back to article MH370 researchers refine their prediction of the place nobody looked

Australian researchers who haven't given up on finding Malaysian Airlines MH 370 have told a conference in Darwin they believe they know where it is likely to be. The flight set off an international mystery when it disappeared in March 2014, presumably crashing into the Indian Ocean. The search that followed cost $180 million …

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  1. 9Rune5

    What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

    I thought the black boxes (or orange or whatever) have all but disintegrated by now?

    I think we can safely assume that hitting the water at speed have probably disintegrated the hull quite a bit. The small pieces found so far bare witness of a violent/horrible crash.

    Even if we were to find 60-80% of all the pieces, would we be able to determine the cause? Or is it merely finding the fuselage at all (way out of its intended flight path) confirmation enough of foul play? (and is that enough to firmly blame one of the pilots?)

    1. Old Used Programmer

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      What makes you think the flight data and voice recorders would "disintegrate"? The batteries are long dead, but that wouldn't destroy data storage portion.

    2. Denarius Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      Why would anyone blame pilots ? It was carrying a batch of lithium batteries in front hold AFAIK.The data mungers deserve credit for refining their data and predictions to reduce search area. They may even be right Fuselage might not be very distinguishable, but two large turbines should be and parts of tail structure. Aircraft tails seem to survive most impacts.

      I would not be surprised if cockpit voice recorder tapes were mostly blank after connections to pointy end were destroyed before plane went down.

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

        "Why would anyone blame pilots"

        Because a flight from Malaysia to China shouldn't have been anywhere near the Indian Ocean.

      2. Faux Science Slayer

        Non-interuptable Remote Control Autopilot

        Every AirBus from 1989 and Boeing from 1996 has remote control autopilot....MH-370

        made a normal, controlled landing at Diego Garcia, analysis at AbelDanger.org

    3. jtaylor

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      Indeed, there won't be as much evidence after so much time and seas.

      The "black boxes" (you're right; they're orange) are sealed, durable, and located in the tail of the aircraft to best survive a crash. They're likely intact, and they won't degrade much in seawater. What has failed, though, are the locator beacons. It will be a real pill to find those black boxes now.

      The aircraft...probably not much left of that, and they would probably retrieve only a few things. (In shallow water, it would be torn up and dispersed by heavy seas, and in deep water, hard to recover.)

      The black boxes usually give enough information to model what happened, and make a theory about why. The Flight Data Recorder logs all instrument data (speed, altitude, fuel, attitude, temperatures, engine parameters, etc),warnings, control positions, and control inputs. That's enough to figure out what they plane did.

      The Cockpit Voice Recorder logs all sounds from the flight deck, including conversation, bells and beeps, clicks and swooshes and similar sounds when someone pushes buttons or moves things. If both pilots are chatting about family and then there's a cacaphony of warning bells, that's obviously a different situation than if 1 pilot is heard ranting about Amelia Earhart while there's a muffled banging on the door in the background. Or if we hear labored breathing and 1 pilot asks the flight attendant to find a doctor. If the end is just computer noises, and the pilots were never heard leaving the flight deck, we might remember Payne Stewart.

      1. HCV

        Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

        I would say the CVR is going to give very little information, because unless I'm seriously mistaken, it's only going to have the last 30 minutes or so of the flight, and anything of note that happened in the cockpit would have happened hours before then. (Unless someone really was hanging on to give a final soliloquy just before the engines ran out of fuel.)

        The flight data recorder might note whether the plane was on autopilot, heading and such, but will mostly confirm what the very existence of the plane will indicate -- this is where it crashed by running out of fuel.

        Separate from the data recorders, the most interesting information to glean may be indications of damage to the plane, perhaps caused by a cargo fire, which seems the most likely scenario to me.

        1. EuKiwi

          Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

          30 minutes of recording was the original requirement set, however modern CVR/FDR units record much more than this, hours rather than minutes (I think 2 hours or so is the average).

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

            EuKiwi,

            Even two hours may not be enough in this case. Though that being an average I imagine the more modern ones store much more data.

            1. EuKiwi

              Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

              @ I ain't Spartacus

              You're right of course... 2 hours may not cover it, but that's just the CVR anyway I believe...

