air safety

Mar 8, 2014

Malaysia Airlines MH370 last radio, radar contacts revised to sooner

Update: Airline corrects last time of contact The search and recovery focus for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is now firmly concentrated on the unidentified f

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

Aviation Herald map of MH370 flight path and place of last radar contact

Update: Airline corrects last time of contact

The search and recovery focus for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 is now firmly concentrated on the unidentified fuel or hydraulic fluid slicks seen in the Gulf of Thailand late yesterday close to the last radar trace of the 777-200, which was carrying 239 people from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

(There were six Australians on the manifest).

Various authorities have also confirmed the detective work done by the Aviation Herald, which much earlier than official confirmations late yesterday had identified a point of last radar contact 42 minutes after MH370 took off from Kuala Lumpur’s main airport at 12.40 am local time for a five hours 50 minutes journey to Beijing that was to have arrived at 6.30 am (same time zone) yesterday morning.

The airline had earlier said the flight vanished from ATC visibility two hours after departure at 2.40 am local time, but it has now corrected the public record to say last contact was at 1.30 am, which puts it in synch with a New Straits Times report that another airliner had made and then lost radio contact at that earlier time using the emergency broadcast frequency.

This means that the Malaysia Airlines flight was last seen by radar at 1.22 am local time and last heard on radio at 1.30 am. However this doesn’t add to public understanding as what the behaviour of the flight was in those last eight minutes between last radar and last voice, although it might encourage speculation that an attempted hijack was underway.

As earlier reported today, it is now established that no emergency locator beacon signal has been heard. Such a signal is generated by blunt force. However if the beacon is underwater, or under mud on the floor of the Gulf of Thailand it might not be readily heard over significant distances.

Sadly it is overwhelmingly likely that all on board the  777-200 died in the crash. Many aspects of the last moments of the flight remain unresolved, and this may well be the case until the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder are recovered from the sea bed at a point somewhere between the northern corner of the Malaysia peninsula and the southern tip of Vietnam.

There is a high degree of confidence that the ‘black box’ data and voice recorders will be recovered, and successfully read.

Other elements of the earlier intelligence collected by Aviation Herald include references to a very steep descent and change of heading by MH370 at the moment of last confirmed radar contacts, or, that the flight vanished almost instantly from the ATC screens, implying a voilent and catastrophic event causing its massive disintegration.

There are no reports whatsoever at this stage of an emergency call or signal from the flight deck of the 777.  The airliner was at approximately 35,000 feet at the moment of last report, which was the altitude it promptly reached after departing from KLIA.

It is important to keep an open mind at this early stage of the search and investigations. There is a high probability that the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will be retrieved and read upon their discovery. That should quickly determine if this is a criminal investigation, or a mechanical or systems failure.

The 777 has an outstandingly good safety record. The only previous fatal crash of any model of the 777 family occurred at San Francisco airport, when an Asiana Airlines flight crashed onto a runway after an unstable approach last July, causing two fatalities and leading to a third passenger being killed by a rescue vehicle after escaping from the burning jet.

Malaysia Airlines has in the past been the subject of a criminal event  which destroyed a 737 in 1977, in which a hijacker killed at least one of the pilots and all 100 people on board died in the crash near Tanjung Kupang.  In 1995 a bad weather landing attempt by a regional Fokker F50 in Sabah killed 34 of the 53 people on board.


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47 thoughts on “Malaysia Airlines MH370 last radio, radar contacts revised to sooner


    Ben, while I respect your writing and knowledge of aviation safety, I don’t feel it fair that you state the aircraft in question may have crashed when no official statement has indicated otherwise, and it remains only an intimation.

  2. Ben Sandilands


    It’s clearly not flying, and couldn’t have been flying since around 0800 eastern time here. We now have a credible report of a beacon signal near a Vietnamese coastal city.

  3. Mark Parker

    I’ve followed this story on Ben’s blog since early this morning and I don’t see anything unfair in how Ben has followed this.

