Twists and Turns On A Trail To Nowhere: The Ongoing Mystery of Flight MH370

The disappearance of flight MH370 on March 8th 2014 constitutes one of the quintessential Fortean events of our – or any – age. As the seventh anniversary of its vanishing passes, fundamental questions remain as to the reasons for the disappearance of the doomed flight and the location of its final resting-place. Over half a decade on, despite millions of words of analysis and extended explanation, the mystery of MH370 remains unrivalled in the annals of commercial aviation.  

Odd, then, that until recently no attempt had been made to pull all of the information together into one, overarching, comprehensive study, despite the publication of over a hundred books exploring the near-byzantine complexities surrounding the fate of the doomed flight. The seventh anniversary of the mystery looks set to change that, with the publication of Florence De Changy’s extremely comprehensive study The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370.1 Here, De Changy joins a growing number of MH370 researchers – ‘Mhists’ as she calls them – in suggesting an alternative rendering of accepted events: that the plane did not turn back over Malaysia before heading south into the Southern Indian Ocean but, instead, carried on along its intended flight path before meeting with a tragic end somewhere over the South China Sea.

It is hard to exaggerate what a deviation this is from the official narrative. Up until now, the commonly-accepted view has been that somebody – the pilot, perhaps – made a hard left turn at waypoint IGARI, at the exact hand-over point from Malaysian to Vietnamese Air Traffic Control, before flying back across the Malaysian peninsula, around the tip of Indonesia, and south into the vast nothingness of the Southern Indian Ocean. De Changy’s scenario accepts none of this. For her, and thanks in part to what we know from Air Traffic Control exchanges subsequent to IGARI, MH370 simply flew on over the South China Sea, reaching the next waypoint – BITOD – before being shot down. Far from deviating from its original heading, De Changy asserts that MH370 simply kept flying north-east until its flight was abruptly and tragically terminated.

She pulls together a lot of data in support of this view, examining everything from radar records and Air Traffic Control voice transcripts to the discovery of alleged ‘wreckage’ at Reunion Island and elsewhere. Curiously, however, she almost entirely neglects to examine the ‘smoking gun’ that might, ironically, clinch her case: the curious reboot of the satellite communication system (SATCOM) at 18.25 UTC which gave rise to the alleged satellite data ‘pings’ that contributed so much to the official narrative of MH370’s final resting place being in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Given the centrality of this curious reboot to the narrative she rejects, it is hard to understand why De Changy pays it such scant attention. Certainly, the calculations to which it gave rise turned out to be complex. But not that complex. And any interested layperson can understand the implications, which are many and varied and which have been in the public domain for a while.

On Monday 30th July 2018, for example, the final report into the disappearance of flight MH370 was published; a product of all the countries involved in the search for the flight’s final resting place and running to fifteen hundred pages. Most crucially of all, however, it failed to explain why the SATCOM rebooted in-flight just before 18.25 after an interrupt that could have lasted for anything from 22 to 78 minutes.

This cannot be stressed enough: the SATCOM question remains key. Even the July 2018 report described it as ‘abnormal.’ In fact, rebooting in-flight is very highly unusual; suggesting, perhaps, some sort of restoration of power to the Satellite Data Unit after a prior interruption. Much rests on it, given that without this restoration of power there would have been no ensuing sequence of ‘handshakes’ with an orbiting satellite owned by British company INMARSAT  allowing investigators to determine that the aircraft had reached a terminus somewhere in the vast Southern Indian Ocean.

What, then, of this curious reboot? In addition to its sheer inexplicability – it cannot simply be switched off and on, for example – other oddities surround it too. Aviation journalist Jeff Wise, long interested in the case, has drawn particular attention to its timing. After turning back at waypoint IGARI, the plane was allegedly tracked by Malaysian radar until it disappeared from view, heading to the northwest, at 18:22:12 UTC. The reboot occurred at 18:24:27 when power was mysteriously and inexplicably restored to the SATCOM. In other words, slightly more than two minutes later. Coincidence or something else? After all, there is no possible way that anybody piloting the plane could have been aware in real time of when it had passed out of radar coverage.2 De Changy argues strenuously in The Disappearing Act that the radar data supplied by the Malaysians is itself spurious and that subsequent Air Traffic Control exchanges completely refute the notion of a turn-back at IGARI. Given all of this, it is not difficult to see how a ‘false trail’ could have been planted: first by a false radar plot back across Malaysian airspace, then by a false ‘breadcrumb trail’ of INMARSAT data ‘pings’ leading the search for the plane on a futile goose chase into the middle of nowhere deep in the Southern Indian Ocean.

Lest this sounds like conspiracy piffle of the most heinous kind, four other key factors are worth considering in support of this scenario. Firstly, the fact that the most extensive underwater searches in history have so far failed to turn up a single trace of wreckage to the extent that search efforts have effectively been abandoned. Secondly, the unfortunate fact that no other information exists whatsoever with which to corroborate the INMARSAT data ‘trail’. Thirdly, the highly curious fact that the initial log-on signal after the reboot generated a signal radically different from the subsequent ones (which nobody so far has been able to explain).3 And fourthly, the fact that INMARSAT engineers and executives themselves had at least considered the possibility of a ‘spoof’ when first analysing their ‘ping data’.

This latter point, in particular, is worth noting. In a BBC interview in the aftermath of the disappearance, INMARSAT engineer Alan Schuster-Bruce admitted that one of the first concerns they’d had was that the data trail “could just be a big hoax that someone…played on INMARSAT.”4 INMARSAT’s VP for aviation David Coiley was similarly guarded, asserting that the company was “confident that this data is correct assuming that there is no way this data has been spoofed.” (Emphasis mine).5 Despite later company comments rowing back from the ‘spoof’ possibility, it is worth noting that later researchers unattached to INMARSAT but with considerable knowledge of the investigation have urged caution. In this regard, for example, Jeff Wise cites Woods Hole oceanographer David Gallo who led the effort to locate the wreckage of Air France 447 which crashed in 2008: “I never accepted the [MH370] satellite data from day one…I never thought I’d say this…I think there is a good chance that MH370 never came south at all. Let’s put it this way, I don’t accept the evidence that the plane came south.”6

Neither, of course, does Florence De Changy, whose book looks set to reignite the debate over MH370’s terminus: among MHists at least. Meanwhile, as the seventh anniversary of the vanishing passes, the wider debates rumble on, with many – such as Independent Group member Victor Iannello – continuing to assert the veracity of the data and producing refinements of analysis which it is claimed will finally pinpoint the location of the plane’s actual terminus.7 For others – De Changy included – the mystery remains open; the accepted narrative questionable at each and every turn.

NOTES

  1. Florence De Changy, The Disappearing Act: The Impossible Case of MH370, Mudlark Press, 2021.
  2. Jeff Wise, The Taking Of MH370, The Yellow Cabin Press, 2019.
  3. Wise, op. cit.
  4. Wise, op. cit, loc. 355.
  5. Wise, op. cit, loc. 362.
  6. Wise, op cit, loc. 1267.
  7. https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2021/03/04/throwback-thursday-7-year-anniversary-mh370s-disappearance-nears-new-evidence-and

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