MH370 Flight Around Penang

MH370 Path around Penang Island. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Introduction

The civilian radar data for MH370 that became publicly available in April 2018 provides insights as to how MH370 was flown after the transponder was disabled around 17:20:31 UTC. After flying by waypoint IGARI and turning back, the aircraft passed to the north of Kota Bharu Airport, crossed the Malaysian peninsula in a southwest direction, passed to the south of Penang Island, turned to the northwest, and flew over the Malacca Strait. Here, we look more closely at the flight path as it flew towards, around, and away from Penang.

In order better understand the sequence of inputs to the flight control system, we created a simulation using the PMDG 777 model in Microsoft Flight Simulator. In particular, we studied whether the aircraft might have been flown with the pilot providing inputs to the autopilot, and what those inputs might have been.

Although we can calculate the groundspeed from the radar data, the altitude of this portion of the flight is not known. In the simulation, the flight segment near Penang was flown with the assumption of a level flight at FL340 and at Mach 0.84, and with representative meteorological data. These assumptions are consistent with the observed groundspeeds of around 510 knots. Within a reasonable range, the assumptions about altitude, Mach number, and atmospheric conditions do not materially change our observations and conclusions for this portion of the flight.

Simulation

A flight simulation with the autopilot engaged was created in the following manner:

  1. In the Flight Management Computer (FMC), Penang Airport (WMKP) was set as the destination, and the procedure for an arrival to the ILS04 Runway via the BIDM1A standard terminal arrival route (STAR) was selected. The waypoints for this complete route would be BIDMO- PUKAR-ENDOR-MEKAT-KENDI-CF04-FF04-RW04. The final three waypoints are the final approach course fix, the final approach fix, and the runway threshold, in that order, for an ILS approach to Runway 04.
  2. Of these waypoints, all are deleted from the route except ENDOR and FF04. VAMPI is added after FF04.
  3. The aircraft approaches ENDOR with the autopilot engaged and LNAV selected. After passing ENDOR, the aircraft automatically turns towards FF04.
  4. About 2 NM before FF04, TRK SEL is chosen and the pilot turns the selection knob to steer towards OPOVI using the map in the navigational display (ND) as a guide. The aircraft passes FF04 about 0.4 NM to the right. (If the autopilot had remained in LNAV, the aircraft would not have flown exactly over FF04, as the aircraft would have “cut the corner” as it turned towards VAMPI.)
  5. After passing near OPOVI, TRK SEL of 300° is dialed with a maximum bank angle of 15°. This initiates a turn to the right at 15°. When the track of 300° is approached, the aircraft automatically rolls out of the turn and maintains this track.
  6. Once established on a track of 300°, LNAV mode is selected as the next mode.
  7. At this track angle, the aircraft path converges towards the route leg defined by the waypoints FF04-VAMPI. At about 30 NM from FF04, as the aircraft approaches this leg, the autopilot mode automatically changes from TRK SEL to LNAV, and the route leg is captured.
  8. The plane proceeds in LNAV mode past Pulau Perak and towards VAMPI on the path defined by FF04-VAMPI.

The next figure shows how the waypoints and route legs would appear in the navigation display (ND) in the cockpit after the aircraft had just passed ENDOR and with the route configured as ENDOR-FF04-VAMPI. The route (magenta line) shows the path the aircraft would have followed if the autopilot remained in LNAV mode as the aircraft rounded Penang Island. By comparing the preceding figure with the one below, it is clear that the autopilot changed to a different mode before FF04 and changed back to LNAV mode when the path converged on the LNAV route about 30 NM from FF04.

Navigational display after passing waypoint ENDOR.

Observations

There are some interesting observations about this path:

  1. The agreement between the simulated flight path and the civilian radar data is very good, including the intercept and capture of the route leg to the northwest and towards VAMPI. This suggests that this portion of the flight path was flown in autopilot, although it is nearly impossible to prove that the aircraft was not manually flown.
  2. The final civilian radar targets fall close to the path defined by FF04-VAMPI. This suggests that VAMPI was selected as a waypoint before reaching FF04, which further implies that there was an intention to fly northwest over the Malacca Strait and to intercept VAMPI even when the aircraft was near Penang. (The distance between FF04 and VAMPI is 166 NM.)
  3. While in the vicinity of Penang Island, the high measured speed, the implied high altitude, and the selection of VAMPI as a waypoint suggest that there was no true intention to land at Penang Airport.
  4. The selection of VAMPI as a waypoint while in the vicinity of Penang is consistent with the unverified military radar data that was shown to the MH370 family members at the Lido Hotel in Beijing on March 21, 2014. That radar data shows an aircraft that intercepted airway N571 at VAMPI.
  5. Although there was no true intention to land at Penang Airport, the flight path may have been chosen to deceive radar operators into believing there was an intention to land.

Possible Deception to Land at Penang

In the figure below, the flight path from MH370 is plotted together with two recent Air Hong Kong flights (both LD561) for the route Ho Chi Minh City to Penang. These flight paths are representative of arrivals to Penang from the northeast. The LD561 paths do not follow the BIDM1A approach route and bear little resemblance to MH370’s path. Likely, the flight crews received vectors from Butterworth Approach to intercept and establish the final approach on the localizer for Runway 04. One of the flights was established at the final approach course fix (CF04) and the other was established only 3 NM from threshold. In the both cases, the intercept with the final approach course required a turn less than 90°. On the other hand, if MH370 had intercepted the localizer, it would have required a turn of about 135°, which would have been a very sharp turn.

MH370 Path shown with two Air Hong Kong arrivals. (Click on image to enlarge.)

Airline pilot Juanda Ismail noticed that MH370’s crossing of the ILS approach occurs at a similar location and similar intercept angle to what would be flown in the course reversal procedure for ILS04. The procedure is shown in the figure below, and consists of an outbound leg to 7 NM from the threshold of the runway at a track of 222°, a 45° right turn to a track of 267°, a straight leg, a 180° left turn to a track of 87°, a straight leg, followed by a 45° left turn to intercept the inbound approach course on a track of 42°. In the figure above, this same course reversal procedure is represented by the black curve with the arrow.

