What Happened to Flight 370? An Analysis of What Is Known

UPDATE 3/13/14: As expected (see my analysis of ocean currents and drift-time below), the purported debris was a false lead. The revelation that the automated ACARS was still sending data on the Rolls Royce engines is not surprising given what else is known, nor is the Malaysian claim that the data is false. Engine data indicates Malaysian plane flew four hours after disappearing

Now we have the report I have been expecting, via ABC News: “U.S. officials have an ‘indication’ the missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner may have crashed in the Indian Ocean and is moving the USS Kidd to the area to begin searching.” I take this “indication” to mean data collected by U.S. space-based and terrestrial assets has finally been analyzed.

The U.S. is moving the search to the Indian Ocean while Malaysia is denying the engines continued sending data. Which set of officials do you reckon knows more? The U.S. would not be sending the USS Kidd to an area based on rumor or hearsay. I strongly suspect the U.S. has data which it cannot share publicly because the data would reveal the extent of U.S. capabilities.

The story gets curiouser and curiouser–but so far every piece of new data conforms to my basic analysis of the known facts.

Like many other people, I am following the story of what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 with keen interest. Much of what we’ve been told doesn’t add up, deepening the mystery.

It seems to me that we can already draw a number of conclusions from the known data by pursuing a logic-based analysis of what is possible and what can be excluded as illogical.

Let’s start with what is known:

1. The Malaysian authorities have been evasive to the point of misdirection, in other words, they’ve hidden the facts to serve an undisclosed agenda.

What is the agenda driving their evasion? What is known is that Malaysian security is obviously lax. This fact has caused Malaysian authorities to lose face, i.e. be humiliated on the global stage. Malaysia is an Asian nation, and maintaining face in Asia is of critical importance. We can conclude that one reason the Malaysian authorities are dissembling is to hide their gross incompetence.

That the Malaysian military was unable to effectively monitor the aircraft or coordinate with civilian air traffic control (ATC) also suggests incompetence at the most sensitive levels. Revealing this would also cause a loss of face.

Summary: Malaysian authorities have not been truthful or timely in their reporting. The logical conclusion is that they’re hiding data to protect national pride and the true state of their abysmal security.

2. Additional information is available but is not being shared with the public. To take one example, the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) on Flight 370 was functioning and automatically sent data on four critical systems, including the engines. This data has not been released by Malaysian Airlines.

It also appears that the pilot of another 777 airliner heading to Japan contacted the pilot in Flight 370 and reported the transmission was garbled.

Even with the transponder off, the aircraft would appear on primary (military) radar. The Malaysian military tracked Flight 370 but is dissembling. Clearly the authorities are not revealing the full extent of what is known.

3. Satellite imagery did not detect a high-altitude explosion. This excludes all scenarios in which the aircraft crashes into another plane, explodes in mid-air, etc.

4. Flight 370 changed course and altitude, and then maintained the new bearing for hundreds of miles and an additional hour of flight after losing contact with ATC (air traffic control). This limits scenarios in which decompression causes everyone on board to lose consciousness or a catastrophic electrical fire incapacitating the flight deck to an emergency that enabled the pilots to set a new course before losing consciousness or control of the aircraft.

5. The Malaysian military reported Flight 370’s altitude as 29,500 feet. This conflicts with eyewitness accounts from fishermen reporting a large aircraft at a much lower altitude around 1,000 meters (3,000 feet). If the radar altitude is correct, this suggests the aircraft was not experiencing decompression, as the pilots would descend as an emergency response to decompression. If the fishermen’s report is accurate, then decompression would not be an issue.

6. Mobile phone data suggests the passengers’ phones were still functioning after the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control (ATC) and the transponder was turned off/failed.

7. Releasing data from the U.S. intelligence space-based network would reveal U.S. capabilities. The Strait of Malacca is a key shipping lanes chokepoint, and is thus of strategic interest to the U.S. and other nations with space-based assets. U.S. authorities have already revealed that U.S. coverage of the area is “thorough.”

This confirms that U.S. communications monitoring and space-based assets cover the seas around the Strait of Malacca. Given what is known about these monitoring and space-based assets, it is likely that the U.S. intelligence agencies have additional data but are not revealing them, as this would provide direct evidence of U.S. capabilities.

We can surmise that the U.S. maintains thermal imaging capabilities that can detect more than large explosions. We can also surmise that the communications monitoring networks picked up any signals from the aircraft or related to the aircraft.

That the head of the C.I.A. publicly professed ignorance is interesting. What course of action would one pursue if one wanted to keep U.S. capabilities secret? Publicly proclaim ignorance.

