air crashes

Apr 21, 2017

Revised MH370 wreckage drift analysis adds pressure for renewed search

The ATSB has just published a CSIRO report that makes the political decision to suspend the MH370 search highly questionable

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

The MH370 flaperon, soon after being found by a coastal clean-up team on La Réunion island

The CSIRO has revised earlier drift analysis of a wing flaperon from missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 that washed up on La Réunion island in 2015 and says it increases confidence that the wreckage of the Boeing 777 lies within a proposed new search area in the southern Indian Ocean that the Australian and Malaysian governments controversially decided not to search in January this year.

The publication of the CSIRO report by the ATSB is a reminder that the Australian air safety investigator which was managing the sea floor search for the jet, which vanished with 239 people onboard on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014 (local time), doesn’t agree with that decision.

The optics of Australia’s abrupt abandonment of the search was arguably as bad as the sanctimonious words spoken by the Minister responsible for aviation, Darren Chester, when he overrode the documented expectation of the ATSB that this very last proposed search area, identified and recommended in the MH370 First Principles Review, would be examined by deep water sonar scanning devices.

That review, and other supporting or related documentation can be found at this same link on the ATSB website. It makes a nonsense of the ATSB ‘conspiracy of silence’ reports that are regularly appearing in The Australian and other News titles.

The executive summary of the new CSIRO report prepared for the ATSB says:

This report explores the possibility that an improved ability to simulate the path taken by the flaperon across the Indian Ocean might yield an improved estimate of the location of the remains of the aircraft on the sea floor.

Our earlier field testing of replicas of the flaperon was unable to confirm numerical predictions by the Direction Generale de L’Armement (DGA) that the flaperon drifted left of the wind. Field testing of a genuine Boeing 777 flaperon cut down to match photographs of 9M-MRO’s flaperon has now largely confirmed the DGA predictions, at least with respect to drift angle. The impact of this information on simulated trajectories across the Indian Ocean is that the July 2015 arrival time at La Reunion is now very easy to explain.

This new information does not change our earlier estimate of the most probable location of the aircraft. It does, however, increase our confidence in that estimate, so we are now even more confident that the aircraft is within the new search area identified and recommended in the MH370 First Principles Review (ATSB 2016).

The proposed new search area has been determined by combining many lines of evidence, the strongest being that the descent began close to the SatCom 7th arc. The following evidence from drift modelling helps indicate where along the 7th arc the aircraft impacted the sea surface:

  • The July 2015 arrival date of the flaperon at La Reunion island is consistent with impact occurring between latitudes 40°S and 30.5°S.
  • Arrival off Africa of other debris exclusively after December 2015 favours impact latitudes south of 32°S, as does the failure of the 40-day aerial search off Western Australia to find any floating debris.
  • Absence of debris findings on Australian shores is only consistent with a few impact latitudes – the region near 35°S is the only one that is also consistent with other factors.

The new search area, near 35°S, comprises thin strips either side of the previously-searched strip close to the 7th arc. If the aircraft is not found there, then the rest of the search area is still likely to contain the plane. The available evidence suggests that all other regions are unlikely.

The reference to ‘the rest of the search area’ still being likely to contain the wreckage if it isn’t found in this last proposed search zone is significant.

There are reasonable if debatable concerns that the sunk wreckage of MH370 may be been so shattered and dispersed in a high speed mid-air breakup as it plunged toward the ocean, or on impact, that it had not been detected in the previously searched but often very deep and complex 120,000 square kilometres priority zone.

There is abundant evidence in other pieces of identified or probable fragments of MH370 that have been recovered on African and Indian Ocean island shores that the Malaysia Airlines flight experienced destructive forces on or before impact.

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37 thoughts on “Revised MH370 wreckage drift analysis adds pressure for renewed search

  1. derrida derider

    This is very frustrating, not to say extremely wasteful of Australian taxpayer’s dollars.
    As soon as the very first piece of the plane washed up, why was there no systematic effort to find and collect them all, with accurate logging of time and place, all along the coast of Mozambique then southern Africa? We would have had field testing of far more than a single piece of a single size, and so be in a position to do some very robust statistical modelling, taking into account such things as the distribution of pieces by size and floatability.
    We might easily have had the search area narrowed to tens, not tens of thousands, of km2 by now.

