In this article, the theory based on doppler effect evidence that MH 370, lost since March 8th, was on a course to the south Indian Ocean is examined and questioned. This theory was propounded by engineers at Inmarsat who analyzed the eight pings from the plane, and deduced from claimed doppler effect evidence, that the plane flew on a southern course from its last known position over the Straits of Malacca and crashed into the Indian Ocean west of Australia.
The geolocated satellite is over the equator, 65 degrees east longitude. That is well west of India. The plot line of possible routes is actually an arc from the south Indian Ocean to Nepal.
This is a very important article that questions the Inmarsat theory that has not revealed any evidence of the plane’s fate. SeeFlotsam Evidence.
Data Doesn’t Lie
The fuzzy math behind the search for MH370.
By Jeff Wise
A Royal New Zealand Air Force P3 Orion aircraft searches for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight
MH370, over the Indian Ocean on March 31, 2014.
Photo by Rob Griffith/AFP/Getty Images
Five weeks into the search for missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, more than $30 million has been
spent scouring great swatches of the southern Indian Ocean. Yet searchers have still not found a
single piece of physical evidence such as wreckage or human remains. Last week, Australian
authorities said they were confident that a series of acoustic pings detected 1,000 miles northwest of
Perth had come from the aircraft’s black boxes, and that wreckage would soon be found. But
repeated searches by a robotic submarine have so far failed to find the source of the pings, which
experts say could have come from marine animals or even from the searching ships themselves.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted that if wreckage wasn’t located within a week or two “we stop,
we regroup, we reconsider.”
There remains only one publically available piece of evidence linking the plane to the southern Indian
Ocean: a report issued by the Malaysian government on March 25 that described a new analysis
carried out by the U.K.-based satellite operator Inmarsat. The report said that Inmarsat had
developed an “innovative technique” to establish that the plane had most likely taken a southerly
heading after vanishing. Yet independent experts who have analyzed the report say that it is riddled
with inconsistencies and that the data it presents to justify its conclusion appears to have been
Some background: For the first few days after MH370 disappeared, no one had any idea what might have
happened to the plane after it left Malaysian radar coverage around 2:30 a.m., local time, on March 8,
2014. Then, a week later, Inmarsat reported that its engineers had noticed that in the hours after the
plane’s disappearance, the plane had continued to exchange data-less electronic handshakes, or “pings,”
with a geostationary satellite over the Indian Ocean. In all, a total of eight pings were exchanged.
Each ping conveyed only a tiny amount of data: the time it was received, the distance the airplane
was from the satellite at that instant, and the relative velocity between the airplane and the satellite.
Taken together, these tiny pieces of information made it possible to narrow down the range of
possible routes that the plane might have taken. If the plane was presumed to have traveled to the
south at a steady 450 knots, for instance, then Inmarsat could trace a curving route that wound up
deep in the Indian Ocean southwest of Perth, Australia. Accordingly, ships and planes began to scour
that part of the ocean, and when satellite imagery revealed a scattering of debris in the area, the
Australian prime minister declared in front of parliament that it represented “new and credible
information” about the fate of the airplane.
The problem with this kind of analysis is that, taken by themselves, the ping data are ambiguous.
Given a presumed starting point, any reconstructed route could have headed off in either direction. A
plane following the speed and heading to arrive at the southern search area could have also headed
to the north and wound up in Kazakhstan. Why, then, were investigators scouring the south and not
The photo mentioned above and the graphs mentioned in the following paragragh are included in the original article Here.
The March 25 report stated that Inmarsat had used a new kind of mathematical analysis to rule out a
northern route. Without being very precise in its description, it implied that the analysis might have
depended on a small but telling wobble of the Inmarsat satellite’s orbit. Accompanying the written
report was an appendix , called Annex I, that consisted of three diagrams, the second of which was
titled “MH370 measured data against predicted tracks” and appeared to sum up the case against the
northern route in one compelling image. One line on the graph showed the predicted Doppler shift for
a plane traveling along a northern route; another line showed the predicted Doppler shift for a plane
flying along a southern route. A third line, showing the actual data received by Inmarsat, matched the
southern route almost perfectly, and looked markedly different from the northern route. Case closed.