              Most modern airliners record way more than 2 hours of FDR but some limit CVR - not for technical reasons, but artificially. It was introduced to overcome objections from some pilot's representatives/unions that stakeholders other than investigators may (mis)use the data, such as airline management.

              Some recent events though have forced a reconsideration of this, naturally.

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

            We are, if nothing else, learning more about tracking and ocean movement of debris.

            Agree with above posters that data is likely to be intact, although how helpful it may be remains an open question.

            Finding the wreckage is one thing, recovering any of it is another. It's remote, likely to be very deep indeed, and in strong global currents. This will pose a new set of challenges.

            1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

              Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

              Even just the dispersal pattern of the wreckage will rule out some theories though. So that's useful.

              We might be able to estimate the speed of impact and whether the plane was in controlled flight when it crashed or even if it broke up in mid air.

            2. Steve 114
              Happy

              Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

              If I'd been running simulations on my elaborate basement kit for weeks before, and thought I'd got a technique for placing it where they'd never look anyway, it would be somewhere really deep.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

          perhaps caused by a cargo fire, which seems the most likely scenario to me.

          Um. How would a cargo fire make the plane go off course, mere minutes after the last and entirely unremarkable contact, then fly on for several hours with more course changes (and non-erratic legs between them) during the time it was still tracked by radar?

          1. gryff

            Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

            "perhaps caused by a cargo fire, which seems the most likely scenario to me."

            "Um. How would a cargo fire make the plane go off course, mere minutes after the last and entirely unremarkable contact, then fly on for several hours with more course changes (and non-erratic legs between them) during the time it was still tracked by radar?

            Fires are funny things. Imagine one burning through cabling in the fuselage. As individual cables melt through in different locations the pilots progressively lose the ability to control the plane because the cabling from cockpit to avionics is gone...

            The procedure during suspected electrical fire used to be and may still be switch between power buses to try and isolate the bus which has the fire. Doing so may produce sparks in damaged cabling, making the situation worse. This was a topic discussed when Swissair 111 went down in 1998.

            So...fire, then loss of some avionics. Decision: "Let's turn back to Malaysia, we know local airfields there, they speak our language." More fire. Decision: "Let's go up high and try to starve fire of oxygen and heat." *

            Now remove the links to the avionics including to the engine computers, inside the engines. They obey the last instruction given - maintain the power setting. The aircraft flies blindly on until fuel exhaustion. Meanwhile the fire also burns to exhaustion and stops.

            Rremember United Airlines flight 93 during 9/11 ? I hypothesise pilot mischief would have resulted in a bashed in cockpit door during the hours preceeding the final ocean impact. The cabin crew and passengers had many more hours to do this than the poor beggers on Germanwings 9525 over the Alps..

            * Fire needs all three of fuel, oxygen/oxidising agent and heat.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

              Fires are funny things. Imagine one burning through cabling in the fuselage. As individual cables melt through in different locations the pilots progressively lose the ability to control the plane because the cabling from cockpit to avionics is gone...

              ...

              More fire. Decision: "Let's go up high and try to starve fire of oxygen and heat." *

              Does not compute. You lose control, and still decide to use whatever control is left to increase the distance between you and terra firma. Plus, they were at FL350 already; going higher still would have done very little w.r.t. starving the fire. And Li-ion fires (thermal runaway actually) are driven primarily by the energy stored in the cell, not by combustible material plus oxygen. Also, I doubt that gambling with 200+ people's lives that way is the normal modus operandi for an airline flight crew. You have a fire and notice loss of control,, you try to get the plane down somewhere as fast and as safe as possible.

              Now remove the links to the avionics including to the engine computers, inside the engines. They obey the last instruction given - maintain the power setting. The aircraft flies blindly on until fuel exhaustion. Meanwhile the fire also burns to exhaustion and stops.

              Aircraft that lose all command of flight control surfaces don't stay airborne very long, and definitely not for over seven hours: any disturbance can't be corrected and will result in the craft changing attitude. And once roll or pitch exceed certain levels, the plane is done for.

              Rremember United Airlines flight 93 during 9/11 ? I hypothesise pilot mischief would have resulted in a bashed in cockpit door during the hours preceeding the final ocean impact.

