Where Did the Search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Go So Wrong?
July 22, 2016 11:37 AM   Subscribe

Two and a half years after the disappearance of MH370 (original thread), China, Malaysia and Australia have announced the search will be suspended. Why had they been so confident in the first place? How could they have been wrong? (Popular Mechanics)
posted by roomthreeseventeen (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
I still can't quite believe that MH370 and MH17 happened in the span of less than 6 months. I can tell you, unsurprisingly, the coverage on this has been quite muted in the local press.
posted by cendawanita at 11:45 AM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Welp, I can see why the FBI thought the deleted files recovered from the Captain's home flight simulator was suggestive of a suicide flight.

...

But what if he deleted them because/when he'd thought up a better method?
posted by cstross at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


New York Magazine received a confidential document showing that the pilot of MH370 flew a simulated flight on his home computer very close to the suspected actual path of the plane only a month before the crash.

For years I've held out hope that this wasn't what actually happened. I can't imagine a more horrible outcome for the families than knowing their loved ones were the victims of someone else's suicide mission. But this, for me, is the straw that breaks it. All we can hope for now is that the plane is discovered soon, so they might have a small bit of closure.
posted by helloknitty at 12:23 PM on July 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


...if Zaharie had taken a suicide pill after turning toward the empty ocean...

I realize investigators need to consider all possibilities, but that seems like overkill.
posted by fairmettle at 12:25 PM on July 22, 2016


Thanks for this post. For some reason I can't place, MH370 popped into my head this morning, and I was wondering about something like RemindMe! for news stories - a "where are they now?" two years after a major story.

And then this item shows up in the news. Huh.
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:35 PM on July 22, 2016


so what happens if you start ms flight simulator and then go make a cup of tea and forget about it? does it have some kind of autopilot that keeps it going in the same direction until the fuel runs out?

maybe i am too forgetful or drink too much tea, but i suspect the odds of that are, all other things being equal, more likely that someone planning to commit mass murder / suicide.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:48 PM on July 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Is there a possibility that the plane can't be found because the frame fragmented and dispersed?
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:07 PM on July 22, 2016


so what happens if you start ms flight simulator and then go make a cup of tea and forget about it?

That's a charitable thought but in that case you wouldn't expect the "oops I walked away from the simulator" flight and the physical evidence from the real flight to correspond.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:15 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


what if he deleted them because/when he'd thought up a better method?

You might guess he would simulate that method, too.
posted by Western Infidels at 1:18 PM on July 22, 2016


to correspond.

oh, my bad. so they did find it?
posted by andrewcooke at 1:25 PM on July 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


you wouldn't expect the "oops I walked away from the simulator" flight and the physical evidence from the real flight to correspond.

Is not the whole issue that they don't? They apparently spent a couple years and untold millions of dollars searching based on that scenario and found nothing.
posted by Naberius at 1:26 PM on July 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


The data we do have on the flight path corresponds pretty well to the simulated path. The problem is that they then have to make a number of assumptions as to what exactly happened and making different assumptions leads to very different endpoints.

They made their best guesses and didn't find anything in those places, but that doesn't mean the underlying idea is wrong.
posted by Four Ds at 1:43 PM on July 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


nor does it mean the underlying idea is right. 'inconclusive', maybe. 'unproven hypothesis' also seems right.
posted by j_curiouser at 1:55 PM on July 22, 2016


Yes, exactly.
posted by Four Ds at 2:09 PM on July 22, 2016


With the constraints on money and manpower for the search, placing a bet on a hypothesis based on the available Inmarsat and FBI data appears to have been a necessity. The wrongness lies more in overstating their confidence in that hypothesis.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:17 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Even if it's decades from now, the plane will eventually be found. On this finite planet Earth it will be found. Hopefully within my lifetime. I've got no personal stake, but I really want us all to find it. I'm still floored that such a thing happened in this day and age. Stranger than fiction, the MH370 disappearance.
posted by one teak forest at 2:29 PM on July 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


Don't forget the huge size of oceans. The recent crash in the Mediterranean where they had a clear radar track almost all the way down and debris on the surface took weeks to locate actual objects. It will probably be a random oceanographic survey that just stumbles onto it.
posted by sammyo at 2:32 PM on July 22, 2016


Maybe I was brusque earlier. I don't really know anything. I don't mean to sound certain.

