Five years later, the clue that all the investigators overlooked.


[Update a while later]

I just RTHT:

“The essential trail is the Inmarsat data,” Wattrelos said. “Either they are wrong [in their analysis] or they have been hacked.”

If the latter is the case, the ramifications are scary. Whoever took MH370 was determined, aggressive, and far more sophisticated than investigators have been willing to contemplate. They have also succeeded in fooling officials, the public, and most of the press for half a decade. That’s an uncomfortable prospect, and one that many people would prefer to ignore. But if it’s true—or even possibly true—then it’s something that needs to be dealt with expeditiously. Because that could mean whoever took MH370 is still out there…and nothing whatsoever has been done to stop them.

It is disturbing.

20 thoughts on “MH370”

  1. I’m not convinced. If you are leaving a bread crumb trail, you don’t leave it somewhere it may not be found.

    If I was stealing a jumbo jet, I’d fly close to a light aircraft my partner was flying, switch off all my electronics and have him switch his transponder to my code. Then just have him fly my normal flight plan, and just switch off the transponder at some point.

    The fact that the data signal “accidentally” leaked information is not that unusual, but is unusual enough to make it a poor intentional misdirection attempt. To me it looks a lot like massive damage done to the flight systems, followed by a reboot to try and bring it back up.

    I don’t know what happened, but the most likely think in my mind is that the plane was intentionally taken off course. The flight wandered for a bit after the 180 degree turn, but once they had a landmark they moved in straight lines. That implies intent.

    Of course, various parts have since washed up on shore. So likely whatever was being attempted did not succeed, unless it was just a complicated mass murder attempt.

    (The other side to this is that it would be somewhat difficult to sell/hide the use of a jumbo jet. There just aren’t that many of them, and they can only land in so many places.)

    1. The question that I suspect neither of us know enough to answer is could damage cause the system to broadcast bad information? Or could it only leak the actual info?

      1. The timing is internal to the satellite terminal. But problems with the velocity data could cause the Doppler Effect compensation to be incorrect.

        However, I believe the aircraft has to believe the data is valid in order for the satellite terminal to use it. Otherwise it won’t even try to log on.

  2. I think it was a test, if anything at all — a proof of concept and an opportunity to observe the investigators’ limitations.

    If the purpose of the taking is mass murder, what are the sorts of motives behind doing it with a planeload of passengers?

    I’ve never heard of it being done without the purpose of the act meant to be known; unless there were certain people onboard who were the targets, and the manner of their assassination needed for some reason to be concealed, this seems an unlikely way to go about it.

    But if we suppose this is the case, it still makes better sense to have the plane’s end known to the world so that the red herring of a plane crash — whether accident or terrorism — can mislead everyone about why those particular people died.

    I think, assuming the whole thing wasn’t just a sequence of flukes (which can never be ruled out), that whoever took the plane may have wanted to demonstrate — for their own purposes if nothing else — that it (whatever “it” is) could be done this way, successfully.

    Afterward, finding out what investigators can figure out about this manner of taking would be as important as making sure the tactic works to commit the crime in the first place.

    1. Why the ‘hack’ ? No, seriously…

      If the plane was flown to some airfield in the Golden Triangle, more or less crash lands in one piece and then subsequently chopped up for spare parts. (*cough*) Iranian embargoes (*cough*). Then covering up Grand Larceny, Mas Kidnapping, and Mass Homicide seems logical… Just really, really far fetched as the event recedes in the past and nothing more is known…

      Terrorism? Why bother?

  3. There is an alternative explanation: Someone manually activated that satcom system because it was the only thing they could do.

    The 777, like most modern aircraft, is fly by wire. Everything is run by the computer-run flight control system. What if that was hacked? (Bear in mind that the in flight infotainment system is part of the flight control systems, and this route has been used to hack an airliner in flight before)

    You’d have no operative controls, no operative comms. Cell phones? Marginal at best at high altitude over a cell tower, but once out of range, useless. A satphone could work, assuming someone had one handy.

    Also, the flight control system could depressurize the plane. That would confine everyone to their seats for the 15 or so minutes until the O2 ran out. The plane then ends up flying out into the Indian Ocean until the fuel runs out.

    I’m not saying this scenario is what happened, but it’s one I haven’t been able to poke holes in, yet. If it does turn out to be true, it was someone doing a test run, a test of a very dangerous capability. I suspect China, in part because most of the passengers were Chinese (and thus in the minds of many it would make China an unlikely suspect).

  4. The drift modelers at University of Western Australia have in fact got good modeling which say the found wreckage is consistent with a crash in the general area that was searched. I hadn’t heard that the barnacles were thought too young anywhere in Australian media.
    A friend of mine (former very experienced RAAF P-3 captain and former editor for many years of an online flight safety publication) has the theory there was a flash fire in the co-pilot oxygen system leading to a depressurization (there is an AD about this after a fire on the ramp at Cairo) and it is uncertain that the AD had been complied with). My theory is the crew emergency oxygen bottle blew up (it does happen now and again) and punched a hole in the side. It is in the avionics bay under the cockpit. At the altitude they were, time of useful consciousness is less than 30 seconds. Both pilots are fed from the ONE oxygen bottle. By the time they realized the oxy was useless they’d have used up at least half that time.
    Next, they pushed and rolled to the emergency field to the north. This disengages the primary autopilot mode. They then pass out.
    The airplane is apparently both statically and dynamically stable pin pith so when the pressure on the control is released the airplane will zoom slightly and return to level flight. This next is crucial – the 777 has a full time wing leveler which isn’t found in airline simulators but is in the iron bird rig at Boeing. This means the airplane will not spiral into the ocean in short order but will continue to fly wings level, trimmed. It isn’t a heading hold so any encounters with turbulence in the tops of Cb’s with disturb the course slightly. At this time everybody on board is dead. Eventually it encounters a large Cb and gets spat out heading south where it exits the ITCZ and remains undisturbed until the fuel runs out.The wing leveler has enough to authority to cope with one engine flaming out before the other and when both do the RAT deploys automatically to maintain electrical power. The airplane then glides down trimmed at cruise AoA at around 250 KIAS with flaps up. This will be a considerably harder ocean impact than a ditching at 130 KIAS or so which explains the wreckage and the Australian ATSB says the flaperon they found is consistent with it being up on impact.