              Sorry, what? With the hijackers in control, they would have crashed the plane into whatever their target was. If they hadn't been able to enter the cockpit, the pilots would have diverted to the nearest airfield, or even any reasonably flat field that looked to offer sufficient survivability if the hijackers were close to breaching the door (at that point people on board were already aware of the WTC crashes).. And if the passengers had managed to overpower the hijackers and regain control but with the pilots incapacitated, they wouldn't have flown far out to sea. I doubt that none of them would be unable to sufficiently control the plane to put it down in a field if not on an actual airfield.

            2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

              Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

              "Now remove the links to the avionics including to the engine computers, inside the engines. They obey the last instruction given - maintain the power setting. The aircraft flies blindly on until fuel exhaustion."

              It is a fly-by-wire system, so yoke and power control could be lost in such a scenario. Otherwise I would have said to pull the breakers for the autopilot and fly manually.

              ...So pull the breakers and use the mechanical backup controls.

      2. Blotto

        Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

        the fact we've not seen much debris indicates that the plane likely landed mostly intact and then likely sunk intact.

        there are lots of the external pieces of the aircraft that are designed to float in the event of a landing at sea (not float enough for the plane not to sink, but float enough for a debris field).

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

          Why aren't locator beacons released from the tail section when a violent* impact is detected?

          *i.e. > any possible turbulence could produce

          1. Stoneshop Silver badge

            Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

            Why aren't locator beacons released from the tail section when a violent* impact is detected?

            Well, cases where that might be beneficial are, as far as I can see, pretty limited: fires and deep-water crashes. In nearly all other cases it's easier to find that large lump of fuselage with the recorders still inside than the recorders on their own. As for fire resistance, that's a design criterion, but keeping the recorders away from one is probably better. And with deep-water crashes you want the recorders to stay floating, otherwise they'll be on the sea floor somewhere without the additional easier-to-find bulk of a bit of fuselage around them. Because if you don't know with sufficient precision where the plane went down allowing you to find them quickly, you might not find them before the locators run out of power.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

          the fact we've not seen much debris indicates that the plane likely landed mostly intact and then likely sunk intact.

          Maybe, but AF447 hit the sea surface with a comparatively moderate speed of less than 150 kts (a bit over 100 vertical and about 60 horizontal), and several larger pieces broke off and kept floating.

          With MH370, there are roughly two options for the end of the flight: uncommanded, with fuel starvation at altitude, hits sea surface at a considerably higher speed than AF447, plane breaks up with numerous pieces staying afloat (including seat cushions and such), or someone is still in control, getting the plane to go as low and slow as possible before hitting the sea surface (either with or without the engines still running), but 'as slow as possible' would still mean about 150 kts, a little over its stall speed. It's hard to imagine its impact being less severe than AF447, and the resultant debris quite likely being similar. So in both cases there will have been a fair amount of debris. That few parts were found nonetheless is probably due to the wide area over which they were dispersed during the time it took floating from the crash site to where they were found, and a lot of those locations not particularly brimming with people, if they're even accessible at all.

    4. Mark 85 Silver badge

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      What others have pointed out can be learned.

      However there's also the human factor. The families should know. They've been told by some that it was aliens who took the plane, or that it was "hijacked" and is now on a secret island. One of the things about humans is they have "hope" and the families will and have grasped for any hope. I believe a little closure is necessary here.

    5. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      We don't know what we might learn, we'll only know if we go looking and find it.

      We do know that if we don't look for it we certainly won't learn anything from it.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      > is that enough to firmly blame one of the pilots?

      I do not think you quite understand the purpose of these investigations.

    7. k23h4klj234

      Re: What can be learned of the crash at this late stage?

      No, the black boxes will last forever, batteries, of course, run out.

      It did not hit the water very hard at all, since the flaperon was not damaged very badly, which surprised the engineers themselves.

      Everyone wants to know if this was a technical fault, more important than finding the victims frankly since it could prevent other incidents like this.

  2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    An astonishing feat of ocean current modelling to cope with the time since the crash

    It's not that long ago that such a feat would have simply been impossible, given how little was known about such current far out at sea.

    Ocean data collection buoys and, satellite radar sensors and huge increases in affordable computing power have made a huge difference in this area.

  3. J J Carter Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Let's get real.

    The NSA knows exactly where it is!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Let's get real.

      "The NSA knows exactly where it is!"

      I'm sure the families of the victims will be comforted by your remark.

    2. EuKiwi

      Re: Let's get real.