It's possible that the physical evidence has been over-sold to us amateurs, and of course the simulator path does not prove anything in particular. Just crashing the plane straight away would seem to be a surer way to achieve the result. A pilot with diminished mental capacity (for any number of reasons) could become confused and re-enact a previously simulated scenario.

But it defies plausibility to suppose that MH370 took an inexplicable southward turn over the Indian Ocean (which the physical evidence supports) and that the simulator path took an inexplicable southward turn over the Indian Ocean, and that similarity is purely a coincidence or an accident.

The ocean is incomprehensibly vast, we shouldn't be shocked that a completely impossible search area, narrowed down radically based on good guesses, failed to find the plane.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:48 PM on July 22, 2016


It is very unlikely that MH370 will be found by a random oceanic survey. The southern Indian Ocean is just about the remotest place on Earth. It not only isn't a place anyone goes, it's not on the way from any place people go to any other place people go. It is very deep and crossed by poorly mapped undersea mountain ranges. An airplane is a much smaller and lighter object than a ship like the Titanic, and mostly made of aluminum so not even magnetic. It is difficult to imagine a sensing technology that could pick the plane out under a couple of miles of water from the surface (much less from orbit) using any known form of radiation.

Titanic is much larger and its final position was much better known, it isn't in the middle of a bunch of undersea mountains, it's directly under a major shipping lane, and finding it was still an enormous struggle. Like a reverse case of the Andrea Dorea I expect MH370 to be one of those mysteries that perplex generations.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:58 PM on July 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


Why would a pilot need to practice the scenario "crash into the ocean" in a simulator?
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 4:11 PM on July 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I don't think the plane will ever be found. The ocean is so vast, and out there it's pretty deep, with from what I understand is pretty rugged terrain on the ocean floor. Add to that silts in the ocean that could bury the wreckage. It's a very rough patch of sea out there. There's too much seafloor to search to hope for it to be found.
posted by azpenguin at 5:44 PM on July 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


It does sound like Zaharie deliberately drove the plane on a suicide mission, which would be the worst possible outcome. Two years ago I thought it was an unlikely scenario, but after Germanwings and Andreas Lubitz I feel it's a much more likely scenario.
posted by daybeforetheday at 7:28 PM on July 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


It is difficult to imagine a sensing technology that could pick the plane out under a couple of miles of water from the surface (much less from orbit) using any known form of radiation.

Presumably you could put things on the plane, that would float to the surface every so often and be more easily detectable. Would add weight though.
posted by effugas at 12:13 AM on July 23, 2016


Fuck Jeff Wise (the NY Post writer with the supposed "confidential document"). The guy basically capitalized on the tragedy by writing a book about his theory of why the plane went down, just like the fifty zillion other people who had their own "theories" - he just made money off his. Hell, he even claims the debris was planted. urggggghhhhhh
posted by divabat at 12:56 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Why would a pilot need to practice the scenario "crash into the ocean" in a simulator?

It might not have been "practice" but more like considering an idea and deciding whether or not to do it.
posted by straight at 2:21 AM on July 23, 2016


Presumably you could put things on the plane, that would float to the surface every so often

Well there are a lot of things you could do, but they depend on how and whether the plane breaks up when it hits the water. It's easy to be a back seat engineer and say, hey, if this thing goes down in the middle of the ocean how would we find it, and put stuff in to help with that situation, but then you'd be open to all the other scenarios and the stuff you'd need to resolve them and the plane would end up weighing more than a freight train.