Approach for ILS (DME LOC) for RW04. (Adapted from Jeppesen.)

In the course reversal procedure, the straight leg at 267° is similar to part of the path that MH370 flew. However, in comparing MH370’s path to the course reversal procedure, it is missing the outbound leg, the 180° turn, and the final intercept. As the altitude for capturing to the glide slope is 2500 ft at FF04 (shown as D7.8 IPG in the figure), clearly there was no intention on the part of the pilot to actually perform the procedure and to land. However, it is possible that by flying an element of the course reversal procedure, there was a deliberate attempt to deceive radar operators into believing that MH370 had an intention to land.

With waypoints ENDOR-FF04-VAMPI selected as the route, there is a question as to why the pilot chose to not remain in LNAV mode when approaching FF04, as this would have turned the aircraft and put it on a direct northwest path to VAMPI without the need for pilot intervention. One explanation is that once a turn to the northwest towards VAMPI occurred, it would be clear to the air traffic controllers at Butterworth that there was no intention to land. Entering TRK SEL mode and steering the plane towards OPOVI before tracking back towards the FF04-VAMPI leg delayed that discovery and also positioned the aircraft to initiate the turn further from Butterworth.

It is also noteworthy that once a northwest track was established, the aircraft was tracking to pass through the restricted area designated WMD-412A. This would be expected to draw the attention of the military air traffic controllers at Butterworth. The relationship between the military and civilian ATC is described in this section from the Factual Information released in March 2015:

Provision of approach control service (within lateral limits of Butterworth Control Zone: 5,500 ft. altitude – FL245. (elsewhere 2,500 ft. altitude – FL245). Air traffic to/from the civilian Penang International Airport (PIA) is provided by military ATCOs who have been licensed by the ATI Division develops and establishes the ANS safety standards and performs safety oversight and to ensure the provision of services to civil traffic. The rationale for such an arrangement is based on the military activities at Butterworth Military Airport (BMA) which is in close proximity to PIA, and other military activities carried out over the high seas in danger areas WMD 412A and WMD 413A (permanently established). Furthermore, the final approach segments of both the PIA and the BMA intersect. No major incident has been recorded with the present arrangement/delegation of authority.

Conclusions

  1. MH370’s flight path near Penang can be replicated with the autopilot engaged.
  2. The flight path near Penang is consistent with a navigation system that is fully operational.
  3. It is likely that waypoint VAMPI was entered in flight computers before crossing the approach path to runway ILS04, some 166 NM away.
  4. The flight path near Penang is consistent with the image of the military radar data in the Malacca Strait that was never officially released.
  5. It is very unlikely that there was an intention to land at Penang Airport.
  6. It is possible that the elements of the flight path near Penang were chosen to deceive radar operators into believing that the aircraft had an intention to land.

Acknowledgement

I gratefully acknowledge the helpful comments and suggestions offered by fellow IG members Don Thompson, Richard Godfrey, and Mike Exner.

65 Responses to “MH370 Flight Around Penang”

  1. Dennis Workman says:

    @Don

    cut-paste below from Victor’s post “Insights from the Unredacted Satellite Logs” (7/4/2017). Are you saying “likely” should be replaced by “certain” in the Inference section?

    Observation: During a log-on sequence, the SATCOM transmits a value for the “Prev Sat ID”. If the log-on occurs after a log-off request, or after a power interruption, the previous satellite value is cleared and a value of 63 (077) is transmitted. This value was transmitted for the log-on at 18:25 and the log-on at 00:19. There may be other causes for 63 to be transmitted that did not occur during MH371. (@el-gato, Don Thompson, and Richard Godfrey)

    Inference: Since no log-off request was recorded prior to the log-ons at 18:25 and 00:19, it is likely that a power interruption preceded each of these log-ons.

  2. Ventus45 says:

    “6. It is possible that the elements of the flight path near Penang were chosen to deceive radar operators into believing that the aircraft had an intention to land.”

    With a ground speed of 500+ knots, that close in ?
    They would have to be pretty dumb ATCO’s.
    The aircraft was flying at more than double initial descent / approach speeds, and it was way too close in, for an acute turn for RW04, and even with the last option of the course reversal procedure for ILS04, I really do doubt that any ATCO, EVEN A “NEWBIE” trainee, would be deceived.

  3. David says:

    @ALSM. From Victor’s previous post re the IDG,“If mechanically disconnected, it can not be reconnected in flight.” I agree (my comment being, “As to other differences, disconnection is irreversible in the air….”)

    “We know the AES power was restored, so it is safe to assume that the “disconnect” was not a mechanical disconnect.”
    Victor has indicated that the right IDG could have powered it.

    There is another hypothetical possibility. Selecting all generators off after IGARI, even including disconnecting the IDGs, would auto-start the APU (and deploy the RAT). If the left bus tie were isolated the APU would provide power for the autopilot etc but not the left main bus, which powers the SDU.
    The SDU then could be re-powered by selecting the left bus tie to Auto.

    An alternative would be to shut the APU down during auto-start and restart it to power the SDU, left bus tie in Auto.

    Both instances are hypothetical since another explanation would be needed for the 00:19 log-on, such as other manual selections.

    Another outcome with this hypothetical is that fuel consumption would be affected by the APU, particularly its inlet drag, and RAT deployment would increase drag also. There could be offsetting savings were bleed air deselected or the a/c packs, or one a/c pack.
    (A footnote is that the APU would not provide air for air conditioning at high altitude were engine bleed air selected off.)

    Also missing in this scenario is the reason for closing the left bus tie for the SDU reboot, though the reason for that is missing in others scenarios also.

    @TBill. Case 16 is also an “alternative” I notice, the right backup generator providing transfer bus with power until the engine fails. However another previous action would have been needed to de-power the SDU after the 6th arc.