This is not to suggest that the U.S. “knows where flight 370 is;” it is simply to note that this is not “open ocean” comparable to the mid-Atlantic where Air France Flight 447 went down five years ago. This is a strategic chokepoint of great interest to the U.S., and therefore it is likely that U.S. networks and space-based assets collected data that would either exclude certain possibilities or make other possibilities more likely.

What can we logically conclude from the most reliable and trustworthy data available?

1. The pilots were conscious when they turned off the transponder (or the transponder failed) around 1:30 a.m. and when they changed course soon after.The aircraft was under the control of the pilots long enough for them to set a new course.

2. The aircraft flew an additional hour or more on the new westward course at cruising altitude.

3. No distress signal was sent during this 1+ hour flight after whatever event caused the the pilots to change course.

If we put these together, we can establish a number of logical parameters around each plausible scenario, where plausible scenario means a situation based on previous losses of commercial aircraft.

1. Pilot suicide. If the pilot had decided to commit suicide by crashing the plane, why not ditch the aircraft in the South China Sea? Why change course and fly for another hour?

Alternatively, the Malaysian military’s reports are completely false and they were tracking an unknown aircraft near Pulau Perak at 2:15 a.m. (previously reported as 2:40 a.m.)

How many unidentified large aircraft are flying around Pulau Perak at 2:15 a.m. on a typical night? The possibility that the radar signal was not Flight 370 seems remote.

2. Mechanical failure that caused decompression or an electrical fire that incapacitated the flight deck. If such an emergency occurred, it enabled the pilots to change course and altitude.

Assuming a decompression event, we could expect the pilots to descend rapidly. If Flight 370 was indeed at 29,500 feet at 2:15 a.m., that suggests the aircraft was still capable of flight at cruising altitude. So either the pilots were still flying the aircraft or the decompression event enabled them to change course and set the autopilot before losing consciousness.

If the aircraft was being flown by autopilot, it could have flown for many more hours, given its fuel load, which raises the question: if the pilots were unconscious at 2:15 a.m., why did the aircraft suddenly crash 10 minutes later? Or did the aircraft simply leave the airspace covered by the Malaysian military?

If an emergency had crippled the aircraft’s electrical system, it’s unlikely the plane could have continued flying at cruising altitude for an additional hour. If a catastrophic electrical fire crippled the flight deck, how could the plane continue flying at cruising altitude for another hour, given that the battery backup would last at best 30 minutes?

In other words, the additional hour of flight time on a new course does not logically align with an emergency decompression or fire that led to the flight deck and pilots being incapacitated. A decompression event would have led to either A. a rapid controlled descent or B. the pilots unconscious/unable to take control and the autopilot flying the aircraft on the new course for many hours.

Alternatively, a catastrophic electrical fire would have either brought the aircraft down within minutes of the event or at best provided 30 minutes on emergency battery power. Neither jibes with an additional hour of flight at cruising altitude.

This leads to the conclusion that the aircraft was still being flown by the pilots, i.e. conscious decisions were being made by either the pilots or someone who had seized control of the flight deck.

If a mechanical emergency had crippled the aircraft, it seems unlikely that the pilots could change course and altitude but not be able to send a distress signal. If the pilots had lost consciousness but the rest of the plane’s systems were nominal, the autopilot would have continued flying the aircraft until the fuel ran out, many hours beyond 2:15 a.m.

That suggests there was conscious control of the aircraft and that those in charge made a decision sometime after 2:15 a.m. that led to the loss of the aircraft. This scenario strongly suggests human action or error as the operative emergency rather than mechanical failure.

Either that, or some key data that has been released as fact is actually false.

Late breaking news: if the satellite images released by China (taken one day after Flight 370 went missing) are in fact photos of wreckage, then the Malaysian military was obviously not tracking Flight 370 to the west an hour later.

The blurry photo does not reveal much, but several features are noteworthy:

1. The three pieces are very large, which means they must be intact sections of the wings or fuselage. It is unlikely these would still be floating hours after a crash. We might also wonder, what sort of impact would create three large pieces rather than a debris field?

2. The three pieces are close together. Unless the aircraft landed intact in the water and sank in one piece, there would likely be a field of much smaller floating debris.

3. What else could this be? The large size of the pieces is certainly consistent with the scale of a 777.

4. Why did China withhold the imagery for three days? Did their own search ships reach the coordinates identified by the satellite?

5. The ocean currents and the location of the presumed debris do not compute.Ocean currents in the area are 2 kilometers/hour. Presumed debris is 141 miles from last known position This doesn’t compute: the satellite image was taken 11 am Sunday 33 hours after MH370 presumably crashed; debris would only drift 33 hr X 2 KM=66 KM or about 40 miles from the last known position of HM370. Debris was 140 miles to the east–100 miles beyond what’s possible in terms of debris drifting with currents from the presumed crash site.