    1. Dan Dair

      I agree completely & have made a similar point about the complete failure to co-ordinate collection of the ‘washed-up’ parts on a number of occasions.

  2. Ben Sandilands

    Those strike me as very valid points. But to put it with unaccustomed delicacy on my part, some of the states concerned had to be prepared to accept offshore intervention in their sovereignty, or negotiate a ‘suitable’ price in places where the realities of diplomatic relations may occasionally run into millions of dollars to be spent on wider issues that searchers for parts of a crashed jet might not have considered. Australia was also concerned, I think correctly, in ensuring that the bulk of the costs of searching within the treaty defined Australian search and rescue zone were equally divided with Malaysia. Or to be blunt, I have a hunch the costs of launching such a comprehensive search may have exceeded by a large factor the spending on the search that we have seen, and it could have taken a year or more to negotiate.

    The efforts of individuals, notably by Blaine Gibson, cut through all of the state-to-state clutter. But as you say, we needed a lot more, and a lot sooner.

    1. Tango

      Ben is correct but probably not said as intensely as it should be.

      As soon as a foreign power is involved, the hackles go up.

      So, considering the number of countries involved and it was Malasyisa job to do this its come out as expected.

      1. Dan Dair

        “considering the number of countries involved and that it was Malaysia’s job to do this, it’s come out as expected”

        A most concise analysis.!

        1. Tango

          Thank you. Realistic may be a good term.

          1. Dan Dair

            No, it’s really much better than that.!

  3. Giant Bird

    Once the possibility of rescue had passed the whole issue of finding MH 370 was Malaysian decision and responsibility. Australia should stay well out of this issue, especially since Malaysia disrupted and misdirected the initial search.

    1. Dan Dair

      Giant Bird,
      Whilst I completely get where you’re coming from on this,

      I think the attitude & behaviour of the Malaysian authorities is exactly the reason why they should be ‘called-out’ on this
      & their lies & obfuscations exposed for the whole world to see.

      Additionally, it’s pretty bl00dy certain that if Australia doesn’t do it,
      no-one else (especially the Malaysians) is going to do it instead.?

      1. Tango

        Giant Bird posses the same question I continue.

        Australia had a surface search obligation that ended when there was no hope.

        It did not have a sub surface obligation, that was taken on by the Aussie Government.

        And it was a total waste as done far too soon.

        Lesson , get your facts before you jump. Don’t make decisions based on emotions or politics.

  4. Tango

    I think we should step this back a whole bunch,

    Once Malaysia screwed this up, and the search was far too late, the emotional end should not have occurred .

    At that point they should have started the in depth analysis as well as efforts to prod the Malaysians to set up African shore search.

    Once they had refined the Satalite data, then gotten debris (if any) and then followed up with more analysis you could have a real set of search parmameters.

    As we see, its still being refined.

    And it is still not going to be spot on as weather conditions so there is still drift error.

    How accurate this is and if it can narrow down enough maybe should be left to further assesment and further refining rather than start off on another tangetn.

  5. comet

    Malaysia should be kept as far away as possible from the search.

    This corrupt country doesn’t want the truth to come out.

    Whatever the cause of the 777’s doom, Boeing will inevitably be implicated for contributing to the disaster, which is probably the reason Boeing doesn’t want to assist with financing the search.

    1. Dan Dair

      I wouldn’t necessarily agree with this train of thought;
      “Boeing will inevitably be implicated for contributing to the disaster, which is probably the reason Boeing doesn’t want to assist with financing the search”

      I think it’s much more likely that Boeing just haven’t got the cash to call-upon to fund the search.
      They’ve already got enough on their plate developing the new B777 & the new-old B737, so they must be getting all ‘squeaky-bummed’ about any prospect that the ME3 might get all petulant with them & decide not to buy the new version.???

      1. comet

        Boeing is the manufacturer of a product that failed. It’s aircraft crashed – for whatever reason – killing 239 people.

        Boeing has a moral obligation to try to find out what happened, rather than just sit around and hope that a government covers the cost involved in finding out why its product failed. If it can’t afford to find out why one of its planes crashed, then it shouldn’t be making planes.