  4. David says:

    For those interested in a colourful summary of some accounts of 1 MDB, this is from Peter Alford, published in ‘The Weekend Australian’, 12th Jan 2019.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/7pgeibnilk02lap/1%20MDB.docx?dl=0

  5. TBill says:

    @Victor
    Thank you for the new topic. I have a lot of ideas, having flown the April_2018 radar path on PSS777 (by inserting manual waypoints along the path).

    But first, don’t we have a basic discrepancy with the Safety Investigation Report?

    It says “At 1801:59 UTC [0201:59 MYT] the data showed the “blip” on a heading
    of 022°, speed of 492 kt and altitude at 4,800 ft. This is supported by the
    “blip” detected by Military radar in the area of Pulau Perak at altitude 4,800
    ft at 1801:59 UTC [0201:59 MYT].”

    (They seem to suggest two independent data sources in agreement: data and military radar)

    I am thinking we have an eyewitness at Pulau Perak? That person ought to know if it was a low flying haircut or a distant overhead flight? It seems odd for Malaysia to report a low flying MH370 at Pulau Perak if we really think it was FL350-ish.

    Later we can list possible objectives for the Penang flyby, you have listed some new ideas. It’s a bit of a logical leap on my part, but I wonder if cell phone registration could be on the possibility list? And thus low altitude as part of that.

  6. Barry Carlson says:

    @Victor,

    I’m not convinced that a deliberate selection of Way Points in order to fool / confuse ATC was inherent in the planned diversion, for the following reasons:-

    1.. Transponder was OFF and likelihood of all of Lumpur Control’s Primary Radar sectors being monitored in real time in the early hours of a Saturday morning was minimal.

    2.. MH370 was essentially a NORDO (No Radio) flight – assumed to be proceeding as per Flight Plan.

    3.. A high speed, high level traverse of the FIR boundary airway from Kota Bharu to Penang wouldn’t have drawn any attention even from Thai ATC. Which is apparently the case.

    4.. The deviation toward Pulau Perak to intercept the VAMPI – MEKAR extension of the N571 airway, was probably a personal choice in which Pulau Perak being the most western part of Malaysia was to become the Departure point.

    The exercise proved that in the early hours of a Saturday morning, and without Secondary Radar aircraft transponder responses that Malaysian and most likely Indonesian ATC services were ‘blind’.

  7. Abe Lipson says:

    A wild hunch but possible. MH370 after turn around..and loss of contact…1. Was any cell phone call made to or from the 250 passengers during its long flite to wherever or cud calls not be made then?
    2. Could one of the pilots rendered all unconscious at height, set certain settings on a to pilot, donned portable gas mask, robbed all of gold, money, jewellery. Passengers returning to CHina would have a lot of that..donned a hidden parachute, auto pilot brought plane to lower altitude,bailed out over safe place, changed appearance,auto pilot continued on preprogrammed direction to ????2. That pilot could have raised his life insurance very high months before flight with someon as
    beneficiary2. Has it been collected and by who and where are they now
    I HAVE ASKED THESE QUESTIONS BEFORE ANS STILL NO ANSWER. PLEASE SEND THIS MESSAGE AGAIN!!!!

    beneficuary, later to meet somewhereand live high. 2. Has insurance been raised?, collected by whom and where are they nkw? All this is possuble.
    Someone did not want this plane found and the unusual flite path!
    Maybe not so far out ..suggest investigate Co- pilot who was daring do type bUT I am not sa it was him. Juse investigate.!

  8. Victor Iannello says:

    @Ventus45 said: I really do doubt that any ATCO, EVEN A “NEWBIE” trainee, would be deceived.

    Perhaps. Without knowing what triggers the alarms, it’s hard to know.

  9. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: There are many problems with the military data that is described in the SIR. Perhaps some day the raw data will be released so that we can better understand it.

  10. Victor Iannello says:

    @Barry Carlson: It’s hard to know why the particular path was flown. However, the path does seem to include certain elements of the STAR and the ILS approach. Since there was no intention to land, the question is whether this is just a coincidence or whether this was deliberately done. I don’t know the answer, but I don’t rule out deception.

  11. Victor Iannello says:

    @Abe Lipson: We don’t know if there were any other cell phone registrations on cell towers. The question has been asked before.

    As for a sky jump, there is no good way to do that from a B777 and have any reasonable chance of survival.

  12. airlandseaman says:

    Victor found that the route around Penang can be flown with the auto pilot. I agree that was possible. And that scenario needs to be considered. But it does not mean that the route was in fact flown using an autopilot as described. It could have been flown by hand too. Other parts of the path from 17:30 to 18:02 look more like hand flying.

    I doubt if the specific route was chosen to fool or confuse ATC. The high altitude and TAS would make it obvious to any ATC person that there was no intent to land at KB or BU, regardless of what WPs MH370 passed over or near, whether programmed in the FMC or all coincidences.

    At some point after the hand flown IGARI turn-back, it is very likely that the autopilot was re-engaged. Flying 6 hrs by hand is a non-starter. So maybe VAMPI or MEKAR was the first WP used.

  13. Richard says:

    @Victor,

    Many thanks for your fascinating new post. I wonder whether your discovery of the alignment of the waypoint ENDOR approaching Penang Airport is similarly true of the alignment of waypoint MIMOS approaching Kota Bharu Airport.

    MIMOS is an Approach Transition fix for Kota Bharu Airport (WMKC). ENDOR and D222F are Approach Transition fixes for Penang Airport (WMKP). Obviously the actual Ground Speed and Altitude at waypoint MIMOS and waypoint ENDOR show there was no intention to land.

