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Correcting the record

When media reports contain incorrect or inaccurate information about the ATSB, we correct the record on this page.

False and inaccurate media report on the search for MH370

25 July 2016

An article published in The Australian today by Byron Bailey in relation to the search for MH370 contains inaccurate information and false assertions. In the interests of providing a transparent and accurate account, the ATSB considers it necessary to correct the record.

Firstly, Mr Bailey claims that the company contracted by the ATSB to conduct the search, Fugro, believes they are looking in the wrong place. In fact, Fugro has publicly denied this claim and issued a statement to say:

Fugro wishes to make it very clear that we believe the search area to have been well defined based on all of the available scientific data. In short, we have been thoroughly looking in the most probable place – and that is the right place to search.

Mr Bailey also claims that FBI data from MH370 captain’s home simulator shows that the captain plotted a course to the southern Indian Ocean and that it was a deliberate planned murder/suicide. There is no evidence to support this claim.

As Infrastructure and Transport Minister Darren Chester said in a statement, the simulator information shows only the possibility of planning. It does not reveal what happened on the night of its disappearance nor where the aircraft is located.

While the FBI data provides a piece of information, the best available evidence of the aircraft’s location is based on what we know from the last satellite communications with the aircraft. This is indeed the consensus of international satellite and aircraft specialists.

Mr Bailey continues to incorrectly claim that the ATSB rejects any possibility that MH370’s disappearance was the result of a person taking control of the aircraft. As the ATSB has previously stated:

For the purposes of its search, the ATSB has not needed to determine – and has made no claims – about what might have caused the disappearance of the aircraft. For search purposes, the relevant facts and analysis most closely match a scenario in which there was no pilot intervening in the latter stages of the flight. We have never stated that hypoxia (or any other factor) was the cause of this circumstance.

Mr Bailey also states that during his experience with a B777 simulator, if the crew were unresponsive, then on second-engine flame-out due to fuel exhaustion the autopilots would disconnect and the aircraft would enter a terminal dive at 1200 km/hr. In fact, extensive testing on Boeing’s (the manufacturer of the missing Boeing 777) simulator shows that after running out of fuel, the aircraft actually stays airborne for several minutes and descends at various rates in a “fugoid”(or wave-like) motion.

It is disappointing that Mr Bailey continues to make false accusations and inaccurate statements in relation to the search for MH370. To determine the search area, the ATSB has worked closely with international experts in satellite communications, aircraft systems, data modelling and accident investigation. This includes specialists from (and who draw on the broader expertise of) the following organisations:

  • Air Accidents Investigation Branch (UK)
  • Boeing (USA)
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (Australia)
  • Department of Civil Aviation (Malaysia)
  • Inmarsat (UK)
  • National Transportation Safety Board (USA)
  • Thales (UK)

The ATSB’s correction to Mr Bailey’s previous article from 18 January 2016 can be found on this page.

The ATSB has met, on a number of occasions, with the family and friends of MH370 passengers and crew, both in Australia and in Malaysia. Of further concern to the ATSB is the intense personal impact that claims such as Mr Bailey’s has on those who are suffering as a result of this tragedy.    


Inaccuracies in reporting of an ATSB investigation

In-flight pitch disconnect involving an ATR 72 aircraft

14 July 2016

The article by Martin Aubury, ‘Luck stops an air disaster waiting to happen’, published in several Fairfax publications on 11 July 2016 contains factual errors and misunderstandings. In the interests of ensuring truth and transparency, the ATSB considers it necessary to correct the record. In the article, Mr Aubury cites the ATSB’s on-going investigation into an in-flight pitch disconnect involving a Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) ATR 72 aircraft while descending into Sydney, NSW on 20 February 2014.

Mr Aubury claims that it took the ATSB several years to publicly report its investigation into the incident. In fact, the ATSB published an initial web update on its investigation on 10 June 2014. A second, interim report was published on the ATSB’s web site on 15 June 2016.

Mr Aubury’s article also claims the ATSB’s interim report ‘understates the seriousness of what went wrong’ and says little about why the damage to the aircraft was not found on the ground for five days.

The ATSB’s investigation into this incident is still ongoing. As discussed in the interim report, the ATSB’s investigation activities to date have included the collection and analysis of maintenance documentation and procedures of the operator and the maintenance organisation. ATSB is also examining the Civil Aviation Safety Authority’s surveillance and approvals involving the operator and maintenance organisation. ATSB is further involved in on-going enquiries and discussions with the aircraft manufacturer in France (ATR), the safety investigation agency in France (BEA), and the European regulatory authority (EASA). ATSB is further involved in on-going dialogue with neighbouring States who have operators utilising the ATR42 and ATR72 aircraft.

The ATSB’s interim report was intended to provide factual information and analysis associated with the identified safety issue. That safety issue highlighted the risk of inadvertent and opposing activation by flight crew of the aircraft’s elevator control system in certain high-energy situations.

The ATSB’s final report (expected to be released in December this year) will provide a comprehensive analysis and findings of all areas investigated, including into maintenance issues.  

This is a complicated investigation with several areas requiring thorough analysis.

