The Last Word on Flight MH370: The Pings Do Not Add Up

MH370The pings from Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 just do not add up…in part because there are two very different types of pings involved, one from a plane in flight, and one from a plane in or under the water. So far, no one has explained this discrepancy in terms the average reader can absorb. Here are the Cliff Notes on pings:

Cliff Notes on Pings
One of those pings is similar, if not actually identical, to the pings used by computer network engineers to determine whether or not a network resource is connected, and how fast or slow that connection speed might be. The ping itself is a radio pulse signal. These are precisely the types of pings that a commercial aircraft produces in flight. They are used to establish and maintain network connectivity between the aircraft and the satellite-based ultra-wide area networks that carry network traffic between aircraft and resources such cellular communications or computer connectivity for both passengers and the crew.

The other type of ping, the ones that search and rescue teams have been listening for in the South China Sea, is an audible signal, a high frequency sound that travels through water for long distances. Whales, for example, make similar sounds that can be heard thousands of miles away from their location. These are the pings generated by the infamous “black boxes” installed on all commercial aircraft. The reason the black boxes are equipped with an audible signal is that radio waves do not travel far, or well, through water.

Further Confusion on Search Parameters
Today, however, the Malaysian Government further confused the already murky waters surrounding the disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight MH370 with the widely reported assertion that MH370 turned south AFTER it disappeared from the Malaysian military’s radar screens. Here is how Reuters has covered the story:

“After leaving Malaysian military radar coverage, it turned south and flew over the northern tip of Indonesia’s Sumatra Island before heading for the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean off Australia’s western coast where a massive underwater search is now concentrated.”

What is wrong with this picture? Simply this: The Malaysian government now maintains that MH370 turned south after the aircraft disappeared from the military radar screens, and long after the aircraft disappeared from civilian radar coverage. How would they know this if they were no longer able to track the aircraft on radar?

The official answer is that they were able to determine that MH370 turned south on the basis of eight radio pings that were received from the aircraft after it disappeared from the radar screens. The problem with this contention is that the company that provided the data with which the locations of the “pings” were identified has definitively stated that the results of their findings were ambiguous and that the last two pings may have indicated one of two trajectories for the aircraft, one that would have taken it almost due south into the South Indian Ocean, and one that would take it almost due north, toward the Gulf of Thailand and the Bay of Bengal.

In subsequent reports, Inmarsat reportedly refined their results to indicate a southerly track by correlating the Doppler effect shown by other aircraft following the same trajectory theorized for MH370. On the basis of that empirical data, Inmarsat ruled out the northern track, thus justifying the Malaysian government’s concentration on the southern track. The Doppler effect is a phenomenon that causes radio signals to appear longer when the source is moving away from the receiver, and shorter when it is moving toward the receiver.

Based on the relative positions of Inmarsat’s geostationary satellite that hangs over the South Indian Ocean and the source of the signals received by the satellite, presumably from MH370, it appears that the aircraft was moving toward the satellite’s geo-stationary point (the place on the earth that is directly under the satellite) rather than away from it, shortening the durations of radio pings received by the Inmarsat’s hardware. If a series of eight pings were received, and each one was shorter than the one before it, that would certainly indicate that the plane was heading southward toward the satellite’s geo-stationary point….if the pings were actually coming from MH370.

Among other things, Inmarsat is in the business of proving data connectivity for aircraft around the world, including voice, data, and signal management for distress systems. One of the things that Inmarsat is not in the business of doing is tracking aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, or anywhere else for that matter.

Inmarsat knows that the pings were coming from MH370 because each aircraft communications system generates a unique ping identified with that aircraft, which means that the Comsat link was where Inmarsat says it was….but that does not mean the plane itself was. Comsat links are relatively small devices. Two such units could easily be swapped out for each other. In addition, any programmable device can also be reprogrammed or cloned to mimic the device on MH370.

Now, why would anyone want to do that? Several reasons.
If you really wanted to gain possession of Boeing 777, and you could not afford to purchase one, or did not want to be associated with the purchase, it would be perfectly possible to put a clone of the Comsat device in another aircraft to spoof the tracking systems and make it seem as though MH370 were in the South Indian Ocean when it was really somewhere else. Such a device could easily be loaded onto a private jet, for example, and flown along the flight path that investigators believe MH370 traveled….and no one would ever be able to tell whether the plane that left those signals behind was MH370 or another aircraft.