Courtesy Malaysia Airlines
The report did not explicitly enumerate the three data points for each ping, but
around the world, enthusiasts from a variety of disciplines threw themselves into
reverse-engineering that original data out of the charts and diagrams in the report. With this
information in hand, they believed, it would be possible to construct any number of possible routes
and check the assertion that the plane must have flown to the south.
Unfortunately, it soon became clear that Inmarsat had presented its data in a way that made this goal
impossible: “There simply isn’t enough information in the report to reconstruct the original data,” says
Scott Morgan, the former commander of the US Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. “We don’t
know what their assumptions are going into this.”
Another expert who tried to understand Inmarsat’s report was Mike Exner, CEO of the remote sensing
company Radiometrics Inc. He mathematically processed the “Burst Frequency Offset” values on
Page 2 of Annex 1 and was able to derive figures for relative velocity between the aircraft and the
satellite. He found, however, that no matter how he tried, he could not get his values to match those
implied by the possible routes shown on Page 3 of the annex. “They look like cartoons to me,” says
Even more significantly, I haven’t found anybody who has independently analyzed the Inmarsat report
and has been able to figure out what kind of northern route could yield the values shown on Page 2
of the annex. According to the March 25 report, Inmarsat teased out the small differences predicted
to exist between the Doppler shift values between the northern and southern routes. This difference,
presumably caused by the slight wobble in the satellite’s orbit that I mentioned above, should be tiny
—according to Exner’s analysis, no more than a few percent of the total velocity value. And yet Page
2 of the annex shows a radically different set of values between the northern and southern routes.
“Neither the northern or southern predicted routes make any sense,” says Exner. Given the discrepancies
and inaccuracies, it has proven impossible for independent observers to validate Inmarsat’s assertion
that it can rule out a northern route for the airplane. “It’s really impossible to reproduce what the Inmarsat
folks claim,” says Hans Kruse, a professor of telecommunications systems at Ohio University.
This is not to say that Inmarsat’s conclusions are necessarily incorrect. (In the past I have made the
case that the northern route might be possible, but I’m not trying to beat that drum here.) Its engineers
are widely regarded as top-drawer, paragons of meticulousness in an industry that is obsessive about
attention to detail. But their work has been presented to the public by authorities whose inconsistency and
lack of transparency have time and again undermined public confidence. It’s worrying that the report
appears to have been composed in such a way as to make it impossible for anyone to independently
assess its validity—especially given that its ostensible purpose was to explain to the world Inmarsat’s
momentous conclusions. What frustrated, grieving family members need from the authorities is clarity
and trustworthiness, not a smokescreen.
Inmarsat has not replied to my request for a clarification of their methods. This week, the Wall Street
Journal reported that in recent days experts had “recalibrated data” in part by using “arcane new
calculations reflecting changes in the operating temperatures of an Inmarsat satellite as well as the
communications equipment aboard the Boeing when the two systems exchanged so-called digital
handshakes.” But again, not enough information has been provided for the public to assess the
validity of these methods.
It would be nice if Inmarsat would throw open its spreadsheets and help resolve the issue right now,
but that could be too much to expect. Inmarsat may be bound by confidentiality agreements with its
customers, not to mention U.S. laws that restrict the release of information about sensitive
technologies. The Malaysian authorities, however, can release what they want to—and they seem to
be shifting their stance toward openness. After long resisting pressure to release the air traffic control
transcript, they eventually relented. Now acting transport minister Hishammuddin Hussein says that if
and when the black boxes are found, their data will be released to the public.
With the search for surface debris winding down, the mystery of MH370 is looking more impenetrable
by the moment. If the effort to find the plane using an underwater robot comes up empty, then there
should be a long and sustained call for the Malaysian authorities to reveal their data and explain
exactly how they came to their conclusions. Because at that point, it will be all we’ve got.