    His very first post this morning stated simply that MAH had lost contact with MH370 – Ben also stated that this post would be updated as more information came to hand.

    The second iteration of this post pointed out that the flight, whilst still unaccounted for, had past the point of possible flight time based on fuel onboard.

    Now, with credible reports from Aviation Herald that an ELT beacon has been detected, Ben updated this post again.

    In my opinion, Ben has approached the reporting of this incident as he did AF447 – balanced, respectful reporting.

    Clearly there comes a point when the inevitable is what needs to be stated.

  4. Mei Smith

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with what he said but the officials are denying the crash because they don’t want to stir the families. They just want to know before they randomly go and say “the plane crashed.” I understand that the emergency beacon signal was detected however there could me a malfunction in the plane’s computer tracking system. (Such as the engine light continuously being on after a wreck if it is not fixed properly), however due to the location of the beacon signal It does seem pretty grim. All we can do is just hope for the best, and pray for the families.

  5. patrick kilby I think if the plane had landed somewhere (before it ran out of fuel) that could take a plane that size then we would have heard about it hours ago; so it is fair to assume a ‘crash’ – and nothing wrong with that in my view

  6. Creeper

    Looking at FlightRadar24 it went from 35000ft to 0ft in a second then vanished. No rapid decent, nothing.

    Very odd.

  7. chris turnbull

    Ben what was the weather the aircraft was scheduled to fly through in cruise?

  8. comet

    Shocking, shocking.

    And it’s a 777. I thought of them as rather infallible. I won’t feel 100% infallible any more.

    And why do we still have huge aircraft going missing, and then have “no idea where the flight is” more than 12 hours after the incident? For all we know at this stage (as I write this), it’s possible there could be survivors, who knows, and this is an interminable delay.

    It’s madness that all aircraft don’t continuously report their precise locations.

  9. Confirmed Sceptic

    The weather enroute was benign with nothing significant either forecast nor detected since the accident by meteorologists looking at the wx radar records (as interviewed on one CNN)

    The fr24 track is likely not an accurate reflection of events. Perhaps it records a lost signal as zero altitude? Either way, instantaneous silence is dire. Several possibilities that we have seen over the years. No prizes for being right in a speculation war however.

  10. Dan Dair

    I agree completely that commercial aircraft should be required to constantly update their position.
    Whilst a mid-air explosion or an emergency decent from cruising altitude would be likely put the wreckage some distance away from a ‘last reported point’, at least rescuers would have a defined starting point to begin a search
    Something of an earlier notification of a problem/incident.
    (in the way AF447 didn’t)

  11. Confirmed Sceptic

    Modern aircraft are able to continuously broadcast their position, and have for fifty years. But it takes an agency on the surface, in range to be able to receive that data. Transponders aside, there are also datalinks that are used in advanced countries (describing ATC only). I cannot recall if Malaysian or Vietnamese ATC are so equipped.

    No airborne communications scheme works after an inflight catastrophic failure, explosion, being disabled etc.

  12. comet

    It doesn’t really require an agency.

    Last time I flew an Emirates A380 between Dubai and Australia, I had a window seat. My small tablet computer got a GPS fix through the window, and was reporting my location (and the aircraft’s location) to friends and family around the world.

    The reporting of my location was possible because the aircraft had an internet connection for passengers. It would be a minor expense for an airline to install a satellite data feature that can report the aircraft’s location.

    Then it would work after a catastrophic failure.

  13. Mark Parker

    Comet, your tablet was reporting data because it had power AND a comms channel…to Confirmed Sceptic’s point – how would an aircraft comms scheme work after a catastrophic failure? AF447 had a comms link back to HQ but it took them how long to locate floating debris and the core wreckage location?

  14. Confirmed Sceptic

    No, it wouldn’t. Do you get that in a catastrophic event (and even survivable events that compromise the E & E compartment) there is no longer power distribution? No internet, radios, satcom, transponder, etc.

