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MH370 – Search and debris examination update

Published: 2 November 2016

Amended: 2 December 2016 - Correction to Figure 11 caption text under image to remove inconsistency with report text on Page 17.

Executive summary

This report provides an update to the MH370 search area definition described in previous ATSB reports. It comprises further analysis of satellite data, additional end of flight simulations, a summary of the analysis of the right outboard wing flap, and preliminary results from the enhanced debris drift modelling.

For background information, please refer to the ATSB publications available online at www.atsb.gov.au/mh370:

  • Definition of underwater search areas, 18 August 2014
  • Flight Path Analysis Update, 8 October 2014
  • Definition of Underwater Search Area Update, 3 December 2015.

The Australian Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group[1] conducted a comprehensive analysis of the Inmarsat satellite communications (SATCOM) data and a model of aircraft dynamics. The output of the DST Group analysis was a probability density function (PDF) defining the probable location of the aircraft’s crossing of the 7th arc.

Details of this analysis and the validation experiments are available in the open source published book here: http://link.springer.com/book/.

Additional analysis of the burst frequency offsets associated with the final satellite communications to and from the aircraft is consistent with the aircraft being in a high and increasing rate of descent at that time. Additionally, the wing flap debris analysis reduced the likelihood of end-of-flight scenarios involving flap deployment.

Preliminary results of the CSIRO’s drift analysis indicated it was unlikely that debris originated from south of the current search area. The northernmost simulated regions were also found to be less likely. Drift analysis work is ongoing and is expected to refine these results.

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  1. Formerly the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO)
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7th arc burst frequency offset (BFO) analysis

End of flight simulations

Drift modelling update

Debris summary and analysis

Acknowledgements

 

These debris examination reports are released with the concurrence of the Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370.

Debris Report 1 (19 April 2016)

Debris Report 2 (12 May 2016; amended 24 May 2016)

Debris Report 3 (15 September 2016)

Debris Report 4 (22 September 2016)

Debris Report 5 (7 October 2016)

 

At 1722 Coordinated Universal Time on 7 March 2014, Boeing 777-200ER aircraft, registered 9M-MRO and operating as Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, disappeared from air traffic control radar and a search was commenced by Malaysian authorities. The aircraft had taken off from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on a scheduled passenger service to Beijing, China with 227 passengers and 12 crew on board.

Under Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation Aircraft Accident and Incident Investigation (Annex 13) Malaysia, as the country of registration, has investigative responsibility for the accident.

On 31 March 2014, the Malaysian Government accepted the Government of Australia’s offer to take the lead in the search and recovery operation in the southern Indian Ocean in support of the Malaysian accident investigation. This assistance and expertise will be provided through the accredited representative mechanism of Annex 13.

In accordance with paragraphs 5.23 and 5.24 of Annex 13, on 1 April 2014, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) appointed an accredited representative and a number of advisors to the accredited representative (ATSB investigators). These investigators’ work will be undertaken as part of an External Investigation under the provisions of the Australian Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003.

The Malaysian Ministry of Transport is responsible for and will administer the release of all investigation reports into this accident. Information on the investigation is available from the following websites:

Any enquiries in respect of the ongoing investigation should, in the first instance, be directed to:

Malaysian Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team

Email: MH370SafetyInvestigation@mot.gov.my

 
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MH370 - Definition of Underwater Search Areas

Released: 3 December 2015

Summary

This report provides an update to the MH370 search area definition, described in previous ATSB reports. For background information, please see the ATSB publications MH370 - Definition of underwater search areas, 18 August 2014 and Flight Path Analysis Update, 8 October 2014 under the tabs on this web page.

Analysis of available data has been ongoing since the search for MH370 commenced. Initial results assisted the search and rescue mission, and later refinements have formed the basis for the underwater search areas.

The Australian Defence Science and Technology (DST) Group conducted a comprehensive analysis of the available data. The analysis used models of the Inmarsat satellite communications (SATCOM) data and a model of aircraft dynamics. Recorded meteorological data (wind and air temperature) were also modelled in the analysis. The SATCOM model was calibrated using SATCOM data and flight data from B777 flights including previous flights of the accident aircraft.

Validation experiments were conducted to ensure that predictions aligned with actual flight data. The output of the DST Group analysis was a probability density function (PDF) defining the probable location of the aircraft’s crossing of the 6th arc. These results were then extrapolated to the 7th arc. The analysis indicated that the majority of solutions only contained one significant turn after the last recorded radar data. DST Group have written a book called Bayesian methods in the search for MH370 detailing the entire analysis.

Performance analysis by Boeing produced a series of achievable ranges, with time intervals, for different cruise altitudes. It was noted that maintaining a constant altitude of FL350 or higher gave range values that closely matched the region on the arc corresponding to the DST Group analysis results. The DST Group and Boeing results were obtained independently and it is significant that they were in general agreement.

In contrast to the series of data points that were recorded from the SATCOM system, only the following indirect information was available to assist the ATSB in determining the end-of-flight scenario and therefore determine a search area width:

  • probable aircraft systems status
  • simulator results
  • review of previous accidents
  • glide distance.