        1. Dan Dair

          I’m not arguing with your sentiment,
          just offering an alternative reason why Boeing might not (want to) participate in the search.

          I don’t think they’d be ‘bloody-minded’ about it.? It’s essentially in their interest to be proved blameless or to be shown to have found & remedied the problem.?
          Either way, so long as the root-cause remains unknown, there’s always that small doubt in the back of the minds of everyone concerned.?

          1. Tango

            Comet: You make a for gone conclusion based on no evidence other than a great deal of speculation.

            There is not one wit of factual information that says that the aircraft malfunctioned.

            There are a lot of theories based on impossible chains of events.

            And as we have seen, if Boeing had jumped in with all the emotional hullabaloo and political driven aspects, it still would not be found

          2. comet

            There are various theories of mechanical failure, which if true, would obviously point the finger at Boeing.

            But even if a crew member deliberately hijacked the plane, it could also implicate Boeing because of the location of the electronics bay and its security (or lack of).

  6. Mick Gilbert

    There appear to be a couple of flaws in the conclusions drawn by the CSIRO in their latest drift modelling paper. Perhaps most obvious is that while their research and modelling actually points to more than one possible point of origination (ie crash site), the CSIRO focus their attention exclusively on in the southernmost of the possibilities. That point, on the seventh arc near 35°S, is of course adjacent to the new 25,000 km² search zone recommended by the recent First Principles Review.
    Other possible points of origination with good fits to the modelled outcomes fall in a band between 28°S to 31°S. In fact, the northernmost possibilities are actually a better overall fit to all of the known data, specifically debris coming ashore not just on Reunion Island and Tanzania but also Southern Mozambique and South Africa. The CSIRO research was good news for my work regarding possible impact sites as my estimate of 30°43’ S 097°40’ E falls neatly into the northern hot zone.
    The second major flaw in the CSIRO’s reasoning is their use of the lack of debris coming ashore on the Western Australian coast as a differentiator; essentially they argue that because no debris has come ashore on the Western Australian coastline then they can eliminate possible points of origination south of 35°S and around 33°S. Here we have the old “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” problem. Frankly, how would we know what has or has not come ashore on the expansive but very thinly populated Western Australian coastline? Nobody has had a Blaine Gibson-like look.

    1. Tango


      I do hope this is taken a bit of a gentle prod, but all these variance and conclusions also are right in line with yours.

      In the case of your theory, you have no evidence as well (absence of a fact is not a fact) and turned it into a positive possibility.

      Frankly I will say absence of evidence is indeed evidence in reality.

      As lack of debris on the Western Australian coast and Tasmania is relevant. Not absolutely conclusive, but it is relevant and an amazing amount relatively speaking has shown up in Africa and none in Australia and the environs.

      The hard data we do have on MH370 does indeed lead to a conclusion that is virtually imposable to ignore that the aircraft was in good technical order when diverted off the intended path. That’s a simple fact.

      There are unexplained data and facts but that is not the same as making a conclusion.

      I have had 3 great examples at work that were attributed to equipment breakdowns when indeed there was none. In one case we spent a day and proved conclusively (to a logical mind) the person was lying about his actions.

      In another, our manage and another mechanic insisted that there were certain aspects and conditions when the evidence said that was not true. In that case they were not lying. Like many eye witnesses they were bad about what they saw and then turned that thought into fact.

      The third a manager who believes in voodoo said a motor had somehow repaired itself after blowing its 3 fuses.

      In all cases what was being put forth was and proven to be technically impossible. In the one case of the lying employee hit a disconnect, no other failure was possible. The manager and mechanic were simply wrong and there was no failure, the dump switch had been hit. In the case of the motor it was meggered, then run and it too was fine. Something else caused 3 fuses to blow and there simply is no way a motor would do that and not have a phase at least damaged or gone (megger and the ohm check and amp checks would all show that)

      I do agree that we should not jump on another bad wagon. I believe there are replicas in the works being launched?

      Also none of it ever can be solidly proven as there always will be variation in the dirt due to the extraneous evens of storms, winds, and directions they came form that push things outside the average.

      And as noted below (not that I knew) there are searches and I can’t imagine that every beach walker up and down that coast is not aware of and actively looking for interesting objects. Its what at least western beach combers do.

