MH370 report wraps up but ghosts remain

Most likely area containing the remains of MH370 – ATSB

Its been a frustrating three years searching for Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that disappeared in March 2014 with 239 people on board.   What is apparent is that the mystery which at times had conspiracy theorists leaping about blaming the American Air Force, aliens and cockpit fires,  is that we just know nothing about what happened.


I’m not a relative of anyone on board,  but had this been the case, the terrible almost transfixingly macabre disappearance surely would have driven me to a visit to the Malaysian embassy in South Africa with photographs and demands.

In Australia,  the Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) reported on Tuesday 3 September “The reasons for the loss of MH370 cannot be established with certainty until the aircraft is found.”


Of course.

But it has to be said.  Yet there are clues and we’ve perused these closely.

  1.  Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah had simulated a similar route on his Flight Simulator at home.  It’s not a normal route.  It’s not like he was practicing for some emergency.  His simulating featured a flight almost exactly like the one the plane is believed to have taken before disappearing.
  2. The flight characteristics were those only a highly experienced pilot could have managed in the circumstances.  The plane nosed over and dived towards the ocean and then was flared back 180 degrees and more than 30 000 feet below where the dive began.  No beginner here.
  3. The trajectory of the plane took it at low altitude and therefore conducive to radar avoidance,  over Malaysia, then northern Indonesia, then South west into the deep Indian Ocean.  Why?  To avoid  detection.
  4. The point at which communication failure occurred was precisely at the point the pilot switched channels between Malaysia and Vietnam.  The person who switched off the transponder at that point as well as ACARS and other systems was not only proficient,  but had to be seated within seconds of the captain reporting the handover point to the Malaysians. In other words, the pilot or first officer.

I’ve written about this for three years and cannot, as the Australian’s have pointed out, prove anything until the plane is located.

Aircraft engine ping zone

But you don’t have to be an aviator to understand that there are some glaring issues which the authorities cannot begin to address.  It all looks highly suspicious and the suspicion falls upon the Captain of the aircraft.  I’m not going to say anything further because he too has family and no-one likes a wiseguy from another country thumb-sucking facts.

Still, let’s address facts we do have.  It’s the most expensive search effort for any aircraft, is the largest and crosses many seas.  It began in the Gulf of Thailand and South China Sea and then shifted to the Indian Ocean off Australia.

The aircraft was last detected by radar in the Strait of Malacca and in the Andaman Sea.  The engines of the Boeing 777-200ER sent ping messages to the Inmarsat communications network.   Between October 2014 and January this year a massive survey was conducted of 120,000 km2 of sea floor south-west of the Australian coast.


Several pieces of the plane have washed up in Africa and Indian Ocean islands such as Reunion where the flaperon was found in July 2015

The ATSB says  “It is almost inconceivable and certainly societally unacceptable in the modern aviation era… for a large commercial aircraft to be missing and for the world not to know with certainty what became of the aircraft and those on board.”

It’s 440 page report also says:
“The underwater search has eliminated most of the high probability areas yielded by reconstructing the aircraft’s flight path and the debris drift studies conducted in the past 12 months have identified the most likely area with increasing precision,” it said.

But the money has run out.

The US has offered to bet more involved but Malaysia is now moving away from accepting any further searches for the plane.  While Kuala Lumpur instituted live tracking of its aircraft,  there’s still the fact that 239 people are gone.  And no-one knows where.

Still, there is a slight glimmer of light about all of the above.  Flight MH370 emphasised  to the reasonably minded public that its unacceptable to live in a world where you can attack a little piece of rubber to your arm that tracks you around a bicycle track but where the latest commercial airliner could not be tracked in real time.  Something about it costing $20m per year.   Airliners have put profit before logic.   That’s not a sustainable situation where I can lodge a chip in a local lion and then follow it around on my iPhone from Jamaica but SAA’s chairperson of the board can’t find her Boeing while she’s actually sitting on it.

The Boeing I mean.

Flight Voice Recorder – in future ICAO wants these to float.

So the International Civil Aviation Organization adopted new standards for aircraft position reporting over open ocean, also extended recording time for the voice recorder, and forces new aircraft sold from 2020 to ensure that the flight recorder ends up floating when planes are submerged.


MH370 Report Indicates Plane Was Descending With Flaps Retracted


So now we know.  At least,  we know what experts probing MH370 suspect happened in the final moments of the flight in March 2014, somewhere off the West Coast of Australia and over one of the deepest parts of the Indian Ocean.   Two hundred and thirty nine people were aboard the Boeing 777 when it disappeared en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.   The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released a report on Wednesday which analyses wing flap debris which they say shows the aircraft was not configured for a landing.   How it ended up in the opposite direction to where it was going is still a mystery.

The latest report is here.

Australia’s Transport Minister Darren Chester has told a media conference that the search will continue until the end of this year, and that the plane wreckage is still believed to be in the area being probed.

That’s a vast area 120,000 kilometres square.   The ATSB says somewhere in that area is a plane which from satellite communications show it could have been in a “high and increasing rate of descent” when it disappeared from radar.

Aviators call this various things.  One is a death dive.    All from the damage assessed on a flaperon that washed up on a remote beach months after MH370 vanished.

The plaperon recovered from Reunion in July 2015

It could be one of the most important pieces of information since the crash as some have said the pilot or someone may have glided the plane into the ocean, and if that started from 36 000 feet it means the Boeing could be up to 250km outside the search area.

A blog I wrote last year analysed the scenarios and one featured the pilot or first officer being implicated in the final moments.  This is a very sensitive and legally fractious view and one which cannot be proven – yet.

It’s the chilling view of the End of Flight Simulations in the report that attracts attention.

The location of the flaperon on a Boeing

In April 2016, the ATSB defined a range of scenarios for the manufacturer to simulate in their engineering simulator.  Values included the aircraft’s speed, fuel, electrical configuration and altitude, along with the turbulence level.

The results have all been aligned to the point two minutes after the loss of power from the engines. This is the theorised time at which the 7th arc transmissions would have been sent.



The report also has these two points:

  • Some of the simulated scenarios recorded descent rates that equalled or exceeded values derived from the final SATCOM transmission. Similarly, the increase in descent rates across an 8 second period (as per the two final BFO values) equalled or exceeded those derived from the SATCOM transmissions. Some simulated scenarios also recorded descent rates that were outside the aircraft’s certified flight envelope.
  • The results of the scenarios, combined with the possible errors associated with the BTO values indicate that the previously defined search area width of ±40 NM is an appropriate width to encompass all uncontrolled descent scenarios from the simulations.

This is crucial too,  but keep in mind that the ATSB has said constantly that the scenarios are not the only ones possible – but are the most likely.   The damage analysis of the flaperon washed up on Reunion is now central.  From the report:

“Damage to the internal seal pan components at the inboard end of the outboard flap was possible with the auxiliary support track fully inserted into the flap. That damage was consistent with contact between the support track and flap, with the flap in the retracted position. The possibility of the damage originating from a more complex failure sequence, commencing with the flaps extended, was considered much less likely.”


The flap shows fracturing consistent with damage which occurred while it was retracted – ATSB

Finally the ATSB says on their initial report published on November 2nd:

  • The right outboard flap was most likely in the retracted position at the time it separated from the wing.
  • The right flaperon was probably at, or close to, the neutral position at the time it separated from the wing.

This is still no salve for the horror family members continue to suffer – waiting for signs of where their loved ones lie on the floor of one of the world’s most isolated oceans.