    The internet would be handy for many things, but tracking a chaff cloud isn’t one of them. (For example)

  15. chris turnbull

    Thankyou sceptic re weather. Can anyone assist with the chronology ? It looks as if the aircraft reached the edge of the radar signal area around the time scheduled then only sometime later, when the aircraft failed to report in, that the aircraft was considered lost and emergency procedures initiated. Is this right ?

  16. Confirmed Sceptic

    The timeline is unclear right now. Tree countries immediately involved with no common mother tongue. The Vietnamese Navy is reported to have said that they tracked the impact southwest of ca Mau. The area is rich in offshore oil activity as well as fishing.

  17. AvroAnson

    I know it’s nit-picking in the context, but Asiana wasn’t the only previous B777 crash. BA38 crashed short of the runway at Heathrow in 2008.I believe there were no fatalities.

  18. chris turnbull

    AV herald has radar contact lost about 17.22Z which is 2.22am KL time. Authorities say they lost contact with the plane about 2.40amKL time. Either of two scenarios – the a/c became un contactable about the expected time and no concern was raised sometime later when the a/c failed to report or the a/c disappeared while under Malaysian control. If the reports that searches are underway in the ocean south of vietnam I am inclined to lean to the first scenario. The a/c was expected to report to Vietnamese controllers at 0120 Vietnam time but since this is 220am KL time it could be consistent with either scenario.

  19. Roger Roger

    Absent any better leads it might be that the investigation into this incident should start here:
    “A taxiing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 passenger plane (9M-MRO), flight MH389, contaced the tail of a China Eastern Airlines A340 plane, B-6050, waiting on the taxiway at Pudong International Airport.No one was injured.

    The tip of the wing of the Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 was broken off and hung on the tail of the China Eastern Airbus 340-600, according to pictures posted by passengers on the Internet.”

    Damage was described as substantial and that takes my mind to JAL Flight 123.

  20. chris turnbull

    Ok AV herald has just updated (I promise my earlier comment preceded it), there was an 80 minute period between when the a/c was lost from Malay radar and when the airline was told the a/c was lost. This suggests to me controllers trying to make sure it wasn’t a radar / reporting issue (sensibly) before elevating to emergency. This accident is something new. No 777 has been lost from cruise altitude before.

  21. Confirmed Sceptic

    Would we not have had to endure some crowing by now if it was a terrorist attack? I have not heard any reports of any group claiming responsibility.

    The information on other sites is that contact was lost just as it was making a planned turn at waypoint IGARI which is the FIR boundary. It is understandable that there would be some delay and confusion when an aircraft goes no contact at that exact point.

  22. Devils Advocate

    Very sad. Presumably Malasian airlines would have ACARS up until contact was lost, which might help them to locate the wreckage. Until then we can only speculate as to what actually happened. Thoughts for the families of the passengers and crew.

  23. johnno

    Vietnamese report two large oil slicks in the South China sea.

  24. Uwe

    In quite a lot of superficially tagable terrorist attacks nobody steps forward to “own” these. Actually my guess is that in a lot of cases the “real” instigators would prefer to not be connected to the incident aka false flag ops.

    Anyway: Looks like there are now two known pax with “borrowed” identities. ( One Italian, one Austrian )

  25. comet

    Uwe, the two stolen passports is an interesting angle, considering the likelihood of some kind of catastrophic event happening in the air.

    Still, if it were a deliberate act it would be technically difficult to carry out. It would be interesting to know which seat numbers those two passengers were seated.

  26. Uwe

    Comet, it would be quite interesting to know how many “borrowed” passports are used on regular flights without anyone being the wiser 😉

  27. Ben Sandilands

    Thanks all who have so far contributed to the discussion of this terrible event. I had to attend a very importent social event last night, also located in the NSW highlands in a blank zone when it comes to anything resembling effective internet access.

  28. Waste of Time

    Just a point of geographic clarification Ben – Sabah is the northern province of Borneo.
    [An important point, many thanks, as I should have said the Malaysia Peninsula not Sabah at all and have corrected this]

  29. nightflyer

    I have flown over that part of the South China Sea many times at night and the ocean is always covered with small fishing boats, all with acetylene lamps to attract fish. it usually looks like a city out there. Surely one of them would have seen or heard something.