      @ J J Carter

      Seems like, given the downvotes, you needed a 'joke alert' symbol...

      1. boltar Silver badge

        Re: Let's get real.

        "Seems like, given the downvotes, you needed a 'joke alert' symbol..."

        Tbh with the number of tin foil hat conspiracy theorists around, its hard to tell any more.

    3. Shane Lusby

      Re: Let's get real.

      Excuse me, are you accusing even a portion of the American Government of competency at this point?

      1. DougS Silver badge

        @Shane Lusby

        It is interesting that many of the people in the US who believe in the incompetence of government and thus that the private sector should handle as much as possible also believe in massive conspiracies involving the Fed, the "Deep State", 9/11, election fraud, and so forth.

        Not sure how you can believe the government is too incompetent to be trusted with anything, but also manages massive conspiracies that have never been proven. Belief that some part of the US government knows where MH370 went down but refuses to say for mysterious reasons (i.e. the US/NATO shot it down by accident, terrorist hijacking covered up for some reason, it was taken out deliberately to kill some person(s) aboard while making it look like an accident, etc.) is pretty silly. Given the multiple data dumps of classified information from the US over the last few years, as well as ordinary leaking, it seems impossible you could keep the circle of people in the know small enough to prevent the story leaking.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Shane Lusby

          > Not sure how you can believe the government is too incompetent to be trusted with anything, but also manages massive conspiracies that have never been proven.

          Because of the lizards, of course!

          Let me know if you need any more conspiracy theorist advice, happy to help¹.

          ¹ Unless you are one of Them.

  4. wolfetone Silver badge

    "Australian researchers who haven't given up on finding Malaysian Airlines MH 370 have told a conference in Darwin they believe they know where it is likely to be."

    Forgive me when I say "You said that before".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      ... and I think I've heard it at least TWICE before :(

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      This is science. We theorise from the data we have, then we test, then we refine (or completely dump) our ideas and start all over again.

      So completely different scientists in a different field did some rather innovative work with the satellite handshake data to give more information than anyone else had at the time. Then the ocean currents people got into the act, which couldn't happen earlier, as they didn't have the data. Because a lot of their data comes from the location of crash wreckage and post-crash testing of ocean currents.

      1. DropBear Silver badge

        "This is science. We theorise from the data we have, then we test, then we refine (or completely dump) our ideas and start all over again."

        Fair enough; what is also fair enough is anyone's attitude out here in the real world along the lines of "you may think you know where it is, but I have no reason to believe you actually do ('this time for realsies, pinkie swear'...)".

      2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        "This is science."

        IaS offered, "This is science."

        Science is proudly self-correcting, a feature that is in constant use. But few seem willing to accept the logical leap that: *therefore* a significant fraction of peer-reviewed, journal-published, widely-accepted scientific facts are (or will soon be) wrong.

        (In a vain attempt to pre-empt the inevitable retort: This is not to imply that I'm an evil 'denialist' in this field or that.)

      3. anothercynic Silver badge

        "This is science"

        And damn impressive it is too... no-one thought of looking at satellite handshakes or pings before.

        With the *sat companies (Inmarsat, Intelsat, Eutelsat, Viasat) and Iridium clubbing together with providers like Thales, Panasonic, Aireon, SITAONAIR and Gogo, ICAO's request for the aviation industry to be able to track all their airliners all the time (not just where ADS-B coverage is possible) is made so much easier.

        Qatar Airways was one of the first (if not *the* first) airline to do this. Malaysia Airlines is signed up with SITAONAIR that makes all their flights live trackable through Flightaware.

  5. Milton Silver badge

    Go find it

    With AF447 as a relatively recent and relevant example, we can be fairly sure that the FDR and CVR will be intact and that their data should be recoverable. While it's true that reading them may not confirm the cause of the loss, it will certainly help to rule out a great many theories. No, the electronic record cannot read the pilots' minds and there remains the possibility that this was an elaborate suicide, but contrary to some internet nonsense, it is not the only possibility: it's extremely unusual for a modern western-operated airliner to crash for any one single reason or isolated fault, there usually being a set of converging and unlikely coincidences coming together for disaster to strike, and we absolutely need to find out everything we can.