    Below is a link to a close up plot of the Track calculated from the civilian Kota Bharu Radar Data assuming an Altitude of 43,000 feet passing exactly over waypoint MIMOS:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/slu7orj0sjp6kp2/Kota%20Bharu%20Radar%20Data%2043K%20via%20MIMOS.png?dl=0

    Below is a second link to a close up plot of the Track calculated from the civilian Butterworth Radar Data assuming an Altitude of 38,000 feet passing exactly over waypoint ENDOR and D222F. It would appear that waypoint FF04 is narrowly missed, based on this assumption of an Altitude of 38,000 feet:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/kre6izoqnl5sdxj/Butterworth%20Radar%20Data%2038K%20via%20ENDOR.png?dl=0

    I do not believe ZS ever intended to land at either Airport, but he definitely wanted to set up an excuse, in case he was challenged. If challenged prior to waypoint MIMOS, ZS may have considered slowing the Ground Speed and reducing Altitude, despite being overweight for a Landing, but then diverting toward Penang last minute. If challenged prior to waypoint ENDOR, ZS may have considered slowing the Ground Speed and reducing Altitude, despite still being overweight for a Landing, but then diverting last minute toward the Malacca Strait to supposedly dump or use up fuel.

    In the end, ZS was not challenged at all and he just carried on toward waypoint VAMPI, MEKAR and NILAM.

    I wonder whether Car Nicobar Airport (VOCX) was next on the list of Approach fixes, as it aligns with the satellite data at 18:28:15 UTC.

    It reminds me of the “Long Hunt for a Diversion Airport”, published 18th October 2016: http://www.duncansteel.com/archives/2839

  14. TBill says:

    @Victor
    My overall hypothesis continues to be we may have witnessed an attempt to conceal the identity of the pilot.

    Following that logic, I believe the PIC may have been sitting in the CoPilot seat from the diversion at IGARI. Believe that would give the best view of Penang and Butterworth airfields from the cockpit.

    In my work I never saw the bank exceed about 7%. I had to choose between 5 and 10% bank setting to approximate the curve. That could be due to my choice of manual waypoints, but it is a relatively gentle curve. If the pilot is trying to keep an eye below I think he probably needs to move to CoPilot seat.

    Ugh this gives me some not so nice new ideas, so above is just one version.

  15. paul smithson says:

    Thank you for your analysis, Victor. I agree that it’s a useful analysis to do but I wonder if you you have taken the interpretation too far.

    Your interpretation requires waypoint navigation to be turned off at some point and then turned on again. Why the complexity? I’d agree with Mike E’s interpretation that the path from turnback to Penang isn’t consistent with waypoint navigation and that it seems odd to posit automated flight on, then off, then on again.

    Unlike Mike, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that from turnback to Penang was “hand-flown” because I’d expect that to produce a more inconsistent track. Following turnback onto reciprocal course it looks to me like a series of sections on track-hold or heading hold, with a few fairly crude (10 degree) heading adjustments.

    I am struck by the fact that the dial-down on the speed seems from M0.87-ish to M0.84 seems to occur as the aircraft closes the W coast. The speeds are completely inconsistent with intention to land at Penang and I agree with Ventus that this counts against your “deception” hypothesis. Speed should have started reducing nearly 30 mins previous. To me it looks more like manually pointing the aircraft (from Kota Bharu) roughly at Penang with one correction along the way and reducing speed (and changing course) as soon as visual confirmation is attained.

    The penultimate part that you interpret as a course capture and intercept might be right. Or it might be another, relatively small, manual heading change. The last part of the track seems to fall a little too north to be automated waypoint navigation on leg FF04 to VAMPI?

    All in all, I’m not convinced that the track, including near-miss of ENDOR and FF04 is evidence of waypoint navigation, followed by a track/hdg hold section, followed by a course-intercept – all for the purpose of deceiving folks on the ground and making a getaway up towards VAMPI and beyond.

  16. Victor Iannello says:

    @Paul Smithson: First, I said it was possible that there was an attempt to deceive. I don’t know. Obviously, the speed doesn’t match. And I don’t know the reason why the A/P mode changed from LNAV to TRK SEL to LNAV. That doesn’t mean it didn’t occur. I think it is likely it did.

    The final alignment with VAMPI looks like an automated LNAV capture of a leg. It is NOT a “direct to” from a “present position”, as people have incorrectly claimed. If the LNAV capture of a leg is true, the next question to consider is what defined that leg. There are really only two choices: a leg defined by two waypoints (with the VAMPI at one end), or a radial off of VAMPI. Then look at the track at ENDOR. It points towards FF04. And VAMPI-FF04 does align with the final points within 0.35 NM (corresponding to an azimuthal radar error of 0.27 deg at 73 NM). It all fits.

  17. airlandseaman says:

    Paul:

    Re: “Unlike Mike, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that from turnback to Penang was “hand-flown” because I’d expect that to produce a more inconsistent track.”

    Two comments:

    First, I was only referring to the sharp left turn circa 17:21-17:23 as being flown by hand for sure. That much has been confirmed by Malaysian Officials.

    Second, the “consistency” of the tracks to KB and on to Penang are in fact very consistent with hand flying. I don’t know what you were expecting. There is a slight curvature to both of these segments. Ignoring the fine scale radar noise, the average track wandered from ~230°, to 235°, to 239°, to 243°, and then 254° on the way to Penang. That looks very much like what I expect for hand-flying, aiming for a few visual lighted references along the way (night VFR), aided by the navigation display. Don pointed out to me that the E28 “Second Penang Bridge” (under ENDOR) might have been a night VFR aid. It certainly would have been viable (in clear air) for many miles. This is only speculation, but I think it is another valid possibility. http://bit.ly/2RLEvG6

  18. Victor Iannello says:

    @Paul Smithson: Let me clarify something I said. When I talk of defining a leg using a radial off of VAMPI, I am really talking about creating an intercept course to VAMPI. When a new waypoint is added as the active waypoint, there is an option to specify a track to “intercept the course”. In this case, that course would be around 291°. It’s technically not a radial.