The ATSB is disappointed that this article was published without the author seeking comment, amplification, explanation nor clarification from the ATSB in relation to this investigation.



Inaccuracies in reporting on the search for MH370

18 January 2016

An article, The Case for Pilot Hijack by Byron Bailey, appearing in the 9-10 January 2016 edition of The Weekend Australian, contained significant inaccuracies and misunderstandings about the ATSB’s role in the search for MH370. Many of those inaccuracies were repeated in subsequent items both in The Australian and other media outlets. It is important that the ATSB corrects the record.

It is the responsibility of the Government of Malaysia, as the state of registration of the aircraft, to establish why MH370 disappeared and it has established an Annex 13 Investigation to undertake this activity. All enquiries in regard to the investigation should be directed to MH370SafetyInvestigation@mot.gov.my.

Australia was asked by Malaysia to assist in the search effort for missing flight MH370. The ATSB’s role is to lead the current underwater search operations for the missing aircraft. The ATSB continues to coordinate the Search Strategy Working Group and their collective work has led to the definition of the search area. This international team has expertise in satellite communications, aircraft systems, data modelling and accident investigation. It includes specialists from (and who draw on the broader expertise of) the following organisations: 

  • Air Accidents Investigation Branch (UK)
  • Boeing (USA)
  • Defence Science and Technology Organisation (Australia)
  • Department of Civil Aviation (Malaysia)
  • Inmarsat (UK)
  • National Transportation Safety Board (USA)
  • Thales (UK)  

Mr Bailey’s article claims that the ATSB rejects any possibility that MH370’s disappearance was the result of a person taking control of the aircraft. For the purposes of its search, the ATSB has not needed to determine – and has made no claims – about what might have caused the disappearance of the aircraft. For search purposes, the relevant facts and analysis most closely match a scenario in which there was no pilot intervening in the latter stages of the flight. We have never stated that hypoxia (or any other factor) was the cause of this circumstance.

Mr Bailey suggests that the ATSB has ignored information coming from sources that should be considered expert, such as Captain Simon Hardy. The ATSB carefully considers and assesses all credible work performed by external individuals and groups in relation to the MH370 search area, including that of Captain Hardy. The ATSB has been in telephone and email contact with Captain Hardy, and have met with him in our offices. Captain Hardy’s proposed location for the aircraft has been part of our search area since August 2014.

Mr Bailey’s article notes that the aircraft ‘avoided Thai military radar, then turned, after circling Zaharie’s home island of Penang.’ While the aircraft passed by Penang, the radar data shows that the aircraft certainly did not circle the island. The ATSB had to consider this issue, because the aircraft’s fuel consumption was an important issue in determining the search area.

Mr Bailey also asserts that “(a)nalysis of Malaysian military radar revealed the aircraft had climbed to 45,000ft as it tracked across northern Malaysia.”

The Malaysian military radar did record values from 5,000 to 50,000 ft. These were subsequently found to be inaccurate and so were disregarded by the search strategy team. The speed throughout that section of the flight was consistent with maintaining approximately FL 300 (or 30,000 ft). At the known weight of the aircraft, flight at 45,000ft would not have been possible at the aircraft speed reflected in the radar data.

Mr Bailey describes his experiences in a B777 simulator to put the ATSB’s assumptions about the end of the aircraft’s flight to the test. He states “The results revealed the ATSB’s theories are completely wrong. It claimed that most of the analysis from an estimated flame-out involved the aircraft making a left turn. But when we flamed out an engine at 37,000ft to simulate fuel starvation of the first engine, the autopilots remained on the commanded track.”

The ATSB’s report MH370 – Definition of Underwater Search Areas (published 26 June 2014 and updated 18 August 2014) states on page 33: “In the case of MH370 it is likely that one engine has flamed-out followed, within minutes, by the other engine.” On page 13 of the report, MH370 – Definition of Underwater Search Area Update, we state that: “The aircraft behaviour after the engine flame-out(s) was tested in the Boeing engineering simulator. In each test case, the aircraft began turning to the left and remained in a banked turn.” This is a reference to the behaviour of the aircraft after both engines had flamed out, which is an important question for the search.

Mr Bailey goes on to say: "Last month’s ATSB report had me deeply troubled. It bases search area calculations of projected flight paths on a grossly incorrect assumptions. A B777 cannot fly level at 37,000ft on one engine after a flame-out because of fuel starvation.”

The report in question actually agrees with Mr Bailey on this point. On page 11 of the report, we state:

“Based on the individual engine efficiencies the right engine would have flamed-out prior to the left engine. From this point the aircraft was operating on a single-engine and could not maintain any altitude above 29,000 feet.”

Mr Bailey also commented on the discovery of the flaperon on Reunion Island:

“When the flaperon was analysed by Boeing, the manufacturer said, along with US aviation safety consultant John Cox, that it had been broken off in a lowered position, consistent with the theory MH370 had made a controlled ditching into the sea. The ATSB initially said damage to the flaperon still supported the flame-out theory but showed the aircraft glided uncontrolled to a soft landing on the sea (hence no debris). Really?”

