-22952689

  • 14
    Accountant
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    As I said in my first post on this topic, I have no aviation background. Nor military either. But I find it hard to believe, that MH370 could apparently fly across Malaysia, from the point in the Gulf of Thailand, where military radar detected its change of course, to the Andaman Islands, before it again appears on military radar. I’ve seen some strange stories in the media, about flying at 5000 feet etc. But no believable explanation from Malaysian authorities, as to why it wasn’t detected in between and efforts made to communicate with it. Right across the Malaysian mainland, after doing something as inexplicable as reversing its course. And nobody knew anything about it? No action was taken by the very people who are supposedly responsible for Malaysia’s security? Now half the world is searching from Kazakhstan, to the Southern Indian Ocean and the story changes from day to day. What damage this must be doing to the reputation of Malaysia, its Government and its Airline. Incredible.

  • 15
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    Comet, I supposed a similar theory on day 2 myself. The evidence made public since then makes this scenario as unlikely as the non- assassination of Kennedy. That was my point.

    If the aircraft had experienced natural failures it was a one in a billion event.

  • 16
    johnno
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:53 am | Permalink

    Are not the Orions using their special underwater detection capabilities? Surely not only eyeballs?

  • 17
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:24 am | Permalink

    The most surprising thing about this whole event is sovereign nation’s unwillingness to expose their Defense capabilities (or lack thereof). Not entirely surprising at a superficial level. Everyone caught with pants down.

    Very embarrassing.

    The plane will never be found, as intended.

    The only nation on earth that has any idea is busy. And would be embarrassed by the fact.

  • 18
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:30 am | Permalink

    Accountant, the air force probably saw a heavy, flying at high altitude, along known airways, in Thai airspace, at 2am. Hardly a good reason to wake up the General.

  • 19
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    Bugsmasher, a cargo bay explosion would not be unheard of.

  • 20
    Tom W
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    Overnight, it was revealed data from Thailand’s military radar corroborated the infamous westward turn – http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/malaysia-airlines-plane/index.html?hpt=hp_t2

    Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have denied there had been a trace on their military radars, which they said would have picked it up if it had passed – http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/17/malaysia-airlines-kazakhstan-idUSL6N0ME2W020140317

    That’s in addition to other denials already by Myanamar and (ironically) Thailand.

    -

    I’d be interested to see and hope they’ve analyzed what route it would have taken if it had been at the furthest points possible on each arc generated by the SATCOM pings received, to see if it makes a sensible straight line or something.

    Also, have India, Pakistan and Afghanistan scrutinize their primary radar records of SQ68 that morning to check whether their was any inconsistencies.

    Hopefully, now with other countries having more control in the search, we might get some answers.

  • 21
    johnno
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    I have gained a lot more respect for you guys (and gals) who pilot.

  • 22
    Sandy G
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    Ditto from me, johnno.

  • 23
    Michael James
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    @Michael R James. The pilot is using binoculars while the co-pilot flies the aircraft. The electro-optical sensors are operated by members of the crew in the back of the aircraft.

    The Pilot is using binoculars to search large swathes of the sea surface faster, if less effectively, than the turreted elctro-optical sensors.

    The military believes in using maximum resources available to get the job done, so everyone not otherwise occupied will be scanning the surface with bino’s to back up the other sensors.

  • 24
    johnno
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Thank you Michael James. So, it won’t be using its ASW technology to search for wreckage on the seabed?

  • 25
    Michael James
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    The ASW technology is there to find a non-cooperative target, one that is actually maneuvering and emitting some noise at a depth that can be detected by a sonobuoy deployed to float on the sea surface.

    Neither equates to the wreckage of an airliner scattered across the sea bed of the Indian Ocean.

  • 26
    BugSmasher
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    >Bugsmasher, a cargo bay explosion would not be unheard of.

    Agreed.

    And it could just possibly have only taken out the transponder and ACARS units.

    But for that explosion to then program 4 new way points and engage the FMS to fly them – that would be a very remarkable explosion.

  • 27
    Ace Space Trucker
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Or an electrical fire. It’s literally two or three button clicks on the FMS to activate pre-programmed diversionary routes, whether direct or via intermediate waypoints. Pilots don’t decide where to land in an emergency only after something bad happens. Most alternate airports are scanned continuously as the journey progresses, and alternate airports drawn up to divert to for emergencies.

  • 28
    michael r james
    Posted March 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    MJ & johnno

    Sorry, that doesn’t reassure me at all, and is little different to what David Walker said yesterday. I want to hear a far more convincing discussion of what specific tools are being used and their capabilities. In the Oz today:

    Captain Bellingham said the highly sophisticated equipment on the submarine-hunting patrol aircraft would search for material or people on the surface and not for wreckage under water. "It's purely a surface search to look for debris or objects in the water", he said. The Orion's search radar could pick up objects on either side of the patrol plane up to 35 km away from it."
    .
    Trained observers would keep watch through the aircraft windows but much would depend on weather conditions and visibility, he said."

    So, the "35 km both sides" is better though if this is optimized to look for submarines one wonders what its capabilities really are. I can't quite see that IR tools are any use this late in the day (all bodies or objects will be at ambient--especially in this sea--by now).
    Most depressing of all:

    [Group Captain Stuart Bellingham, from the headquarters of the ADF's Joint Operations Command, said it would take the Orions up to five hours to reach the search area and they would have sufficient fuel to search for only two hours before turning for home. That would give them time to thoroughly search a strip of water equivalent in distance to the flight from Sydney to Brisbane."

    Now tell me that (without further detail) that inspires confidence that if an already dispersed debris field in the wild & windy southern Indian ocean is very likely to be found if it is there? And if the whole exercise is not permanently recorded so it can be reviewed by lots of eyes and machines …well, it’s useless.
    I think the final sentence reveals the true status:

    He said discussions were under way with China to see if whether had suitable aircraft for the search.

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