  19. TBill says:

    @Victor
    You make a relatively strong case for logical A/P flight to VAMPI, whereas Juanda Ismail sees Zaharie’s fine piloting skills only to Penang, followed by unorganized flight after Penang suggesting change in pilot or change in pilot’s physical well being. Presumably we can attribute the scatter in the radar data after Penang to, well, to scatter in the radar data, or possibly some changes in altitude that we do not understand clearly as yet.

    You could be correct about the landing deception, but I tend to envision the pilot was looking to decide between Plan (a) free passage around Penang, or by observation, Plan (b) reaction to any possible intercept attempt. The latter appears to have not happened.

    Juanda Ismail faces an uphill battle…he confirms it is ZS who would have been the teacher with the skills and talent to fly to/around Penang on the exact reverse approach path as a teaching pilot, but then tries to argue the flight away from Penang implies a 3rd party hijacking or serious aircraft defect making its ultimate impact felt at that exact time when the aircraft shoud have turned into the landing trajectory.

  20. Don Thompson says:

    @Andrew

    Good news for the NTSC investigation. Reports published at detik.com & temp.co describe a ‘finger tip’ search by divers within a 5m x 5m area, that the CVR memory module was detached from the recorder chassis and ULB, currents are strong, and visibility at the seabed is no more than 1.5m.

  21. Mick Gilbert says:

    @TBill

    Re: ‘Juanda Ismail faces an uphill battle…he confirms it is ZS who would have been the teacher with the skills and talent to fly to/around Penang on the exact reverse approach path as a teaching pilot, but then tries to argue the flight away from Penang implies a 3rd party hijacking or serious aircraft defect making its ultimate impact felt at that exact time when the aircraft shoud have turned into the landing trajectory.

    I’ve not read any reference to a 3rd party hijacking in Juanda’s analysis. What he does say is:

    The primary surveillance radar plot after passing the course reversal point shows many small track changes over short distances (38 track changes over a space of 33 nautical miles).

    ‘This may suggest;

    ‘1. There was frequent manipulation of the control yoke whereby the aircraft was under intermittent manual control by partially incapacitated pilots.

    ‘2. The pilots were completely incapacitated and the aircraft may not have been under any positive control by anyone and was left meandering on its own accord at random, possibility resulting in a phugoid flight pattern.

    ‘3. The aircraft was flying under manual control by someone with no clear direction or destination in mind.

  22. Andrew says:

    @Don Thompson

    Good news indeed!

  23. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: Juanda attributes small deviations from smooth paths as evidence of manual flying. The waviness in the path we see just after the cone-of-silence at Kota Bharu could be evidence of manual flying. However, the small deviations near Penang are more likely due to radar noise, as the amplitude, the time scale, and the length scale of the deviations are much smaller. In fact, the intermittent radar captures are indictive of less than ideal conditions, so some noise (measurement error) is not surprising.

  24. TBill says:

    @Mick
    It was your Item 3 that I interpret as possible alternate hijacker.
    I feel Juanda Ismail’s analysis is brilliant and most welcome, but I just feel the more we learn, the more it points to ZS at the controls.

    I would say the next action item should be to give the IGARI turn around and apparent climb more analysis. But I would say it seems almost obvious ZS conducted that fancy maneuver too, and fairly clear to me that Malaysia must have known by morning what probably happened.

  25. DennisW says:

    @all

    On a lighter note, it is my birthday today. Got a t-shirt from computer science prof. daughter.

    https://photos.app.goo.gl/zVqEj5noPFwARoaD9

  26. Victor Iannello says:

    @DennisW: That’s a bold T-shirt. I like it.

  27. Benjamin says:

    Many thanks for carrying out this.

    One general question: What could be the reason for the missing civial radar blips between the coast and crossing the runway approach?

    I consider it from a crime investigation perspective: Might there have been a plane replacement with one diving under radar coverage and the other raising after that?

    @Barry Carlson: You esentially say in your January 12, 2019 posting at 8:11 pm, that you are not convinced it was deliberate selection of Way Points in order to fool and confuse ATC about a potential landing in Pengang. I don’t agree with your conclusion. If the dissappearance from the secondary radar and the non-responses from the plane in audio communication would have been handled correctly, all ATC und FIR eyes in the region (and presumably all air force eyes as well) should have been focused on this blip-only plane in primary radar to figure out how to start an effectice rescue operation (or what runway to prepare for an emergency landing). It was a 239 passenger plane gone dark and silent and turning 180° from its flight path to Peking, thus meaning there must be some great trouble on board and the flight being in poassibly big danger. It is much more stunning that none of such ground or military response ever happened; what makes me beliefe that part of the ATC ground personal or airline personal or military was involved in the crime, intentionally deleting appropriate SAR.

  28. Victor Iannello says:

    @Benjamin asked: Might there have been a plane replacement with one diving under radar coverage and the other raising after that?

    I doubt it. The radar captures from Butterworth show lots of smaller gaps, so the large gap between ENDOR and the runway final approach could be due to poor atmospheric conditions. To accomplish what you propose would require considerable coordination between a B777 and another aircraft.

  29. airlandseaman says:

    Benjamin: Re: “Might there have been a plane replacement with one diving under radar coverage and the other raising after that?” I would go further than Victor and say there is zero possibility that happened. The radar dropouts observed in the BU PSR data are similar to those in the Lido radar images. Victor mentioned “poor atmospheric conditions” to be more likely. I agree. In fact, Don and I have been researching the possibility that the dropouts are due to anomalous propagation caused by temperature inversions in the area. Some of the radiosonde data in the region supports that hypothesis. Given the high altitude, that is the most likely explanation. See for example: http://bit.ly/2STwhZP

  30. Victor Iannello says:

    From Reuters:

    Two Indonesian F-16 fighter jets forced an Ethiopian Airlines [ETHA.UL] cargo plane to land on Monday at an airport on Batam island after it had flown into Indonesian airspace without permission, an air force spokesman said.

    And here is the path from FR24.

    It looks like Indonesian fighter jets intercepted the Ethiopian plane over Sumatra and forced it down in Batam, which is close to Singapore, where it intended to deliver an engine for maintenance.