  30. comet

    Thanks, nightflyer, you must really do lots of night flying. I always wondered what the myriad of orange lights below were.

    If MH370 broke up at cruise altitude, you’d wonder how authorities could find all the pieces and then assemble them together again. But they managed to do this after TWA Flight 800 back in 1996, so maybe they can do it again.

    Who knows, it might be years before we find out the cause.

  31. Confirmed Sceptic

    If there was an explosion at 35,000′ no one on the surface would have heard it in time to look up and see debris. And by the time they did hear it the debris would have been dark.

    The cone of possible impact sites from an disintegration event at high altitude is pretty daunting

  32. Infrequent flyer

    Tragic loss of life. Recent terrorist attacks in China, passengers on false passports, majority of passengers Chinese, possible catastrophic breakup. What is the likelihood of terrorist activity here. Time will tell.

  33. Jim Gibson

    Actually, the aircraft could be fitted with an external emergency pod containing an altimeter and sat comm radio. The pod could detach under certain conditions and send position and possibly other information right to their ops at home base. Just a thought. Certainly HF and VHF would not do. Transponders would not have the required range what with earth curvature.

  34. Roger Roger

    Just wondering. Given the compactness, robustness and low cost of solid state data storage devices such as micro-sims of up to 64gb capacity and allowing for the cost of constructing protection including for extreme temperature variations, around them, why modern aircraft are not fitted with more than one voice and data recorder and placed in the extremities of the aircraft. It seems when an aircraft impacts with water pieces break off it and float. Here I am thinking about AF447. The vertical stabiliser largely intact and other debris was found floating long before(a year or so from memory) it was learnt that the black boxes could be retrieved from the depths of the Atlantic ocean. And why can’t weather radar video data be captured on “black box” recorders? You can get crash cam for $100 or not much more for your car these days that perform a similar function.

  35. michael r james

    Increasingly suspicious. From The Guardian a short while ago:

    [The identities of four passengers aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight are under investigation, the country’s transport minister said on Sunday, as the company confirmed that it was “fearing the worst”.
    The flight was a codeshare with China Southern and the two people named as Maraldi and Kozel on the list booked together via the Chinese airline, Chinese media reported.]

  36. Ben Sandilands


    Running a new post on this and other matters.

  37. Roger Roger

    Jim Gibson, just noticed your post. Amazing…seems we are thinking along similar lines regarding the adaption of current technology to aviation.

  38. ColinmAPAC

    Look, there are only two possibilities. The aircraft has landed somewhere and everybody’s safe or it’s crashed. The probabilities with a complete and abrupt cessation of electronic communications indicate the latter. Assuming that, there are two more possibilities. Catastrophic aircraft disintegration due to fuel or mechanical failure or foul play. The back story of people boarding on stolen passports tends to point to foul play at this juncture. In any event, it’s a disaster for those directly involved and affected and of serious concern to all those who fly regularly in/out of KUL, an airport with questionable passenger security by international standards!

  39. Nigelinoz

    A post on PPRUNE says “There is a report of a “10 meter long fragment” discovered by a USAF aircraft, but the coordinates N664825 E1032921 can’t be correct”
    also says Australia is sending two P3C Orions from Darwin to Malaysia to aid with the search .
    Just awful,I feel for those on board and of course their families and friends.

  40. Roger Roger

    ColinmAPAC said:

    “…KUL, an airport with questionable passenger security by international standards”.

    That remark made me think about when I was boarding a Cathay Pacific flight Hong Kong(now part of China) to Sydney last November. Passengers had already been through the normal screening process involving body and carry-on luggage, to gain entry to the departure area of the terminal. When the boarding call was made passengers proceeded from the gate down the finger towards the aircraft. At the bend in the finger several uniformed security people had set up tables and searched through each passengers carry-on luggage. That was first time in all my travels that I’d come across that level of security which makes me wonder whether China has been on some high level security alerts at its airports in recent times.