In this scenario, the spoofers, whomever they are, only had to turn the Comsat link off when they reached the deepest part of the South Indian Ocean to suggest that MH370 had crashed there. Then, they could go on about their business and fly off to any other destination of their choosing, having left a false trail for investigators to follow.

The real question is why would anyone divert MH370 into a flight path where there were no conceivable places to land. No hijacker in his or her right mind (assuming any hijackers are ever in their right minds) would ever do that because there would be no point to it.

Therefore,we are forced to conclude that, when the plane diverted itself to the southerly course investigators believe it followed, there was no one alive on the aircraft capable of redirecting the aircraft back onto its original flight path.

So, now we have a missing ship full of dead people that turned itself around without human intervention and flew down into the emptiness of the South Indian Ocean until it ran out of fuel, and then crashed into the sea without leaving any trace behind.

Planes Do Not Disappear: The Air France Airbus Flight 447
There is a problem with at scenario, too. In 2009, Air France Airbus 330 designated as Flight 447 from Rio De Janeiro to Paris crashed into the South Atlantic Ocean. The crash scene was identified within 48 hours of the destruction of the aircraft, and two bodies were recovered, but investigators did not recover the data recorders from the ocean floor until 2011, and search and rescue operators were pulling debris out of the water two years after the plane crashed. Much of the debris left by a modern aircraft is made of plastic, not metal, and it floats.

What this signifies to both serious investigators and conspiracy theorists is that there is something that the public is not being told about crash. The fact that more and more of the story has been revealed over the past two days, two months after the event, suggests that a lot of information was withheld by the Malaysian authorities for no discernible reason.

While it is feasible, if not very likely, that Malaysian Air Flight MH370 is exactly where investigators say it is, their failure to equally investigate other viable scenarios has created significant cognitive dissonance for the families who lost loved ones in the crash. The excitable and indeed almost overtly hostile behavior of the loved ones toward the airline, and the equally from the airline to the loved ones, suggests that there is a culture clash going on here, as well as an airplane crash.

A Story Without an Ending Frustrates All Parties
By this time, it is obvious to everyone involved in this melodrama that the plane has gone down somewhere, and that the people on it have perished. For what conceivable reason, then, did the families of the loved ones, some of whom have come all the way from China to Malaysia, refuse to go home, refuse to admit that their loved ones are dead.

In no other aircraft tragedy have the bereaved acted in this manner, as though they expect some other miraculous conclusion than the one we all know is coming. In this scenario, no one has acted rationally, not the families, not Malaysian Air, not the Malaysian government or, for that matter the Australian government, not to mention several others that have been involved in the search.

In view of the fact that credible evidence has been put forth identifying two potential crash sites on the northern route, one in the Bay of Bengal and the other in the Gulf of Thailand, both from equally credible investigators, makes no sense when a simple search could determine whether or not there were any aircraft remains in those locations and, if so, if they belonged o the missing aircraft.

More than $50 million has already been spent on the search, and authorities admit they may spend another $50 million before they are done. When all is said and done, however, the pings from MH370 just do not add up to a reasonable answer.

By Alan M. Milner
Look for me on Twitter:@alanmilner

Inmarsat Corporate Site
Air Traffic Management

3 Responses to "The Last Word on Flight MH370: The Pings Do Not Add Up"

  1. Sy Gunson   May 15, 2014 at 3:24 pm

    It is not that the INMARSAT data is ambiguous, the problem is that investigators have predetermined that it flew west through the Straits of Malacca and tried to fit the facts to the theory.

    For example Malaysia maintains in the original Burst Offset Frequency chart (BOF) between 18;25 UTC and 19:41 UTC that MH370 was flying west around Aceh province in Sumatra towards the satellite.

    For the same period however the satellite data says it was receding away from the satellite. You can’t say MH370 was flying west when the satellite data says it was flying east. This is actually proof that MH370 did not fly through the Straits of Malacca.

  2. georgie   May 13, 2014 at 8:06 am

    I agree, even if they didn’t find anything on the Bay of Bengal right now, then what on earth are those metals observed by georesonance under the sea? Why haven’t anyone questioned / looked into that?

  3. Jon   May 4, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    My question is…if Bangladesh sent 2 ships to investigate Bay of Bengal, a week ago, why is there no news as to if or if not, they found anything. That doesn’t add up to me.

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