    Looking at the FR24 data, it looks like it was descending from 41,000 ft and passing near 18,000 ft in preparation to land in Singapore when it was detoured by the Indonesian jets near the east coast of Sumatra.

  31. Barry Carlson says:

    @Dennis: Reminds me of, “There are Old and Bold Pilots, but no Old, Bold Pilots.” Obviously doesn’t apply to the Math / Science sector!

    @Benjamin: I didn’t deal with the, “What ifs” of the situation. There is no way Malaysia is going to say publicly that no one in ATC thought to do things you are suggesting. The lack of action following Ho Chi Minh ATC advising Lumpur Control that they had no contact with MH370 following its expected entry into Vietnam airspace, doesn’t change any of the known facts.

    We would all like to know who on the ground had prior knowledge of the events that were to unfold. As time passes and nothing conclusive has made it into the media, the likelihood of it ever doing so becomes less likely.

    All I have implied, derived from the known facts, is that the aircraft was piloted in a manner that suggests in hindsight that inaction on the ground was expected. I have assumed that there was no on ground prior knowledge, and basic inertia in the system following an FIR handover was used to advantage.

  32. Ventus45 says:

    ET3728 / ETH3728 (ET-AVN) was supposedly going from Addis Ababa (ADD)
    TO Hong Kong (HKG) – was it not ?

    Why did it divert south-east near southern India and overfly Sri Lanka ?

    It then appears to have turned towards waypoint Tebit, presumably to pick up airway P570, but then apparently flew a bit south of the airway towards waypoint Nisok, then onwards towards WIMB.
    During that leg, the aircraft entered Sibolga primary radar coverage, crossing airway L774 near 014614N0955233E, and then overflew, or close to, WIMB, then over Sumatra towards WIBG, then towards waypoint Taros.
    Having flown straight past the fighter base at WIBB, it is hardly surprising that the TNI-AU scrambled !

  33. Andrew says:

    @Ventus45

    RE: “Why did it divert south-east near southern India and overfly Sri Lanka ?”

    Reading between the lines, it sounds as though the aircraft was enroute from Addis Ababa to Hong Kong and diverted for a non-scheduled stop in Singapore to offload an aircraft engine. The subsequent route took the aircraft over Indonesian territory and, without the necessary overflight permit, the Indonesians got upset. If they’d stayed further north and taken one of the airways down the Strait of Malacca, they would have avoided the Indonesian territorial limit and all would have been well.

    The Ethiopian Airlines comment that “(The plane) was crossing the Indonesian airspace in accordance with the ICAO Chicago Convention Article 5, by which a non-scheduled flight can overfly the airspace of a friendly country without prior permission” was either disingenuous or incredibly naive. Many countries around the world invoke the ‘safety of flight’ clause in Article 5 and require ALL aircraft to seek prior permission before operating over their territory. It’s no secret that Indonesia is one such country, as shown in the following map:
    World Permit Map

  34. Don Thompson says:

    @Victor,

    The incident with the Ethiopian B777F, at least, shows that the TNI-AU Sibolga SATRAD air defence radar site is operational sometimes!

  35. Victor Iannello says:

    @Don Thompson: That’s true. It’s operational in daylight and after March 7, 2014. What occurred on March 7, 2014 during the night is anybody’s guess.

  36. Ventus45 says:

    @Victor (@Don)
    Well you both know what my guess is.
    What the Ethiopian B777F incident clearly shows, is that even in daylight, and with everyone “on deck”, it takes a significant “time to intercept”, even when the “intercept geometry” is helpful (as it clearly was in this case).
    On the night of 7th-8th March 2014, even if we assumed that “everyone WAS on deck”, the “intercept geometry” was “impossible” for either my route OR any Ache FMT scenario.
    Simply put, re MH370, they would not have launched, even if they saw it, since there was no way they could catch it, short of full burner, and then there would have been the minor issue, of a couple of F-16 jocks having to go swimming in the dark.
    The Indonesians steadfastly refuse to admit that they ever saw it, in their airspace, (or where the Malaysians say it was) for rather obvious reasons.

  37. George.G says:

    All:,

    Congratulations must be in order for Indonesian persistence in locating the CVR from JT610.

    All, please offer them a heartfelt “Hooray”.

  38. DennisW says:

    @Ventus

    +1

  39. Don Thompson says:

    @DennisW

    Many happy returns to the day!

  40. Tim says:

    @Victor,
    I thought the consensus was this Penang turn was made at a bank angle of less than 10degs. Are you now saying it was made with 15degs?

    Just like the autopilot OFF IGARI turn, if this is a shallow bank of less than 10degs, this also seems to be autopilot OFF.

  41. Victor Iannello says:

    @Tim: I identified three sections: a turn with a 15° bank; a straight segment at a track of 300°; and a capture of the LNAV leg. If somebody were to fit those three segments with a single turn, it would be around 7 or 8°. However, I don’t think that’s the way it was flown.

  42. Tim says:

    Can we please, all put to bed the ridiculous idea that someone in the F/deck wanted to view Penang. For a start the bank angle is low, and then the turn was initiated after passing the Island of Penang.

    Only a dark sea filled with ships would be visible!

  43. TBill says:

    @Victor
    Can you give us SkyVector version of the key waypoints you propose especially FF04 coordinates? I am noticing FF04 seems to be slightly different location in FS9 than you are showing, whereas your location is probably more up-to-date.

  44. TBill says:

    @Victor
    How about say the A/P instructions were FF04 TASEK VAMPI similar to the sim studies, and similar to the sim studies, the cutover to VAMPI was made before TASEK was reached? I am thinking we are stuck with one problem that the curve flown by FS9/FSX is probably not a perfect match to a commercial reality.

  45. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: The navigation database defines FF04 as (5.191003,100.181583).

    I don’t know what the problem is with your simulation. There should be no problems replicating a 15° turn and holding a 300° track, and capturing the FF04-VAMPI leg. Did you follow my instructions above exactly?