The ATSB has not made this statement. The analysis of the flaperon is the responsibility of the French judicial authorities who have it in their custody. No conclusion has yet been reached about the likely position of the flaperon immediately before it separated from the aircraft. To our knowledge, Boeing have not made any statements regarding the flaperon.

The ATSB has neither the authority under international agreements nor the need for the purposes of its search to make statements about why the aircraft disappeared. The successful completion of our search, based on sound analysis of confirmed data and using the best people, equipment and techniques, is still the best chance of arriving at an answer to the mystery of MH370’s disappearance.




Incorrect media reporting of MH370 sonar contacts

13 August 2015

Recent articles suggesting that sonar images gathered during the underwater search for MH370 could be aircraft debris are incorrect.

The sonar contacts mentioned in the articles are old ones that were already assessed and discounted months ago.

As well, the articles incorrectly describe ‘Category 3’ sonar contacts as being the most likely to be aircraft debris. In fact, they are the least likely to be aircraft debris. Category 3 is assigned to sonar contacts that are of some interest as they stand out from their surroundings but have low probability of being significant to the search. The underwater search so far has identified more than 400 seabed features that have been classified as Category 3.

Read more about the classification of sonar contacts.




The capability of the MH370 search operation

2 June 2015

Recent news reports about the search for MH370 have included highly inaccurate assertions about the search and how it is being conducted.

The ATSB strongly refutes assertions that Fugro Survey Pty Ltd was not the best choice to undertake the underwater search or that the search methods are ineffective. The search is being carried out to the highest standards of effectiveness and quality.

“These attacks are unfounded and unfair”, said Chief Commissioner Martin Dolan. “The search for MH370 represents thousands of hours of work by hundreds of people who are dedicated, expert and professional. They are fully committed to finding the aircraft.

“The opportunity to tender services for the search for MH370 was open to the international underwater search industry. We received a number of tenders which encompassed a range of different capabilities and methods. A comprehensive and exhaustive evaluation process was conducted in line with strict Australian Government procurement and probity rules.

“I am very conscious that we must use taxpayers’ money responsibly. Fugro’s bid represented the best value for money and demonstrated that they could capably manage the technical aspects of this challenging search operation and deliver the necessary results.”

Fugro has been involved with numerous aircraft and helicopter search and recovery operations since the 1980s. They have been using the Edgetech Deeptow side-scan sonar systems since the mid-90s and have one of the largest commercial AUV fleets in the world for performing commercial surveys in deep water.

Their ability to detect man-made objects on the seafloor in ultra-deep water is evidenced by the recent detection of a previously unknown shipwreck.

“The debris in the shipwreck field was significantly smaller, and therefore harder to detect, than we expect to find with MH370,” Chief Commissioner Dolan said.

“The ATSB has put in place systems of review and expert quality assurance so we can be certain that the quality of search data meets the high standards we have specified,” said Chief Commissioner Dolan. “We selected Fugro on their capacity to meet those standards.”

As part of its quality assurance process, the ATSB has enlisted the expertise of Sherrell Ocean Services founded by Andrew Sherrell, one of the leading sonar search specialists in the world, who has worked on a number of commercial air investigations, including the search and recovery of Air France 447, TWA 800, and Egypt Air 990.

Mr Sherrell has been involved as the Quality Assurance Manager in many elements of the search for MH370, beginning with the tender process and continuing with the planning of the search and review of the gathered sonar data. Mr Sherrell said he is confident that the appropriate technology is being used.

“The equipment was tested thoroughly in ocean trials at a purpose-built test range to ensure the maximum swath width without compromising the detection capability. Fugro’s faster-than-average tow speed enables them to scan significant amounts of sea floor per operational day. As a result, we are seeing substantial coverage with the required level of resolution,” said Mr Sherrell.

“We have a rigorous and thorough quality assurance program that ensures appropriate overlap between adjacent swaths and positioning of each line as well. We are achieving very accurate and consistent results with a new state-of-the-art positioning system that gives us full confidence in the towfish position, even 9km behind the vessel.

“Furthermore, we verify this system by using the accurate bathymetry maps collected during Phase 1 of this search. By matching specific features on the seafloor, we can ensure that the positions being calculated are correct, and we do this for every single line of data collected. We also perform feature matching with the side scan sonar data between adjacent lines to ensure sufficient overlap of data is maintained. This is also done on every line as it is collected, with any deficiencies documented and catalogued.

“In addition, Fugro are using multibeam sonar to supplement the side scan sonar equipment; this covers the traditional “nadir” gap directly below the towfish. The multibeam ensures more complete coverage of the seafloor it passes over. This is optimising our rate of progress, and is a feature that is not available on some older systems that are still in use by other organisations.”

Without this type of system, a much higher percentage of seafloor would need to be covered twice to fill in this missing data. Duplicating coverage of the seafloor not only increases the cost of the search, but also the time required to cover the search area. Using a multibeam sonar in this way is a very efficient technique for covering large areas of seafloor.

“The challenges remain,” Chief Commissioner Dolan said. “The search zone is remote, the weather and sea conditions are difficult  and the search area is vast, but I’ve never had any doubt about the capabilities of Fugro, their commitment to the mission or their professionalism.”

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Last update 25 July 2016