      So, again, let it settle, let the data collecting continue and see where it tells us it is.

      1. Mick Gilbert

        Tango, what the shift north is suggesting is that based on the known average fuel flow of 6,100 kg/hr from the last ACARS report at 1706:43 UTC to fuel exhaustion at 0017 UTC, the airplane did not fly as far as it was expected to. In other words, either it flew a long way up the Malacca Strait before turning south or it loitered in yhd Malacca Strait or something made it fly slower than it should have based on the thrust associated with that average fuel flow.
        Now, with reference to the latter option, that something could have been deliberate (the choice of an airspeed slower than Long Range Cruise or Economy Cruise, neither of which is consistent with a rogue pilot trying to get away and fly as far into the Southern Indian Ocean as possible) or accidental (damage to the airplane that impacted efficiency, ie additional drag causing the airplane to fly slower than normal for a given thrust setting).
        Neither contradicts my hypothesis and the latter is consistent with it.

        1. Tango

          Mick: It stayed in the air its allotted time.

          At altitude there is not a lot of distance between stall and over speed.

          As you noted, there could be a large number of reasons why it did not get as far as the data said. You have brought up the odd timing up in the N.W. Straight that indicated “odd behavior”

          The point is the complete absence of any indicator of aircraft malfunction in the time period where it initially turned and then wandered around for (hour or so?) is extremely strong if not iron clad negative proof.

          1. Mick Gilbert

            Tango, the fact that the airplane stayed in the air for “its allotted time” is simply a function of fuel flow (ie thrust setting). All it tells us is that the average fuel flow from the last ACARS report at 1706:43 UTC to fuel exhaustion at 0017 UTC was 6,100 kg/hr (very close to the Q&D B777 planning figure of 6,000 kg/hr). If you want to draw conclusions about the condition of the airplane you need to look at efficiency (ie what did that fuel flow produce?). And what appears to have been produced with a pretty much standard fuel flow was a somewhat less than standard expected distance flown. That may mean that the airplane flew slower than it should have for a given thrust setting and that in turn points to the possibility of additional drag.
            Take a motor car with a 75.83 gallon tank and fix the accelerator so that it consumes 10 gallons/hr; the motor will run for 7 hours and 35 minutes and the car will travel x miles at an average speed of x/7.583 mph. Now, re-run that exercise but this time 39 minutes after setting off open the passenger-side window about half an inch; once again the motor will run for 7 hours and 35 minutes but the car won’t have travelled as far and it won’t have travelled as fast.
            How long the motor runs for is interesting; how far and fast the car travels is instructive.
            As to “the complete absence of any indicator of aircraft malfunction”, well, many people would interpret the failure of multiple systems such as the transponder and SATCOM as an indicator of a malfunction, moreso when evidence of those failures was followed by a fairly standard diversion manoeuvre, initially towards the nearest airport, Kota Bharu, and then towards the nearest suitable airport, Penang.

          2. Dan Dair

            There is a vast amount of speculation being posited on these pages and in many other places.

            We all understand (especially Mick Gilbert) that we ARE speculating.!
            We are looking at the available evidence & offering-up our own considered (& sometimes ill-considered) opinions.

            The difference between the rest of us & your good self, seems to be that you KNOW.?
            How can you possibly know anything more than everyone else on this subject.?

            I am not making any attempt at all to criticise you for holding a contrary opinion to mine. That is absolutely your right & I do respect that.
            Also, the robust debate & exchange of (mostly) interesting viewpoints which is a feature of these pages, is one of the main reasons I’ve been an avid reader & contributor.

            Please step-back for a moment, gather your thoughts & then explain to us why YOU THINK your viewpoint is correct.?
            Most of us here can respect a different opinion.?
            I’m a bit cheesed-off with being told by you that it MUST be this way, when there isn’t any specific evidence to support that THEORY.
            I fully accept that there isn’t a lot of evidence to support any theory,
            but a lack of evidence isn’t proof of something.!

            I will fully accept your OPINION as being at least as valid as mine,
            possibly better.
            But please don’t pass-off your OPINION as fact.

          3. Tango

            Dan: Once you start taking the data and then start reading something that is not supported into it, then you are going off track.