    The reasons are not only air safety (though, imagine the brouhaha and finger pointing if another 777 mysteriously goes down tomorrow) but also to remove the oxygen from idiot conspiracy theories. The internet abounds with resentful semi-literate halfwits and their damnfool conspiracy drivel, and along with "fake news" it obscures and clouds adult discussion. It's not the best or first reason to find the wreck, but it's still a good one: let's silence the imbeciles who are still claiming that MH370 is parked in a hangar in Siberia following Vlad's plot to distract everyone from his Evil Ukraine Plan ... or whatever.

    There's solid, credible reason to revise the search area, and for the cost of a single POS F-35 it could now be completed - for compassion, for closure, for safety and for the sanity of the net. So please, let's just go find it.

    1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

      Re: Go find it

      Yes. Even ruling out possibilities without finding the actual cause1) would be worth it, it will help making planes and the procedures to operate them better and safer.

      Also, lots of new data for marine research and more accurate maps of the ocean floor.

      Very little chance of quelling the idiot conspiracy theories2), though.3)

      1) My guess is that it's either something utterly trivial that usually isn't a problem or something really weird and far-fetched that nobody hasn't even considered yet. But that's just an thoroughly unsubstantiated gut feeling.

      2) "The tank containing the secret chemtrail chemicals leaked and the fumes instantaneously dissolved the brain of every person on board!"4)

      3) "It's a cover-up! And everybody is in on it!"5)

      4) Actual quote from coworker on MH-370.

      5) Actual quote from same coworker on "faked" moon landings.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Go find it

        Do not underestimate 2.

        To put it bluntly, I am thankful that the retarded monkeys that try to stuff their pants with acetone peroxide have no chemistry education. An airplane has at least 50%+ recirculation of air while at cruising altitude. I am leaving the rest as an "exercise to the reader". As an ex-chemist I have done that mental exercise around the time of the liquid panic eight years ago and I'd rather not share the results as they are subject to criminal prosecution according to the UK thought crime laws.

        Though if it was the case of 2 someone would have assumed responsibility. Taking out a 777 is too juicy of a morsel for the lunatics not to brag about it on Telegram and Twitter.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Go find it

          "I'd rather not share the results" - same here - it would be simply too easy. Mostly I think this sort of thing is not discussed too keep the Security Theater illusion going.

      2. Kiwi
        Boffin

        Re: Go find it

        Actual quote from same coworker on "faked" moon landings.

        Best response to that I've heard (probably on El Reg) is along the lines of "If they could fake that, why haven't they faked any other big achievements?"

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Go find it

        > Actual quote from coworker

        > Actual quote from same coworker

        Have you considered changing jobs? Or if you prefer your coworker to have an accident, that can be arranged too. Call for quotes.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Go find it

      The South African Airways 747 which burnt up in the air near Mauritius was a tough one to find but they did it and managed to find both black boxes

      1. Mike Richards Silver badge

        Re: Go find it

        As well as Air France 447 which lay at 4km.

        Although it long predates the introduction of flight recorders, heroic efforts were made to recover the wreck of BOAC 781 to work out what was wrong with the Comet 1. Can you imagine the frenzy of conspiracy wankers if they'd been around at a time when three of the world's most advanced airliners crashed in short order?

  6. hatti

    I find it odd that a machine equipped with all manner of navigational and gps transponder equipment (let alone a black box) has not yet been located. Earlier reports were able to trace the path of the plane, but subsequent searches all drew a blank. More to this story I feel.

    1. HCV

      "a machine equipped with all manner of navigational and gps transponder equipment"

      There actually wasn't that much equipment, and very little of it had the ability to communicate with anything when the plane was over the ocean. The only device equipped to communicate via satellite was the engine diagnostic reporting equipment, which is what gave the two most likely paths that the plane traveled -- narrowed down to one when debris started to appear.

      The pings from the engine recorder delivered no direct information about the location or status of the plane (other than engine performance stats), and only transmitted once an hour. That's an incredibly sparse amount of data to work with.

      The fact of the matter is that an aircraft over the ocean, once it gets a certain distance from land, is not readily trackable.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "a machine equipped with all manner of navigational and gps transponder equipment"

        If the aircraft landed largely intact on the water with a fair bit of buoyancy it could take some time to sink. It would also "fly" as it sank and could be some way from ground zero if if tracked to that point. Hence new theory on drift being interesting...

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