The original ATSB underwater search area definition report published in August 2014 identified a width of 20 NM behind the arc and 30 NM forward of the arc as the priority search area width. This primary priority width has been adjusted to make it symmetrical about the arc (20 NM on both sides). The ATSB has also defined and prioritised additional search area widths.

The probability distribution of the location of the aircraft is shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Probability distribution of the location of MH370 Probability distribution of the location of MH370: Figure 1 is a graphical representation of the results from the DST Group analysis combined with the ATSB end-of-flight scenario. The colours in the area represent the different location probabilities as follows:  Low probability - Highest probability The yellow and pink lines are the 6th and 7th arcs respectively. The green line outlines the main area of interest representing approximately 90% of the PDF.

Ongoing work:

Any further evidence that becomes available, and may be relevant to refining the search area,will be considered.

 

Download report released 3 Dec 2015
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Download updated report of the flight pather analysis
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Released: 8 October 2014

Recent refinement to the analysis has given greater certainty about when the aircraft turned south into the Indian Ocean and has produced a better understanding of the parameters within which the satellite ground station was operating during the last flight of MH370. The latest analyses indicates that the underwater search should be prioritised further south within the wide search area for the next phase of the search. The ATSB has published MH370 – Flight path analysis update to supplement the previously released report MH370 – Definition of Underwater Search Areas, which describes the continuing work.

 

Download updated report of the flight pather analysis
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Download report MH370 - Definition of Underwater Search Areas
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MH370 - Definition of Underwater Search Areas

Summary

On 8 March 2014, flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200ER registered 9M-MRO, lost contact with Air Traffic Control during a transition of airspace between Malaysia and Vietnam. An analysis of radar data and subsequent satellite communication (SATCOM) system signalling messages placed the aircraft in the Australian search and rescue zone on an arc in the southern part of the Indian Ocean. This arc was considered to be the location where the aircraft’s fuel was exhausted.

A surface search of probable impact areas along this arc, coordinated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, was carried out from 18 March – 28 April 2014. This search effort was undertaken by an international fleet of aircraft and ships with the search areas over this time progressing generally from an initial southwest location along the arc in a north-easterly direction. The location of the search areas was guided by continuing and innovative analysis by a Joint Investigation Team of the flight and satellite-communications data. This analysis was supplemented by other information provided to ATSB during this period. This included possible underwater locator beacon and hydrophone acoustic detections.

No debris associated with 9M-MRO was identified either from the surface search, acoustic search or from the ocean floor search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections. The ocean floor search was completed on 28 May 2014.

Refinements to the analysis of both the flight and satellite data have been continuous since the loss of MH370. The analysis has been undertaken by an international team of specialists from the UK, US and Australia working both independently and collaboratively. Other information regarding the performance and operation of the aircraft has also been taken into consideration in the analysis.

Using current analyses, the team has been able to reach a consensus in identifying a priority underwater search area for the next phase of the search.

The priority area of approximately 60,000 km2 extends along the arc for 650 km in a northeast direction from Broken Ridge. The width of the priority search area is 93 km. This area was the subject of the surface search from Day 21-26.

Work is continuing with refinements in the analysis of the satellite communications data. Small frequency variations can significantly affect the derived flight path. This ongoing work may result in changes to the prioritisation and locale of search activity.

 

Updated: 18 August 2014

Since the public release of the report MH370 – Definition of Underwater Search Areas on 26 June 2014, the ATSB has received a number of queries about some of the technical details contained in the report. The queries have been made directly to the ATSB or through the Chief Commissioner’s blog, InFocus, on the ATSB website. 

As a result of the queries, the ATSB is today releasing an updated version of the report to clarify a number of technical aspects. The changes to the report are detailed in the Addendum on the inside cover.

 

Updated: 8 October 2014

Recent refinement to the analysis has given greater certainty about when the aircraft turned south into the Indian Ocean and has produced a better understanding of the parameters within which the satellite ground station was operating during the last flight of MH370. The latest analyses indicates that the underwater search should be prioritised further south within the wide search area for the next phase of the search. The ATSB has published MH370 – Flight path analysis update to supplement the previously released report MH370 – Definition of Underwater Search Areas, which describes the continuing work.

 

Download report MH370 - Definition of Underwater Search Areas
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General details
Date: 07 Mar 2014 Investigation status: Active 
Time: 1722 UTC Investigation type: External Investigation 
Location   (show map):Southern Indian Ocean Occurrence type:Missing aircraft 
State: International Occurrence class: Technical 
Release date: 24 May 2016 Occurrence category: Technical Analysis 
Report status: Pending Highest injury level: Fatal 
Expected completion: Mar 2017  
 
Aircraft details
Aircraft model: 777-200ER  
Aircraft registration: 9M-MRO  
Operator: Malaysian Airlines  
Type of operation: Air Transport High Capacity 
Sector: Jet 
Departure point:Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Destination:Beijing, China
 
 
 
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Last update 23 November 2016