            There is not a single piece of data that supports Mick, its all conjecture based on what iffs, could be, might have been all of which are implausible by themselves and the string is impossible (and some within the string are impossible)

            On the other hand, a pilot could have done all that we have data for.

            And in that regard, lack of even a single iota of data or facts does support that.

            I grew up working around and on machinery and equipment including electronics in the last 30 years.

            I have worked in extremely cold climates and I know both what it takes to survive, how fast you fail at -30 (C or F) , what wind chill does to people.

            Frankly, a program written to dump the cabin air, turn off all the comms and remove all control from the crew would make more sense. Jumper around the CBs that turn the computers off and away you go.

          4. Tango

            Mick, the problem is the ping data does give a airspeed once it settled down and headed South that is in line with a normal cruise.

            You have pointed out that does not work up in the N.W. Straights of Malacca area (rightfully ) and we can disagree how that came about and why.

            the Aircraft is going to try to maintain its set cruise speed and will open up the throttles to do so if there is drag. This of course brings in another convenient failure of auto throttle but not the rest.

            There is also a factor of not being able to get outside certain speed limits at altitude.

            Unfortunately it would take some in depth calcs I can’t do now and don’t have the time to do to disprove work out and disprove it.

            While I don’t think its your intent, that is the tool the Bermuda triangle types use.

            It took a guy who got an advance to write a book to finally put that to rest. Huge amount of research and time and then the effective method to kill the vampire is to suddenly dirve4 the stake into its heart, not slowly walk up to the coffin while it keeps moving around (ie. the book hit the market and it was all killed suddenly)

            Do me a favor and read this book

            “Scorpion Down ”

            while it makes zero sense that a Soviet missile boat would track down a Fast Attack and then sink it for ??? reasons, disproving all the guys times and dates would take a year.

          5. Mick Gilbert

            Tango, you said “… the ping data does give a airspeed once it settled down and headed South that is in line with a normal cruise.”
            Simply put, no, it doesn’t. There are multiple speed solutions for constant tracks and constant heading that fit the ping rings (more so for constant tracks). The solutions that countenance speeds between Long Range Cruise and Economy Cruise end further south along the seventh arc (35°S and below); essentially they are the set of possible solutions that the ATSB used in their modelling to arrive at their underwater search area.

        2. Dan Dair

          “On the other hand, a pilot could have done all that we have data for”
          Yes, I agree, they COULD.
          However, is there actually any actual evidence to support that conjecture.?…… No

          but, that doesn’t stop you knowing stuff…….
          You go on to say
          “lack of even a single iota of data or facts does support that”.
          No it doesn’t. That’s just what’s going-on in your head. ?

          The lack of facts & data does NOT support any theory.
          What it gives us is a dilemma;
          you decide that there is insufficient information to draw a realistic conclusion & search more diligently for further data
          you decide that a conclusion is not within your reach at this time & accept that it is something that must be revisited by future generations to get to the actual truth.
          You therefor publish your report as being that of a failure to reach an adequate conclusion.

          Only buffoons (such as a hopeful group of Malaysian investigators) would decide to publish an official report, based upon a complete lack of any actual evidence to support any kind of conclusion at all.

          You are perfectly free to think what you like & believe whatever you choose to believe.
          I may disagree with you, but I would always respect your right to hold a different opinion to mine.

          That said,
          I can’t respect a claim to know (as opposed to believe) something which the current evidence does not support,
          nor can I accept that the lack of any evidence to the contrary, is a ‘de-facto’ support of the position you purport.

          At this stage the situation is quite clear;
          There aren’t any hard facts to support any theory conclusively.

          You might be right & one or both of the pilots might have done it.?
          But these’s no actual medical or social evidence to support this conclusion.

          Mick Gilbert might be right.?
          But until we find some cockpit wreckage we can neither verify nor disprove his ideas.?

          There’s still a possibility that Simon Gunson’s theory holds water. (no bad pun intended)
          Without any electronics bay evidence, how can you actually, factually disprove him.?
          FAIK he might be telling the world right now that a lack of any hard evidence to the contrary, conclusively PROVES that his theory MUST be correct.?
          But he probably isn’t,
          because from what little I know of him, I expect he would be diligently searching for actual evidence to support his theory.?

