Potential search area for MH370

With authorities widening the search area for Malaysian Airlines MH370 to the southwest of the last known position on the intended flight track, and with the possibility that the flight was hijacked or commanded by a rogue pilot keeping the airplane under control, we wondered just how far the aircraft could go–and how big the potential search area could become.

We started with the fuel required for Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, a 2,700 mile trip, and added a 500mi reserve. Then we subtracted the distance to the last known point of contact on the intended flight path and the same amount for the reported U-turn back to KUL. It’s been reported (as noted in our previous post) that military radar tracked the plane to the west coast of Malaysia.

With this new calculation, we estimated the distance remaining for the Boeing 777 and here’s what we got, plotting on the Great Circle Mapper:

MH370 Search Area

Searchers have their work cut out for them.

26 Comments on “Potential search area for MH370

  1. The two circles cannot be concentric, as they have different loci.

    • It’s all estimated, although you are correct that the “fuel remaining” center should be to the right. But Great Circle Mapper doesn’t have that ability. The point is made, however. There is a vast expanse of deep ocean where the plane could have gone down.

    • How far could the airplane have flown on 1 engine before running out of fuel?

      • Do you believe the ULB pings were not real ? Or that the Inmarasat data analyis which put the ships in the area to hear the pings was wrong? Or that the plane or parts of it is/was not in the area where the pings were heard? Why consider a single engine flight from what time to what time ?

        Generally, the plane on one engine will fly slower, but maybe not further – and in any case where else do you think it is ?

  2. There would have to have been an intended destination with a turn to the west. It makes no sense to end the flight in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The US Navy has a base at Diego Garcia, an island just to the east or northeast of the termination point in the Indian ocean. They would have picked up an unknown/unidentified large aircraft who was not squawking. The same with the Philippines, Guam, Taiwan, or the southern Japanese Islands.
    Western Malaysia, Malacca Straits, Thailand Peninsula, or Indonesia all make sense if the airplane actually went west.
    A suicidal pilot, or incapacitated pilot, however would not land. If they did change altitudes and reprogram the navigation systems with new coordinates that would indicate someone was in control.

  3. Makes sense to start looking at airstrips large enough to handle landing (and takeoff!) and prune that list according to this discussion.

  4. Interesting report from new scientist, basically saying Rolls Royce received Automatic data from the aircraft ACARs system on take off then climb out. I understand the aircraft normally sends out further information during cruise,, surely if this did or didn’t happen it would help narrow down how long the flight went on for ( make that circle smaller)


  5. Nobody, rogue pilot or whatever, would want to go to anywhere in this circle, they would be goaled of executed. A suicide would most likely use the first chance when he was alone in the cockpit, not turn and have everybody in a panc, other pilot racing back to the cockpit etc etc.

    Looks to me like some kind of failure in the cockpit, either fire, as a B777 driver pointed out, or maybe some kind of total el failure, which left the aircraft “flying itself” for a while before crashing out of control. It could have gone a long way by itself. Whatever it must have been a really unlikely series of events, given the reliability of B777s, but sooner or later…

    • What happens to cockpit access systems when electric power is lost ?
      Free access or No access or are the door locks autonomous?

  6. Flight global’s David Learmont has these thoughts about F370. He focuses on comparing what we know about that flight with AF442, in particular the mid-night flight and that that time of day is recognized as the one in which human functioning is most degraded.

    I would add that another analogy could be to the 911 attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and on a third target, which was thwarted by the pax-induced crash in PA. The Mal. AF now reporting that the flight flew west over the Malay peninsula, and then south over the Strait of Malacca at low altitude.
    Maybe it was a terrorist attack heading toward SA or other urban destination which the pax, most of whom were Chinese, overcame. That flight path change could also be consistent with a pilot suicide. In any case, now we have a better idea of where to be looking for debris etc. The mystery is why the Mal. AF did not report this change much earlier?

  7. One report said it entered Straight of Malacca at about 3000ft, indicating a decent from the turn point altitude of 35,000ft. That decent rate would put the plane in the water on the far side of the Straight.

  8. Scott: Could we get a fuel burn calculation at around 5000 feet? It appears that would be fairly accurate or even lower if the reports are true? Still the full circle but with interest in the Andaman sea region.

    I have come to the conclusion as follows. A lot of input not listed as I have lost track of it but I thinks it makes sense. As the single highest source of losses in this phase of flight is deliberate act along with the other info. Until today I was thinking this but adding the detail that pilot can turn off the Air Data Maint stream and certainly the transponder it tracks with the recent information..

    I think were are looking at a form of suicide, though something along the
    lines of rambling/delusional maybe but ultimately suicide.
    Not the usual pattern of straight in but the other aspects seem to line up.
    Not necessarily fully planned out (or even partly) nor any real logic
    involved other than whim of the moment.

    A few pieces have come together to solidify that.

    1. Malaysian military now says they tracked the flight back across
    Malaysia, into the Malacca Straights and on out towards the W and or N.W.
    Even if more false info, the aircraft did not strew debris anywhere near
    where it disappeared. This also smacks of the Egyptian politics of
    denying the grossly clear evidence that the Egypt Air pilot committed
    suicide (Malaysia has some very mucky politics at times verging over into a
    quasi dictatorship along the lines of Turkey). No explanation as to why
    this only came to light now but it smells strongly.

    2.. You can turn the Air Data system off from the cockpit (subject to
    confirmation but it makes sense that you have control)
    No air data was received (and apparently after the “disappearance). That
    is simply too obscure a piece of equipment for a hi-jacker or terrorist to
    know about and think about turning it off.
    Also, each airline has their own protocols for how often that data is
    transmitted when over ocean. It cost money to use the satellites so some
    only do it every 30 minutes. Certainly plenty of window there.

    3. ,. The transponder signal disappeared. I.e. being turned off to
    disappear would be the explanation in line with the Air Maint Data and an
    overt act is the likely explained along with the statistics on that being
    the prime cause of these kinds of incidents (in flight losses)

    An aircraft out of control is virtually to do that, someone who wants to
    create a mysterious disappearance makes it a good place to do it (granted
    you could simply have flow off to the E/N.E. Frankly I don’t think an
    aircraft that had suffered the kind of catastrophic damage to go black would
    also be flyable.
    Also if the auto pilot was on and pilots incapacitated the plane
    would have kept on course (there have been two or three incidents like that,
    they went straight until out of fuel and down.). If any maneuvering it
    would have gone straight, not dropped and maintained or spiraled in.
    This has the signs of strange but deliberate behavior and flight patch.

    Incapacity pilots would also require a corresponding failure to make the
    plane go black, then make a turn and decent below most radar coverage.
    If its true when last saw it was relatively low altitude.

    A plow into the jungle would have set the ELTs off (unless we cascade into
    really beyond belief) and fire (loaded with fuel).

    And back to aircraft this large don’t crash and leave zero debris if the
    crash area is known regardless off the cause.

    Leaving the known area entirely deliberate and taking it far out to sea
    would do it and then even if debris are spotted back tracking it from 4 full
    days now (and who knows how much longer if at all) would be a virtually
    unsearchable area (Titanic was known close and that was not easy, Bismarck
    the same and AF447 the same and took major time and effort even then.

    Some possibility of the pingers but we are getting into deep water and would
    need subs and anti sub listeners to home in. They never did get anything
    from AF447 and the French had a sub out there. How deep before they
    don’t work?

    Depths out into the Andaman sea no (added to the search area with the Malayan
    Military admittance quickly gets into the 6- 7000 feet deep well withing flight distance of the exit of Malaca straight.

    And in response to the one item, why not fly out there? Nothing for long distances and you assume its all rational. It may be deliberate but deliberate and logic are not the same thing. It may make sense in a delusional suicidal state.

    • Why can the air data and transponder be turned off?
      I don’t understand the usefulness of such control. In fact, this case provides clear reasons why someone on an aircraft should not have the option to do this.

  9. The possibility of the aircraft landing in certain isolated airfields cannot be ruled out..I have personally seen some airfields constructed by Japanese of WW II vintage in Andaman Isles..possibility of similar airstrips elsewhere also, in Malaysia,Thailand,Myanmar…

    • Following on along your line of logic, somewhere at the far end of said remotely located airstrip you’d have 239 pax+crew in need of food etc for the last 72 hours … how do you propose these needs are being dealt with, and by whom ?

  10. I’m calling this the Schrodinger’s airplane. At this stage, it has both crashed and not crashed. There’s absolutely nothing pointing to either one state.

  11. Why does the search area exlude the Thai coastal area north of Kota Bahru ?
    What is the official email address of the search party for communicating with the public ?

    • Population density?
      For an undetected large crash you need an unpopulated or rather sparsely populated area. i.e and imho asian coastal areas can probably be
      taken from the list of possible crash sites due to dense population.
      Even most of the shallow sea should be excludeable due to fishing boat fleets.

  12. I alluded to the possibility of theft in the first Leeham thread.
    Maybe my first idea of a valuable cargo could have been flawed, but what would a “parted out” 777 be worth. More than the average heist?
    There has to be a first time for everything and maybe this is the first act of piracy with a jet airliner?

    • Would it not be difficult to funnel parts with no paper trail into the market?
      I’d guess lots of serial numbers linked to that airframe.
      Any “interesting” passengers? ( I know about a group of 20 from FreeScale Semiconductor )

    • If the List of Passengers and Crew Members is not withheld by Malaysian Authorities (I’ve seen the full 239 names somewhere), maybe also the same Authorities could gratify the community of international observers with a Manifest of MH-370’s bellyfreighted cargo, to give us a clue about possible malvolent abduction of valuables ?

  13. Uwe,
    Its not difficult at all.
    All it takes is creativity!
    Remember all the Bell helicopter parts a few years ago.
    I truly hope my idea is wrong.
    I fear for the fate of 239 witnesses.

  14. YIKES !!!


    Missing Airplane Flew On for Hours
    Engine Data Suggest Malaysia Flight Was Airborne Long After Radar Disappearance, U.S. Investigators Say

    U.S. investigators suspect that Malaysia Airlines 3786.KU -2.04% Flight 370 stayed in the air for about four hours past the time it reached its last confirmed location, according to two people familiar with the details, raising the possibility that the plane could have flown on for hundreds of additional miles under conditions that remain murky.

    Aviation investigators and national security officials believe the plane flew for a total of five hours based on data automatically downloaded and sent to the ground from the Boeing Co. BA -0.99% 777’s engines as part of a routine maintenance and monitoring program. ..

    GOES ON . . .

  15. Pingback: Large debris field spotted in MH370 search–is it from the airplane? | Leeham News and Comment

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