Anyway, one thing you could do is put a GPS transponder on the plane that can't be turned off and reports its position in real time to a satellite service. That technology actually does exist and wasn't used because the airline was too cheap to pay for it.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:05 AM on July 23, 2016


As someone who has lived in the abovementioned nation for 18 years, I doubt the simulator files are authentic. My bet is that the entire thing happened as a result of pure negligence and the government wanted a scapegoat and planted the files in the pilot's home. It would take a lot of talent to have a plane disappear like that, and that sort of talent does not exist in MAS, the Asian version of Alitalia.
posted by kinoeye at 7:17 AM on July 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


In sincerity, can I ask how does that work? the country is too incompetent to run an airline and too competent to launch a conspiracy at the same time?
posted by cendawanita at 7:44 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Apparently just under one large ship a year vanishes:
posted by Pembquist at 9:18 AM on July 23, 2016


So the Popular Mechanics article and the New York magazine article were written by the same guy, as divabat mentions and the other news outlets are just repeating it, no independent confirmation.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:37 AM on July 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


As someone who knows nothing at all about flight simulators - which, I realize, may make this a dumb question - I have to ask, why would anybody bother simulating this? What's the point?

Is there something flight simulators do aside from letting your pretend to adjust the controls of an airplane that's useful here? "Can you fly until you run out of fuel and hit the ocean" seems like a pretty basic algebra problem. (It also seems like a weirdly contrived way to hit the ocean, if you're controlling a plane flying over the ocean.)

I was going to make some snarky comment about someone who spends their working hours flying a real plane devoting their spare time to pretending to fly planes in their basement. Then I compared my own work to my hobbies.
posted by eotvos at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


(i don't believe this, but) maybe that's how he got his kicks?

as i said earlier, i think the evidence this was suicide is very weak (and worryingly convenient to a lot of vested interests). but if you want a reason why he might simulate this, that doesn't seem much more weird than just wanting to kill people.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:47 PM on July 23, 2016


as i said earlier, i think the evidence this was suicide is very weak (and worryingly convenient to a lot of vested interests).

The evidence is at least as good as that for any other scenario, leaving aside the truly ridiculous ones like the jet being flown to Afghanistan.

But the bottom line is, it's pretty much a certainty we will never know. It's extremely likely the plane will not be found for centuries, if ever, and even if it is, not enough evidence will be found to make a conclusion.

At this point, all we will ever have is guesses and stories.
posted by happyroach at 2:46 PM on July 23, 2016


Well, considering the government controls the judiciary, the police force, the biggest private companies (e.g. MRCB), the media (the Edge got shut down, the Star publishes flattering spreads of the corrupt PM), and apparently a significant portion of the internet for Malaysian IP addresses now, I don't think the government would have too much trouble planting a few files.

MH 370 isn't the only thing that is the stuff of fantasy horror, they happen all the time (when they actually make it to the "press"): Malaysia’s missing deputy public prosecutor Anthony Kevin Morais was found dead on Wednesday (Sep 16), with his body stuffed in a concrete-filled drum, police said.

Although I have to give it to the government - implementing a system biased towards the majority race (law firm quotas, scholarship quotas, property tax cuts, interest-free loans, 2 hour-lunch breaks on Fridays) thereby ensuring constant re-election.. creates a nepoticracy that 'functions' right until their screw-ups force the World (and the FBI and the DOJ) to step in.
posted by kinoeye at 8:42 PM on July 23, 2016


Like my mom says, a death costs RM3,000 in Malaysia.
posted by kinoeye at 8:51 PM on July 23, 2016


...and yet... running an airline like Alitalia, as you say. Anyway, if they did plant those files, the govt investigation would not have been so coy that they won't even point to the pilot as the culprit. After all, they do control everything, eh?
posted by cendawanita at 10:25 PM on July 23, 2016


Well, they don't control the FBI, DOJ or other non Malaysian institutions. No government exists in a vacuum.
posted by kinoeye at 6:03 AM on July 24, 2016


So what negligence are you proposing that meets the facts of the case?
posted by happyroach at 1:22 PM on July 24, 2016


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