  7. Steve Barrett

    Mike from “The Plane that Wasn’t There” Jeff Wise Location 439: “Last October, a nonprofit organization called the Tangaroa Blue held its annual West Australian Beach Cleanup. Some 1,500 volunteers combed 130 beaches up and down the western coast collecting plastic rubbish and other debris”. I presume October refers to 2014 but nothing from 9M-MRO has been found in WA from these annual cleanups.

    Likewise in Tasmania;
    In a 60 mile stretch searched with 80,000 pieces of debris again nothing from 9M-MRO.

    More recently from the Keeling Islands abouts 4,200km from Perth 50,000 pieces of debris found and nothing from 9M-MRO;

    Of course there is still a risk of a false negative and so the specificity is not quite 100%.

    My understanding a lack of Australian debris has been used by the CSIRO to limit the possible SIO entry points. Also, and interestingly, more northerly entry points have been ‘excluded’ by melding the drift and early over flight search data. No conclusive 9M-MRO debris was found in any of the overflights but of course not every square kilometer was searched.

    1. Tango

      Thank you for that information.

      While I did not know about that, I do know beachcombers (at least western types) and seldom does a piece of coast go unobserved and actively scanned for any interesting objects.

      That continues to nudge the location out of a iffy zone to a sure zone that nothing would have been swept back to Australia and Tasmania.

    2. Mick Gilbert

      Thanks for those references, Steve. Tangaroa Blue maintain a database of their clean ups by date, location and nature of “rubbish” collected. It seems much of ghd Western Australian coastline has been checked at various times since MH370 went in.

  8. Tango

    As I recall the massive debris filed report was well to the South.

    That is a case of jumping to conclusions.

    We don’t hear about it anymore because it does not fit no matter how hard you try to make a forced closure (surveyor term for trying to make distances and angles work when there is an error in the data or calculations)

    1. Dan Dair

      With the greatest of respect,
      there’s no reason why the original debris-field could not have come from 9M-MRO.?
      The debris-field sighted on satellite imaging was never actually searched in daylight.
      Equally, surface-drift could have caused an impact debris-field to move from the actual impact site, further South to where that one was sighted.?
      There was such comparatively long time between when the aircraft went missing and when the SIO search was first commenced & then still more time before the debris-field was first sighted on the satellite images. It is distinctly not beyond the realms of possibility that the debris field could have been from 9M-MRO.?

      All that said, since that debris field was never actually searched, there is also no proof at all that the debris-field had anything at all to do with 9M-MRO.

      1. Tango

        Dan: I don’t have the resources to do the plotting, but what you are proposing is that a debris field in the Northern area move intact to the Southern area.

        That does not occur, each item takes on its own drift profile depending on a lot of factors which spreads them out widely within a short time.

        That also belies the drift does not go from North to South, as predicted amazingly accurately (using averages that work for more than one piece) it all has arrived at Africa.

        It was never in play and never will be, sans those who don’t get how it all works out in the briny open ocean let alone an active one like the SIA.

        1. Dan Dair

          It’s not necessarily about ocean drift in those early days.
          The debris-field was on the surface so prevailing wind patterns are as much, if not more important than ocean-drift.
          Since we know it was downright nasty weather in the region over that period, it’s not inconceivable that the debris-field could have been pushed a considerable distance from a crash-site, if the winds stayed strong & more or less constant.?
          Of course, as I said before, it’s also completely possible that the particular debris field had nothing to do with 9M-MRO.?

          1. Tango

            That then negates all drift theory

            If it pushed it down South en mass then some of it would have wound up in Australia and or Tasmania.

            Drift ahs far more influence than wind with semi submerged object .

            And debris do not hang together, they scatter.

            But you have to have some experience with oceans, currents and how it all works to understand that.

  9. caf

    It hasn’t been a complete bust, the data from the search will enable some good science:

    1. Tango

      Agreed. It is also a good template of how not to go about it as well and people can pull that out of the play book in the future and say

      Well, if we are going to do this we need to give it time, pin it down, otherwise we just pissed 100+ million away.

      All found wrecks were very closely known as to where they were, that includes AF447.

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