    1. Very, very intriguing!

      Your theory explains much. Also, once the crew lost consciousness, there would still be passenger O2, but, that lasts about 15 mins – and they’re stuck in their seats, the crew unconscious behind a locked door.

    2. So in your scenario, the oxygen bottle took down most of the electronics (all the communications) and either momentarily bounced the power going to the satellite system (causing the reboot that took two minutes), or perhaps shorted a frayed power wire for those minutes, but then due to air blasting through the hole in the fuselage, the shorted wire was either severed or moved into a different position where it was no longer shorted.

      1. You raise good points regarding Mike Borgelt’s theory.

        I don’t see how we have any indication the communications were out though? In an urgent situation such as as described, the last thing a competent pilot would do is use the radio. The radio cannot help you, so the rule is, first, fly the airplane.

        The reboot is indeed problematic.

        I still wonder about the fire at the gate in Cairo, where a 777 had a fire in the crew O2 system, which put a hole in the fuselage. I imagine that happening in flight; the crew is suddenly faced by a fierce fire in the control panel, which forces their retreat, plus plays havoc with the electrical system. They might be able to reach in and alter course while trying to fight the fire. Then, the hull breaches, leaving them with explosive decompression and no O2 supply.

        Would this scenario fit, including with the reboot? The course flown seems to indicate otherwise, even with wing leveling; after the final turn south, there appear to be no deviations in course.

        1. Aviate Navigate Communicate

          It appears the first two were done for a short time, and maybe the third in some manner later?

  5. Spoofing is a possibility, but it would require someone who understood the satellite technology better than Inmarsat did at the time, so they could generate a signal that was consistent with previous communications from the aircraft, and with precise timing and frequency that Inmarsat could decode into a track that made some kind of sense.

    You’d certainly need a group with a fair amount of money and a lot of time to pull it off. Not two guys in a shed with a USB software radio.

  6. Whispers around the FAA have it that David Copperfield has been working on a TV special for the past six years…

  7. George Turner, the crew emergency oxygen is in the electronics bay under the cockpit. I’d love to know where the co-ax to the antennas from the transponders and radios is routed. Alongside the oxygen bottle mounting? My friend’s theory about a flash fire in the crew oxygen can similarly damage the cable routing and the ACARS. After the event, the sat comms was lost for between 22 and 68 minutes but all that was received after that was the handshake. This is consistent with part of the ACARS system having been damaged (no data to transmit) but rebooting at a later time. I have no idea about the logic of that system but I’ll bet there are people who do.
    BTW this theory gets you banned from if you try to post it there. The site was started by a couple of Brit airline pilots who sold it to a consortium at least 7 years ago. The consortium includes Boeing.
    Warning if you go to that site and look around you might not ever want to fly on an airliner again. It is very obvious why they aren’t rocket engineers.

    1. there is an AD about this after a fire on the ramp at Cairo

      The Egypt Air 667 fire started at the co-pilot supply panel. Although an ignition source was never determined, it was clear a manufacturing defect, not to design, was present in that aircraft at that location and 380 other 777s.

      the crew emergency oxygen is in the electronics bay under the cockpit.

      That may be, but the AD was related to an area on the right side of the cockpit with radios in the center console.

      The described scenario still might be a possibility, but it has some issues just as “theDrive” scenario has issues.

    2. “After the event, the sat comms was lost for between 22 and 68 minutes but all that was received after that was the handshake. ”

      No, it logged on, sent a downlink from the IFE, and responded to two telephone calls. Large amounts of hardware had to be working for that to happen, but somehow ACARS wasn’t.

      Any accident theory has to explain those things.

      And why the flight path the satellite data produced isn’t far from one the captain appears to have flown on his PC a few weeks earlier. Obviously that could have been planted on his PC, but then the conspiracy required just keeps growing larger.

  8. My bias is towards the murder/suicide scenario. Its not like it hasn’t happened; see Germanwings Flight 9525. The home simulator and route plan is just too coincidental. It is also a simple task to do for a pilot left alone in the cockpit for just a few seconds.

    Nearly everything else would have either resulted in a crash near the scene of last contact or allowed time for communication in some manner. It seems all scenarios require some sort of depressurization event for plausibility, and the easiest explanation for this in a steady state environment is manual depressurization.

  9. The cockpit controls for the radio are in the center console. The radios and transponders themselves are in the avionics bay.
    As for the satcomms:
    The news about the Captain’s PC flight plan was released only after certain other theories including technical failure began to gain traction. The FBI was the agency that checked the PC initially then released that story weeks later. The FBI would never be under political influence would it?
    The AD was eventually far more extensive, leland.

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