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Friday, June 3, 2016

MH370 search may be too far south

The imprecise business of ocean current drift analysis is a lot sharper in focus than most of the popular theories about the loss of MH370

Much has been made of reverse drift analysis of the nine suspected or confirmed pieces of missing airliner MH370 so far recovered from shores in S Africa, Mozambique, Mauritius and La RĂ©union.

And to be blunt, much of it is rubbish talk aimed at supporting preconceived theories as to what happened to the Malaysia Airlines jet almost two years three months ago.

For an antidote turn to Duncan Steel’s site, where he has archived carefully considered studies of the little that is known about what has been retrieved from the Indian Ocean like this recent paper by Richard Godfrey.

Steel and Godfrey are part of the scientific coalition of quizzical analysts of information about MH370 called the Independent Group. They make no claim to knowing what transpired before takeoff or during flight to cause MH370 to divert from its filed path from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people onboard on March 8, 2014. They have no cause or hypothesis to defend. They ‘just’ know science, physics and maths.

The takeaway from Godfrey’s paper is that it is possible that the wreckage of the jet lies a little to the NE of the part of the so called 7th arc of possible locations of MH370’s final flickers of information from an on board server that the search is now looking at. When it can.

But it is also important to trawl the Steel archives to pick up insights into the significant variability of outcomes that are possible when analysing the way fragments from a plane crash might be migrated across a chaotic ocean beset by currents and surface winds and variable sea states.

Trying to apply scientific analysis to an unknown flight path that turned south toward the south Indian Ocean is a bit like trying to drive a nail into a fog. There are many variables and unknowns.

The critical elements of knowledge about MH370 is that it eventually went south, it flew for at least seven hours 39 minutes after liftoff, and the satellite that was part of the communications link between the 777 and an engine monitoring base at Rolls-Royce in Derby, was around 44 degrees in elevation above the horizon when the jet, having run out of fuel, met the sea, at around dawn in the southern Indian Ocean W to SW of Western Australia.

None of which in isolation leads the Australian managed search of the sea bed to the sunk wreckage.

There are at most, of this day, only nine pieces of MH370 that have been recovered, one from inside the cabin near the right hand most forward door, and others from the wing, the tail area, and an engine cowling.

Godfrey’s paper is a chilling reminder of how little is known about MH370, other than it did come down in the south Indian Ocean, in an area so imprecisely defined that its discovery remains less than probable.

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