  46. TBill says:

    @Victor
    Thank you. I am thinking that shows up as CF04 on FS9. No problem simulating your route.

  47. Don Thompson says:

    @TBill

    CF04 (Course Fix for approach on RWY04) is not the same as FF04 (Final approach Fix for RWY04).

    CF04 is 10nm out from the DME beacon, aligned with the runway.

  48. Don Thompson says:

    The second notable incident in as many months.

    A 747F experiences inflight ‘fire’ during departure from KLIA.

    The first was the LATAM 777 service during which aircraft reg PT-MUG seems to have lost power to both Transfer Busses, deployed its RAT, the crew communicated, made a diversion, and landed without any injuries to pax or crew.

  49. TBill says:

    @DonT
    “CF04 (Course Fix for approach on RWY04) is not the same as FF04 (Final approach Fix for RWY04).”

    OK. As a flight simmer’s fine point of detail, the older 2004 Microsoft FS9 (PSS777) is missing ENDOR, OPOVI, VAMPI, and FF04 seems to be in the wrong place (official waypoints may have been updated since pre-2004).

    The slightly newer 2006 FSX has all of those waypoints. You can always add waypoints via manual edit or with addon utilities, but just saying what users will notice.

    Implies for example, the ZS sim studies flight path on PSS777 probably was not constructed from native FS9/PSS777 waypoints, but looks like it might in theory have been constructed with FSX waypoints and transferred over.

  50. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: The PMDG 777 model for FSX includes navigation data as created by Navigraph and based on AIRAC cycle data. It is also possible to update FS9’s native navigation data. The captain had both FS9 and PMDG’s navigation database. I’m not sure what point you are making.

  51. Victor Iannello says:

    @TBill: One other point. Waypoints like CF04 and FF04 are “unnamed waypoints” that are described on navigation charts by their relationship to navaids like the ILS. You should choose WMKP as the destination airport and ILS04 as the runway before selecting FF04 as the waypoint.

  52. Benjamin says:

    Over the last two months, there have been two different new / renewed claims of people, suggesting / knowing the MH 370 crash site.

    First there was Martin Kristensen, a Danish engineer, with a calculated ocean destination near to the Christmas Islands.
    Coordinates: -13.28, 106.96
    Report: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/612551/data-analysis-points-to-new-location-for-mh370-aircraft-that-vanished-in-mysterious/

    Second there was Rusli Kusmin, a Malaysian fishermen, who claims to have eyewitnessed, from a distance of 2 km, a plane crash into the Malaca Street (west of Penang), .
    Coordinates: 4.987253, 98.703917
    Time of crash: 7.30am
    Plane was approaching from: North
    Report: https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2019/01/16/we-saw-final-moments-of-mh370-say-fishermen/

    What do you, the experts on the MH 370 topic, think about these both suggestions / claims?

  53. Victor Iannello says:

    @Benjamin: The work by Martin Kristensen was critiqued here extensively. Many here believe there are some important shortcomings, including simplifications in the model for the BFO, which led to an impact site along the 7th arc that is too far north.

    Relative to the other crash site, as you say, there is an Indonesian fisherman that claims to have been an eyewitness to an aircraft crash at N4°58.741′,E098°41.741′ (4.97092,98.69568), which locates it east of Sumatra in the Malacca Strait. Putting the Inmarsat data and the debris discoveries aside (which that group believes have been falsified), the hypothetical impact site would contradict Malaysia’s own radar data, which indicated that the final radar target was at 18:22:12 and 10 NM past MEKAR on airway N571, which is about 245 NM from the radar site on Western Hill on Penang Island. To be detected at that radar range, the target would be flying at an altitude of 22,000 ft or higher.

    The hypothetical impact site is about 170 NM from that last radar target, and only 97 NM from the radar site on Western Hill on Penang Island. Those proposing the impact site in the Malacca Strait would have to explain why MH370 was not seen by radar after 18:22:12 even though the hypothetical impact site was much closer to the radar site than the last radar target (97 NM v 245 NM).

    I wonder if the group is now questioning Malaysian’s own radar data. At this point, it seems unlikely that Malaysia fabricated or omitted any radar data in the Malacca Strait.

  54. Benjamin says:

    @Victor: Many thanks for your Response.

    I hadn’t found critique on Martin Kristensen work so far, but I will try a search here and try to understand. To me his conclusions looked well done.

    Regarding the fishermen with the near TASEK destination: They claim 7.30am as time of the crash. If this is Malaysian Time, it would be UTC+8 (eventually because the fishermen are Malaysians). As the crashsite is nearer to the Indonesia coast then to Malaysia, it could mean Indonesian Time, UTC+7, as well. So ist would be something like 00:30 UTC oder 01:30 UTC, six to seven hours after the last Primary/Military Radar contact. And the fishermen said, the plane came from north. This brings me to the conclusion, that it would not have crashed troughout ist first (northbound) flight that was radar detected. It must have been a later return then. Maybe MH 370 took a hop to the Andaman Islands (incl. landing there?) and returned later, flying low under the radar?

    Would this be a possible Scenario, assuming we could trust Rusli Kusmin and he really saw the MH 370 Crash and not another crash?

  55. Brian Anderson says:

    @Victor,

    The Cartoonographer is now claiming that you tacitly support his work. Ha ha ha ha ha ha . . . Gosh there must be at least 5 people on Twitter who believe his nonsense geometry. Unbelievable !

    He seems to conveniently forget that his view has changed substantially over the years too.

  56. DennisW says:

    @Victor

    The hypothetical impact site is about 170 NM from that last radar target, and only 97 NM from the radar site on Western Hill on Penang Island. Those proposing the impact site in the Malacca Strait would have to explain why MH370 was not seen by radar after 18:22:12 even though the hypothetical impact site was much closer to the radar site than the last radar target (97 NM v 245 NM).

