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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Experts Unable To Replicate Inmarsat Analysis 245

Posted by samzenpus
from the mystery-continues dept.
McGruber (1417641) writes "The lynchpin of the investigation of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has been the pings from the plane to one of Inmarsat's satellites. The pings are the sole evidence of what happened to the plane after it slipped out of radar contact. Without them, investigators knew only that the plane had enough fuel to travel anywhere within 3,300 miles of the last radar contact—a seventh of the entire globe. Inmarsat concluded that the flight ended in the southern Indian Ocean, and its analysis has become the canonical text of the Flight 370 search. It's the bit of data from which all other judgments flow—from the conclusive announcement by Malaysia's prime minister that the plane has been lost with no survivors, to the black-box search area, to the high confidence in the acoustic signals, to the dismissal by Australian authorities of a survey company's new claim to have detected plane wreckage. But scientists and engineers outside of the investigation have been working to verify Inmarsat's analysis and many say that it just doesn't hold up."
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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: Experts Unable To Replicate Inmarsat Analysis

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  • Who? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:06PM (#46973433)

    The author of the article claiming that experts cannot replicate the data appears to be the editor of a social science / STS journal, not by training an engineer. Although I don't myself know enough about the subject to be able to refute either the Inmarsat claims or this article's refutation, I think it's notable that the people supporting the claim are engineers who specialize in satellite stuff, while the person refuting the claim is what appears to be a philosopher; I'd also add that the author portrays himself as an "investigator working on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370", but this appears to be a self-assigned title rather than his position as part of any formal or professional investigation. Looking at the scholarship of the journal he edits, it appears to have some level of rigour--IE it does not appear to be a vanity publication, so I'm not trying to cast out the guy as a crank, just to caution that I think the strength and balance of the headline and the post here place an awful lot of confidence in the article's credibility.

  • Not so.... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:09PM (#46973451)

    Not so. These critics may or may not be correct when they raise several issues, including the plane seeming to be moving at a good clip before it was taking off. But on the most critical of factors, they're totally wrong:

    "Recall that the Marco-Polo math alone doesn’t allow you to tell which direction pings are coming from. So how could Inmarsat claim to distinguish between a northern and southern path at all? The reason is that the satellite itself wasn’t stationary."

    No, the slow drift of the satellite wasn't a factor. I've yet to hear Immarsat formal statement of their rationale, but their graph shows quite clearly what it was. Their reasoning hinges on the fact that the plane began its deviant flight above the latitude of the satellite. That is quite important.
    If the plane flies northward along a relatively fixed course, the doppler shift will aways show it moving away (down doppler). However, it the plane flies southward on a steady course, there'll be a short time (one ping it turns out) when it is approaching the latitude of the satellite and thus giving a more up (or less down) doppler. That's what you see in the Immarsat chart. Once the aircraft has crossed the satellite's latitude, then its southward path will have it traveling away from the satellite just like the northern route. It's that notch DOWN at between 18:30 and 19:30 followed by a rise upward that says southbound.
    That said the critics do raise some relevant issues and they do point out the Immarsat needs to release a detailed report with all their reasoning, so it can be more intelligently critiqued.

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:10PM (#46973457)

    I've yet to see a reasonable explanation for the loss of telemetry and apparent maneuvers to avoid radar.

    So far the implicit assumption is that whoever was at the controls failed in their plan and the plane crashed.

    Considering the Indonesian 'navy' is a bunch of pirates, I would start by looking there.

    We still don't know what was in the cargo hold or if there was a billionaire on board. Did that plane have a richer suite?

  • I DON'T CARE! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by loony (37622) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:23PM (#46973519)

    40K people die every day of hunger and the while the USD 60M or more that were spent so far on this stupid search couldn't have prevented that, it would have helped a lot of people have another chance.

    Either you say you care about the lives of people and then you just shake your head about this pointless waste of money or you don't care and then you wouldn't care about ML370 either. But you unless you're related or friends of anyone onboard that flight, you're just a for caring about the lives lost there and not about the people that die every day of hunger, war, and such...

    Peter.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:26PM (#46973537)

    I think it's pretty interesting that a number of devices detected pings, but there is apparently (as per the article) nothing was found in the area where they heard the pings.

    So what did they hear? How can you get a false positive on a listening device looking for a specific frequency?

    I wonder if instead of just sending out pings, a black box when hitting water should send out a burst of broad spectrum very high powered radio waves that satellites around the globe could detect...

  • data retention (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bugs2squash (1132591) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:27PM (#46973543)
    The satellite transponder is just an amplifier and a modulator, things go up one frequency and come down another frequency and louder. The satellite and the transmitter are in motion relative to each other and the receiver. Hence there is Doppler and my understanding is that the analysis of the Inmarsat data was based on this Doppler. So does Inmarsat record and retain sufficiently detailed information about every signal sent through their satellites such that they can deduce their findings from analysis of played back signals, or are they managing the receiver in this case and analyzing the log from the receiver.
  • Re:Strange, indeed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by cold fjord (826450) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @01:35PM (#46973595)

    Sounds like the next time we'll hear about mh370, the plane will be on its way to a building near you...