    Has anyone else had a similar experience at a Chinese airport in the past few months?

  41. Nigelinoz

    Further PPRUNE posts are casting doubt on the reported debris sighting,this is getting stranger by the minute.

  42. ColinmAPAC

    That’s pretty standard going out of HK. They do random checks on the jetway, but if you’ve been through it, it’s pretty superficial and quite defferential…

  43. Roger Roger

    Ok, good to learn security checks in the passenger boarding bridges are standard practice going out of Hong Kong but it is not standard practice at other big airports outside of China to my knowledge.

  44. R. Ockape

    Individual bag checks on the aerobridge for LAGs aren’t standard in HK. They are standard for inbound flights to Australia though (Australian Government requirement) in certain ports of which HK is one. The lunacy of the regulation is such though that flights out of HK to London (when QF used to operate that sector) were not required to be searched but southbound flights to Aus were required to be searched. Same carrier, same aircraft, same crew but different requirements. One can only assume that the Aus government were able to mandate it for all carriers ex HKG to Aus but were unable to do it northbound for any carrier but QANTAS, and noises were made in Canberra by well paid lobbyists. It did seem nonsensical though. Pax to London weren’t deemed a threat while pax to Aus were. Like so much of our security system it’s all about being seen to be managing the threat rather than doing much about it.

  45. Tango

    There will be no air picked up crash (ELB in the US) signals if the aircraft is under water, period. You cannot transmit radio under water (exotic US sub pickup system aside).

    The only way you get that is by hydrophone (pingers).

    There is no debris reported so far.

    Typically if its an early morning crash and search is conducted then you will find that easily (late in the day and a delayed search until the next morning if there are winds and current debris will scatter and be much harder or not picked up at all.

    There are very few possibility that leave no debris in a case like this.

    Its looking like a straight in plunge (Egypt Air) for whatever reason and not an AF447 which went in flat in a stall and left a lot of debris despite being out in the open Atlantic with its winds and currents scattering it.

    Fuel in that area could easily be other sources so its worthless info unless ID is jet fuel.

  46. Dan Sheppard

    What is strange is the comment made from the no-named pilot heading for Japan that made contact with MH370, stating there was static interference and mumbling from whom he believed to be the co-pilot, before shortly losing contact on that frequency.

    If the co-pilot made any form of contact during the incident, then surely this is the epicenter of the disastrous event on board. To me this reveals some sort of explosion in either the cockpit or the front galley in business class, primarily damaging the auxiliaries and electronics systems, almost disabling the systems as the co-pilot attempted the mayday emergency call.

    Secondly, what then must of happened is the hull integrity fragmented due to sudden depressurization, rendering the cockpit and front galley exposed, causing both pilots to lose sudden consciousness immediately, before the aircraft banked and pitched down into a nose dive, disintegrating from full force impact into the ocean.

    But still, strange to not find a single shred of hull anywhere, even part of a winglet or flap would of surely made a float to the oceans surface. The only clue now, lays in the black-box that scuba-divers must search for on the sea bed.

    Another theory, emergency landing into the water with aircraft completely intact, but unable to deploy floatation devices due to crew and passengers being pulled under by weight of water.

    It could also be some sort of freak collision with some volcanic ash dropping from upper atmosphere in a pressure change that was emitted from Mount Sinabung Indonesia, earlier that same day

    Rest in peace to MH370

  47. Tallen Pelegrin

    I’d like to ask some speculative questions in regards to the various possibilities that have been put forward about the missing plane and its passengers. Principally, taking different particular scenarios and asking, Why? or How?

    For instance, if the plane did in fact make the turn and it was the plane spotted by Malaysia military radar over the Malacca Strait, then Why? What are the possible reasons why the plane would’ve been heading in that particular direction, and apparently at an altitude just sufficiently low enough not to be detected by commercial airline radar?

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