    I am not a fan of drawing any conclusions from the radar data. That said, the Inmarsat data speaks loud and clear against a Malacca Strait terminus. Very early in the investigations I concluded it was a waste of time to consider any data (radar or Inmarsat) before the 18:25 ISAT login. That conclusion has stood the test of time. Even the data between 18:25 and 19:41 has proven to be very difficult to interpret.

    @Benjamin

    The Kristensen paper is a serious effort in the company of many other serious efforts by competent people. I would not rule it out or endorse it. The BTO/BFO data cannot be used to infer a terminus. It can be used as a terminal location filter i.e. there is virtually no possibility the aircraft terminated in the Malacca Strait.

  57. Victor Iannello says:

    @Brian Anderson: He is also claiming that I have “snuck around with fake names to write horrible things about [his] work..” on various websites.

    Unlike many others, I’ve never posted anything online with any other name other than my own. This lie came from an individual that created an internet identity with a fake name and fake residence and then legally changed his name to this new identity.

    He also didn’t read or comprehend the article of mine that he is citing, which stated that further north on the 7th arc was only a possibility, nor does he understand that the article was written in June 2018.

    The more he talks, the more foolish he looks.

  58. oddball says:

    Hi Guys,

    New here, not an expert but have a few questions, if anyone can / cares to answer. Posting here as the 7th arc thread is closed.

    1. When a B777 is flying to a distant way point on AP, will it automatically calculate and fly a Great Circle route, (I presume yes, but asking anyway), and if so, how will it decide which “side” (of the straight line to the destination) it will fly?

    2. Is it known (been calculated) which track it flew? (I am troubled by the assumption that the flight went over YPCC – is there another more distant way point – such as in Antarctica – which would have produced similar satellite data?)

    Also, some other questions:

    3. Is it confirmed that ZAS made the final Good Night radio call, and is it usual to put the Call Sign last?

    4. Had ZAS and co-pilot FAH flown together before?

    5. Is there any evidence of cabin depressurization? Obviously, that would disable FAH and almost everyone else, but how long would the pilot’s emergency oxygen supplies last? Presumably, the cabin crew also all have portable emergency oxygen supplies, but how long do they last?

    6. What is the maximum FL that can be comfortably flown while on emergency oxygen – how high can a pilot go while on oxygen, without loss of mental capacity?

    7. If ZAS had sent FAH to the bathroom, ostensibly proposing to hand control of the flight over to him upon his return, would FAH have had any possibility of breaking back into the locked cockpit, even aided by other crew or passengers (had he had the gumption to attempt it)?

    8. It has been reported that FAH attempted to make a cellphone call at some point (after the transponder was disabled?) Does anyone know when that is supposed to have happened?

    9. Any known opposing traffic out of or over Penang at that time?

    If anyone wants to answer so many questions…

  59. Andrew says:

    For those interested in the JT610 accident, the following post by ‘Luc Lion’ on PPRuNe highlights a serious incident that occurred to a Falcon 7X during descent into Kuala Lumpur. The French BEA’s investigation report raises some interesting points about the certification safety assessment process that seem relevant to JT610.

    Here is the report on a Falcon 7X serious incident in May 2011.
    https://www.bea.aero/uploads/tx_elydbrapports/hb-n110525.en_01.pdf

    I think that the serious incident of HB-JFN shares several commonalities with the Lion Air accident:
    1. In both cases, an uncommanded movement of the THS has led to a catastrophic situation.
    2. In both cases, the uncommanded movement has been caused by the failure of a single element in an automation system controlling the THS.
    3. In both cases, the automation system was a new design or a redesign.

    The report does a good job of showing that the combination of 14 CFR 25.671 and 14 CFR 25.1309 implies that an automation system that has the potential of commanding a THS runaway should be designed as fail-safe, which implies immunity to single element failure, or should provide appropriate warning to alert the crew of the unsafe operating situation. The warnings must be designed to minimize crew errors which could create additional hazards.
    That was not adhered to by the Falcon 7X at the time of the serious incident and, obviously, also by the B737 Max at present time.

    The report does also a good job of showing that the non-compliance to certification specifications was partially caused by a botched risk analysis process and that the risk analysis failure has systemic causes.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if similar risk analysis failures would be found at Boeing in the context of the Lion Air accident investigation.

    The incident occurred in May 2011, but the BEA’s investigation report was not published until July 2016. It would be interesting to find out if any of the recommendations were adopted by EASA or the FAA. If they were, I suspect the timeframe would have been too tight to have affected the 737 MAX certification.

  60. Andrew says:

    The link to the investigation report in my previous post doesn’t work. The report can be found at:
    https://www.bea.aero/uploads/tx_elydbrapports/hb-n110525.en_01.pdf

  61. lkr says:

    @VI: It took me a while to figure out the “cartoonographer” sub-thread. Am I to understand that you’re also the giant weasel that ruins someone’s sleep?

  62. Victor Iannello says:

    @lkr: I have no idea, but based on his behavior, if he has a conscience, there are lots of reasons why his sleep would be ruined.

  63. Hank McGlynn says:

    @Andrew

    Good submission. Boeing knows how to implement a proper system – clearly not done in this case. I suspect Boeing flight control people were squished by marketing and business decisions. This will not end well for Boeing.

    Boeing was surprised by handling qualities after the larger CFM56 MAX engines were shifted forward from the 737 NG. This led to the installation of an active AOA limiter in addition to the normal stick shaker. This was a cheap and late addition. And marketing consideration led Boeing to not disclose the existence to pilots or develop type-specific training.

    It is unbelievable that they could allow the system to even engage with a 30 degree offset between right and left AOA vanes!!!

  64. Andrew says:

    @Hank McGlynn

    I suspect that Boeing’s philosophy in this instance was that pilots would disable the automatic trim system via the cutout switches in the event of a trim malfunction, even without specific knowledge of MCAS. Clearly that did not occur in the JT610 accident, possibly because the crew was confused by the stall warning and other indications. The CVR should provide the investigators with some valuable insight into the crew’s actions.

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