In summary, these images open additional questions. There is no substitute for actually finding the aircraft or debris.

MH370: Satellite images show possible crash debris in South China sea

Malaysian military now reveals it tracked MH370 to the Malacca strait

Radar Blips Baffle Officials in Malaysian Jet Inquiry

The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

Malaysian plane sent out engine data before vanishing

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  • james

    A theory that I have not seen published before, but that is entirely consistent with the information, or lack of correct information that I haven’t seen before.

    Inadvertent shoot-down and subsequent cover-up by the responsible military or government.

    This would explain the misinformation. It would explain why the wreckage has not been found in the most populous region on earth.

    The most telling however is the story linked in the earlier comment where the pilots were entertaining hot chicks in the cockpit and smoking cigarettes – which is such a badly written piece of disinformation it’s funny – intended to add confusion and discredit the pilots; and is intended to sway public opinion into thinking the pilots were reckless.

    That kind of misinformation story is only placed by “intelligence” agencies (or in this case lack of intelligence agencies).

    First off, the picture has a full-body picture of the hot babe – How many stories have pictures like that? None – except ones with a purpose. In this case they want to make it obvious the pilots had been reckless hoping for sex with the hot babes.

    Second: smoking in the cockpit? No way. Modern planes have tamper proof smoke detectors in the cockpit. Alarms would go off all over the place.

    Third – they claim the pilots were not paying attention to the flight of the aircraft. This ludicrous tidbit is obviously intended to support the other piece of “information” that says they veered off course.

    No commercial flight crew I’ve ever seen would do this – it’s simply not fathomable.

    That story is a total fabrication – but why??? Because someone with very strong connections is trying to misinform the public about the cause of this crash.

    I think if someone tried to get second hand data to corroborate the “hot chicks” story it would fall apart…

  • ClubToTheHead

    The airplane was hijacked, diverted, landed, and is now hidden.

    It will appear again at some time when another airplane of the same type is shot down in another observational blind spot.

    It will slip into the latter’s flight pattern, unnoticed, with a deadly load of explosives only to be discovered upon detonation.

    Slight of hand magicians trick accomplished.

    Or maybe not.

    Fictional interlude terminated.

  • Citizen Quasar

    I think this plane was hijacked by or on behalf of the government of the United States of America as a black operation.

    I predict that this hijacking will somehow be false flag linked to Iran, with the passengers horribly mutilated, and this “unfortunate incident” will be used as justification for and to stir public opinion in favor of the United States of America attacking Iran.

    • Citizen Quasar

      Also, it is ridiculous to think that the Rolls Royce engines phoned home to Rolls Royce and continued sending telemetry to Rolls Royce for four hours after the plane “disappeared” without sending the exact-to-within-the-width-of-a-cellphone-antenna GPS location of the engines. Rolls Royce, in conjunction with American intelligence, has satellites that track stuff like this. So Rolls Royce knows EXACTLY where this plane was 4 hours after it disappeared.

  • V

    Here’s another angle….stolen for parts. Parted out, a 777 would be worth far more than it’s near $300 million price tag. Not plausible? It happened in 2003 where a 727 was involved. More here: http://www.airspacemag.com/history-of-flight/the-727-that-vanished-2371187/?all

    • james

      Interesting story, but that ones about an old retired airliner that had been flown to Africa to do cargo duty and having been beat up flying on dirt strips and not paid for was being repossessed and went missing.

      Not really comparable to an operating 777 with a full crew and full load of passengers onboard flying from one mainline airport to another.

      You can’t land a 777 without people taking pictures of it – they are very large planes.

  • Lutz Lehmann

    So suddenly, they (Malaysian Air Force) heard
    those pings? Come on! They want to make us believe the plane crashed far away amidst
    the Indian Ocean! Because they don’t want anyone to search right in front of Kuala
    Lumpur Beach! Where they shot the plane, because it threatened to hit the Petronas
    twin towers, according to my crash scenario, that hasn’t been discussed yet
    anywhere: the pilot tries, for whatever reasons, to crash the jet plane into
    the sky scratching Kuala Lumpur Petronas twin towers and can only be stopped by
    being shot down with a last second missile from the Malaysian Air Force. That would explain why no automatically
    transmitted data from the missing plane to the state run Malaysian Airline
    headquarters are being found because they’d be deleted by the Malaysian
    government for obvious reasons. Weird that no one is looking for the crashed
    plane directly off the Malaysian coast close to Kuala Lumpur! Who is hiding
    what? Just a theory, but one needs to think the impossible at times, right?

  • Edison Wenklin

    My prediction: the flight was hijacked and landed somewhere at middle east: