Latest help finding MH370 discounted

Eight years after the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, authorities have come to no firm conclusions as to why and where exactly the plane crashed. Theories abound on both points. The search for what is believed to be the final resting place of the Boeing 777 at the bottom of the southern Indian Ocean has proved lengthy, complicated and expensive. When a British engineer recently claimed to have developed a new method to more accurately pinpoint the final flying moments of MH370, and hence the location of the wreck, new headlines about the extraordinary disappearance have surfaced again. The problem is that other investigators who have devoted a great deal of time and expertise to the matter do not find his method credible.

Richard Godfrey claims that a little-known database created by amateur radio enthusiasts can track flight paths. The Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) network contains messages opportunistically transmitted on the radio frequency (RF) radio bands to assess propagation conditions. Receivers log the message content, the call sign, and the location of the sender along with the signal-to-noise ratio (S/N), frequency, and frequency drift of the received messages.

Godfrey theorizes that the interactions of radio waves with airplanes cause anomalies in S/N and frequency, even when flying thousands of miles from the transmitter or receiver. He searches the huge WSPRnet database with special software to identify and analyze the signals just before MH370 disappeared. He said WSPR data from a HF radio transmission between Switzerland and Australia identified MH370 while it was still being tracked by radar over the Gulf of Thailand. In his latest report, Godfrey says over 200 WSPRnet links are “candidates for MH370 detection and tracking.”

Godfrey is a former member of the MH370 Independent Group (IG) of engineers and scientists who helped authorities unravel the fate of MH370. “A number of contributors, both IG members and otherwise, analyzed the WSPRnet data and found nothing that could be described as detecting an aircraft,” said Don Thompson, a member of the group. He told AIN that the received S/N of HF transmissions is constantly changing and that the messages propagate via ionospheric refraction in paths that are too diffuse for practical use as a location tool. In addition, the signal strengths are far too weak over long distances. Another member of the group, Victor Iannello, experimented with his own amateur radio before concluding that even if a WSPR signal could be forward-scattered from an aircraft under ideal conditions, it would be replaced at the receiving station by the stronger direct signal would be masked.

Prior to this latest controversy, some of the independent investigators were attempting to pinpoint the plane’s trajectory before and after it appeared to have set its final course. They used raw radar data collected by the Malaysian ATC as MH370 flew over the Malacca Straits. There is a knowledge gap between the last radar trace and the first of the position plots made possible by the aircraft’s automatic “handshake” with the Inmarsat ground station in Perth. Not only did they hope to close this gap, they hoped their new analysis could reduce potential errors in Inmarsat’s frequency offset calculations. Meanwhile, the group re-examined the fuel economy data for the Boeing 777.

Thompson tells AIN that none of the work has identified new sea areas for crews to search.

In 2018, oceanographic survey specialists Ocean Infinity combed autonomous multi-sensor underwater vehicles to comb an area larger than initially searched by authorities and found nothing. But, Thompson added, the areas searched could still hide the debris, as seabed topography made it a challenge to operate the vehicles at an optimal height above the seabed. Large underwater ridges and canyons mark the search area.

Ocean Infinity has since used improved technology for other search and survey work. But it seems unlikely that it would receive any official encouragement or support to resume the search for the MH370 wreckage, not least from the Malaysian government, which has reason to fear confirmation of an “inconvenient truth”.

Most serious investigators long ago concluded that the circumstantial evidence pointing to a “homicide-suicide” by MH370’s Captain Zahari is too strong to ignore. The original Malaysian Air Accident Investigation, conducted as an ICAO Annex 13 process, ended with no result. So did a lengthy supplementary report issued in mid-2018 before the Malaysian investigative team disbanded. However, it was determined that the three unexplained turns that put the Boeing 777 on course for a watery end were “heavily the result of system failures.” Rather, it said: “It is more likely that such maneuvers are due to the systems being manipulated.”

The supplementary report also discussed the outcome of a search of Zahari’s home by Malaysian police. It found a route similar to the plane’s known detour path on its personal flight simulator. Despite this, the Malaysian lead investigator said at a press conference that the loss of MH370 “cannot have been an event committed by the pilot”.

Meanwhile, the many theories about the disappearance continue to circulate. While many of them can be dismissed, the question of Zahari’s murder-suicide motivation obviously remains critical. Not long after the disappearance, his wife and daughter revealed that family ties had broken down. In 2015, AIN noted the possibility that his disillusionment with Malaysian politics may have been a factor. Then came credible evidence that Zahari was clinically depressed. The supplemental report also mentioned chronic pain Zahari suffered after damaging his vertebrae in an accident, raising the question: had he been taking pain-relieving medications that precipitated psychotic episodes? The mystery remains.

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