MH370: Experts say satellite images and drift studies indicate likely crash zone

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) has just released two reports that are being taken as an indication that the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 may have gone down in an area of the southern Indian Ocean just north of the zone searched previously.

One report, from the government agency Geoscience Australia, provides an analysis of four images that were captured by a French military satellite just two weeks after MH370 disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.

The images show “probably man-made” objects in the ocean very close to the former search zone off the western coast of Australia, the agency said.

Images taken by the PLEIADES 1A French military satellite over the Indian Ocean on March 23, 2014.

The second report, from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), contains the conclusions of drift modelling of debris that has been found on the African mainland and on islands off the African coast.

An area spanning 120,000 square kilometres was scoured in the Australia-led underwater search in the southern Indian Ocean. Not a single piece of debris was found and the search teams failed to find MH370’s black box.

Australia suspended the search in January this year, but the ATSB continued with what it describes as “some residual analysis activity”.

The chief commissioner of the ATSB, Greg Hood, said: “Geoscience Australia identified a number of objects in the satellite imagery which have been classified as probably man-made.

“The image resolution is not high enough to be certain whether the objects originated from MH370 or are other objects that might be found floating in oceans around the world.”

Given the objects’ proximity to the former underwater search area, the CSIRO conducted a drift study to determine their geographic origin so as to provide an indication of where they were likely to have been on March 8, 2014.

The ATSB says the drift study found that the projected location on March 8 of the objects identified in most of the satellite images was consistent with the area identified by experts during the MH370 “First Principles Review” meeting¹ in Canberra, Australia, in November 2016.

“Clearly we must be cautious,” Hood said. “These objects have not been definitely identified as MH370 debris.”


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The ATSB says the objects detected by the French satellite appeared to form clusters, rather than being randomly scattered across the area.

“The information contained within the Geoscience Australia and CSIRO reports may be useful in informing any further search effort that may be mounted in the future,” Hood said.

“Malaysia, as the state of registry for the aircraft, retains overall authority and responsibility for any future search.”

In its drift report, part 3, the CSIRO states that three of the images captured by the French military satellite contained nine, two and one objects, respectively, that were classified as “probably man-made” and 28 “possibly man-made” objects.

“The dimensions of these objects are comparable with some of the debris items that have washed up on African beaches and their location near the 7th arc² makes them impossible to ignore.

“But there is no evidence to confirm that any of these objects (let alone all) are pieces of 9M-MRO (the aircraft flying as MH370).”

The 7th arc.

The CSIRO’s new analysis collates with the ATSB’s conclusion last November that MH370’s location was likely to be north of the area that it spent more than two-and-a-half years searching.

“Taking drift model uncertainty into account, we have found that the objects identified in most of the images can be associated with a single location within the previously identified region suggested by other lines of evidence,” the CSIRO report states.

“Furthermore, we think it is possible to identify a most likely location of the aircraft, with unprecedented precision and certainty.”

The report’s authors, David Griffin and Peter Oke, specify the most likely location as 35.6°S, 92.8°E. They add: “Other nearby (within about 50km essentially parallel to the 7th arc) locations east of the 7th arc are also certainly possible, as are (with lower likelihood) a range of locations on the western side of the 7th arc, near 34.7°S 92.6°E and 35.3°S 91.8°E.”

Griffin and Oke say they have “a high degree of confidence” that an impact  in the southern half of the new search area proposed last year, near 35°S, “is more consistent with detection of debris in the Pleiades images than is an impact in the northern half”.


Drift modelling from the CSIRO report. Photo courtesy of the ATSB.

The director-general of the Malaysian Department of Civil Aviation, Azharuddin Abdul Rahman, said in a statement today that Malaysia acknowledged the new CSIRO report.

“While the report presented a thorough analysis of the refined MH370 ocean drift pattern based on available information and satellite images, we remain to be guided as to how this can be used to assist us in identifying the specific location of the aircraft.”

K.S. Narendran, whose wife Chandrika was on board MH370, and who has written a book entitled Life After MH370, says it is outrageous that it has taken so long for images taken two weeks after the plane disappeared to emerge in the public domain. “It’s just shameful,” he said.

“It may amount to nothing and the images may take us no closer to the MH370 site. However, questions must surely be raised about the lack of transparency, collaboration, and data sharing, and about a silence driven by national security concerns, not just on the part of Malaysia, but also France. There are others who owe us explanations as well.”

Why, if the French had the images in their possession, did they hang on to them for so long? Narendran asks.

The Australian media went into overdrive as soon as news of the reports came out, talking about an “explosive new report” and “startling new evidence”, and running stories with such headlines as “satellite images ‘pinpoint’ location of missing plane” and the less definitive, but oddly phrased, “virtually pinpointed” as a popular alternative.

“MH370 found?” was the headline on a video put out by Newsweek in the US.  Reading the article on the subject on the UK Telegraph’s website, you really would think the plane had been found.

The relatives of those on board MH370 are well used to seeing over-the-top headlines. Narendren, who lives in Chennai, India, says he is now immune to them.

“We are still dealing with a probabilistic scenario,” Narendran said, “but let’s see if all this stirs Malaysia to do something.”