    There is a claim that would seem to open the door for that.

    BREAKING: Lt. Gen. McInerney Says #MH370 Is In Pakistan – ‘I Got A Source That Confirmed It Yesterday’ [thegatewaypundit.com]

    Hopefully it is just another conspiracy theory.

  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @03:58PM (#46974353)

    The rest of the explanation is that the crew were overcome by smoke/fumes. (They're supposed to have independent (bottled) oxygen supply, but it's happened before.) The aircraft flew on autopilot on the last entered heading until it ran out of fuel. (Which has also happened before.)

    Why didn't they call a mayday earlier? The rule of thumb for pilots is: Aviation/Navigation/Communication. First you get control of the aircraft, understand what is happening. Then you work out your position/course and heading (actual and intended). Then, and only then, do you worry about telling anyone about it. If they were caught between "Navigation" and "Communication", that would explain their actions and their silence.

    You are probably scoffing and going "Bah, what are the odds of that!" But your alternative scenarios are "Plane was hijacked by... conspiracy... secret landing... passengers killed/being held.... etc..."

    So the contrast is, "Thing which has happened to aircraft several times before", versus "Bizarre conspiracy by shadowy forces". I prefer the odds of the former until there's actual evidence of the latter.

  • by camperdave (969942) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @04:14PM (#46974417) Journal

    We still don't know what was in the cargo hold or if there was a billionaire on board. Did that plane have a richer suite?

    We do know that Freescale Semiconductor, a US technology company having ties to both the Bush family and the Bin Laden family, had 20 senior staff on board Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. They had just launched a new electronic warfare device for military radar systems in the days before the Boeing 777 went missing, which caused it's stock prices to nearly double in the month prior to the crash; stock prices which have been steadily declining towards their previous levels since the bluefin failed to find wreckage.

    Does that count?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 11, 2014 @04:27PM (#46974495)

    but, but, but fire cannot melt metal! This is how we know blacksmiths use their amazing psychic powers to soften metal, and the whole "forge" thing was just part of the cover-up!

    Sheesh. You know, I love a good conspiracy theory but the Truthers couldn't even tell an entertaining story, even if you excuse their lack of understanding of middle-school science.

    Have you ever smelted metals? I have... aluminum will melt (fully, to molten) in the coals of a good wood fire if you stack the logs around it (or embed the crucible in a bed of hot coals). Copper you can do in an electric kiln (1900+F), same for brass. Steel, including structural steel, requires 2900+F - not temperatures you could ever get in an office furniture/paper/etc fire, it requires either an induction furnace or a gas/fuel/forced-air fired furnace to get anywhere near the temperatures needed.

    Even a blacksmith knows the best you can do in a coal fire with forced air is to soften iron/steel, and then only if you have the metal virtually sitting on top of the coals, the temperature gradient drops off fairly quickly the farther away from the coals you get. Unless you packed coal around the structural steel beams of the building (the wind whipping through the building *might* force enough air through) it's unlikely you'd weaken steel enough to bend substantially.

  • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Sunday May 11, 2014 @06:50PM (#46975347)

    You need a pretty magic fire to knock out most of the electronics

    That's not what was said. Learn to read.

    First step when the pilots identify an electrical fire is to pull the breakers. (If it works, you reintroduce them one at a time until you isolate the fault.)

    Second step is to turn towards a suitable landing site. The closest runway had an approach over mountains, so the pilots seem to have turned to an airport with a more open approach, then changed course again a little later (suggesting the issue had become more serious), they may also have increased altitude to try to starve the fire. That seems to be their last intentional manoeuvre.

    There may have been a depressurisation during the climb (caused by the fire), pilot error, or some other screw up. Most accidents have a primary cause, but a bunch of other stuff going wrong. AF-447 was initially caused by a faulty air-speed sensor, but ultimately a series of mistakes by the pilots killed the plane.

    there's no question that a small fire could burn for hours

    MH-370 had only just taken off. Pilots who've discussed this are thinking nose wheel-well fire filling the cabin with toxic smoke. The question is why the pilots didn't use their own oxygen supply. (They might have delayed turning on the main cabin oxygen, fearing feeding the fire (a la SAA 295), but why delay using their own supply?) Bad decision by the pilots, or flaw in the 777?

  • Re:Not so.... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 11, 2014 @11:16PM (#46976433)

    Couple of possibilities:

    1) They did and they are not saying. Seems unlikely as the fact that Jindalee can, for example, track commercial airliners all the way from Singapore, is pretty much common knowledge.
    2) They didn't track it because they couldn't. Sadly, despite the money spent on it, Jindalee is great when it works, but unfortunately it doesn't work all the time. This partly explains why Australia has had to buy expensive AWACS aircraft as well as spending big money on Jindalee.

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