In Australia, media reports said the transport minister, Darren Chester, indicated that there was no plan to resume the search for MH370.

“I welcome the CSIRO and Geoscience reports, but it is important to note that it does not provide new evidence leading to a specific location of MH370,” Chester was quoted as saying.

Company’s offer to begin new search

The seabed exploration firm Ocean Infinity in the United States has proposed to search for MH370, but the Malaysian government has not yet stated whether or not it is accepting the offer.

The company says that it will only accept payment for the search if it finds the plane.

Voice370, which is the association for relatives of those on board MH370, said in a recent statement: “It has been more than four months now since Ocean Infinity first made the offer to carry out the search with a fee payable contingent upon success. We believe this offer should be accepted without further delay.

“Why hasn’t Malaysia accepted this win-win offer? Especially since the transport minister of Malaysia has repeatedly stated that lack of funds has never been an issue vis-à-vis the search for MH370.”

Voice 370 called on the Malaysian government to share with Voice370, the aviation industry, and the flying public when a decision on the proposal was expected. It also asked Malaysia to provide information about the evaluation criteria being used in the decision-making process, and give details about the Ocean Infinity proposal “including what constitutes success and qualifies for a fee payable”.

Voice 370 also wants to know what plans Malaysia and its partners have for recovery of MH370 should the search be successful.

“It bears remembering that Malaysia remains principally responsible to fund, search and retrieve MH370, that the identified search area lies within Australia’s search and rescue region, and that China has the most number of citizens on board.”

 Azharuddin said today that the MH370 Response Team had received several proposals from interested parties to search for the plane.

“The team is currently assessing these offers in light of all available information, including this newly released report, which will subsequently be brought to the attention of Australia and China to seek their views.”

Azharuddin said he wished to reiterate that “the aspiration to locate MH370 has not been abandoned and every decision made has and will always be in the spirit of tripartite cooperation among the three nations”.

Debris discoveries

Malaysia’s transport minister, Liow Tiong La, said at the remembrance event in Kuala Lumpur on March 4 this year that 25 pieces of debris had been found and analysed, and two more items had more recently been discovered in South Africa.

There had been confirmation that three pieces of debris belonged to MH370, Liow said, and five others were “almost certainly” from the plane. Further analysis would be carried out on the remaining items, he said.

An aircraft flaperon found on Reunion island in July 2015, which the French authorities say is from MH370.

A wing flap found on Pemba Island, east of Tanzania, which the Malaysian authorities say has been confirmed to be from MH370.

Theories about the fate of MH370

Since MH370 disappeared there have been innumerable theories about its fate that range from the perfectly plausible to the wildly bizarre. There have been accusations of ineptitude on the part of the Malaysian government, and allegations of a cover-up.

Malaysia’s former prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, has publicly alleged that the fate of MH370 has been concealed.

Another person who alleges a cover-up is French journalist Florence de Changy, whose book “Le vol MH370 n’a pas disparu” (Flight MH370 did not disappear), came out in March last year.

De Changy does not believe the official version of events. She says it is absurd; that it is impossible in this hi-tech day and age for a Boeing 777 with 239 people on board to disappear. She is convinced that there are those who know what happened to the plane, and why.

US lawsuit

lawsuit has been filed in the United States against Boeing that alleges a series of catastrophic electrical and other failures on board MH370.

It is claimed that an electrical fire caused MH370 to depressurise, and the crew became incapacitated.

The plaintiffs in the case are lawyer Gregory Keith and the relatives of 44 passengers who were aboard MH370.

Keith filed the case in the US District Court in South Carolina.

The plaintiffs allege that Boeing knew about design flaws on the 777 aircraft, including defective wiring near combustible sources like the emergency oxygen supply to the plane’s crew.

They say that “the disappearance and crash of MH370 was caused or partially caused by defects in the design, manufacture and/or assembly of the aircraft”.


  1. Experts in data processing, satellite communications, accident investigation, aircraft performance, flight operations, sonar data, acoustic data, and oceanography reassessed existing evidence and discussed whether there was any new analysis that might help locate MH370.
  2.  The 7th arc was determined according to calculations by the British company Inmarsat based on satellite pings – or handshakes – from MH370. It is the Inmarsat analysis that led investigators to focus their search in the southern Indian Ocean. There has been doubt cast on Inmarsat’s conclusions, however, and the company itself said it could not be 100 percent sure that its analysis is correct.

Update 17/8/2017:

Voice370 said today in a statement that the repeated invoking of the requirement of a “precise location” by Australia and Malaysia, coupled with China’s silence, “signifies a collective determination to dodge any and every effort to resume the search for MH370”, which remains suspended.

The association points out that the latest reports from the ATSB have narrowed down the potential new search area from 25,000 square kilometres to 5,000: an area “more narrow and precise than ever before”.

Voice370 added: “Seen in conjunction with inordinate time in decision‐making on the offers to search by Ocean Infinity and several other companies (which we learnt about from the media today), we have to wonder: are the authorities really sincere?

“Voice370 finds the current state of affairs inexplicable, illogical and unjustifiable.”

The association expressed gratitude to the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia “for their relentless focus on the task of narrowing down the search area for MH370”.