Malaysia originally claimed they saw MH370 on military radar climb to 45,000ft (in excess of its service ceiling) then drop 40,000ft (12,000m/6.47nm) within 60 seconds.

Prior to May 2014 Malaysia claimed MH370 was seen on radar flying IGARI-VAMPI-GIVAL-IGREX, but when asked to produce radar tracking data for this could not do so.

In the Preliminary Accident Report published 1st May 2014, the report stated unequivocally that it was not seen on LUMPUR civil SSR radar after 1:21am until next seen in the Straits of Malacca on military radar. Malaysia could not or would not publish radar imagery for the mystery aircraft sighted in the Straights of Malacca, however on 21 March they displayed this image at the Lido Hotel in Beijing which they claimed showed MH370 in the Straits of Malacca:

Lido Hotel imagery

By default therefore this image has become the de facto radar image for MH370's flight which incidentally does not show MH370 flying IGARI-VAMPI-GIVAL-IGREX.

This is part of that image with time stamps made clearer by focus sharpening tools:

Time stamps

Using the time stamp imagery it is now possible to calibrate that flight more precisely by measuring the time elapsed over known geographical points and then creating a calibration scale beside the track.

That calibration suggests that this aircraft flew over a small island, Pelau Perak at precisely 2:03am on a track leading back to the southwest tip of Palau Penang.

Pelau Perak

The preliminary accident report also notes MH370 was reported by Ho Chi Minh being lost over waypoint BITOD at a time which is inferred as 1:24am MYT. The Preliminary Accident Report issued by the Malaysian Government states unequivocally that it was lost from radar at BITOD.

Malaysian Government statement regards BITOD

This poses a serious problem since it appears to only allow MH370 39 minutes to return to Pelau Perak at the maximum speeds for low altitude flight.

This flight over a track distance of 338nm requires an average TAS airspeed of 520kt. Something which requires the aircraft to fly at altitudes where it would logically have to have been seen by several radar stations. Radar at Aceh and at Singapore must have seen MH370 flying west flying at 38,000ft yet they did not.

If MH370 flew west at these altitudes it should have been seen by at least half a dozen radar stations. Malaysia however claimed that it flew back at 5,000ft like a fighter plane to evade radar and flew low over Kota Bharu. How could it do all this if it had to maintain a speed only achievable at 38,000ft?

Airspeed chart

The air temperature at Kota Bharu was 22 deg C and there was a light nor-easterly breeze of between 5-10 knots.

VMO for a B777 with this surface temperature is 350 knots TAS at 5,000ft. At this altitude logically it could not have flown west within 39 minutes. Even if one is generous and allows that it turned back at IGARI affording another three minutes it still does not seem credible since the track would still require 54 minutes of flying.

Time constraints

12,000ft flight

So the question is how did this aircraft fly back west so fast without being seen?

Did it fly low, or did it fly high?

The captain of JAL750 reported he spoke with the co-pilot of MH370 by VHF just after 1:30am. He said all appeared normal when he spoke to MH370. JAL750 at that time was flying NE from Ho Chi Minh at 32,000ft.

JAL750 was at least 398nm away from IGARI. Had MH370 dropped to 5000ft and flown west it would have been out of VHF range to speak with JAL750. This image has a circle for the estimated radar horizon between JAL750 and another aircraft at 5,000ft.

JAL750 VHF range

I would appreciate if I someone could give a cohesive explanation for apparent inconsistencies in the official account?

closed as off-topic by David Richerby, Federico, Jay Carr, newmanth, TypeIA Jun 19 '14 at 18:54

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  • 1. It never got to BITOD, you have to remove a bunch of miles from your computation 2. your times are off, it was at MEKAR at 18:22, giving 19 extra minutes w.r.t. what you claim – Federico Jun 19 '14 at 7:06
  • @Federico the question is not how it made it to MEKAR. The question is how it made it to Pelau Perak in just 39 minutes? Malaysian claims Radar images show it over Pelau Perak at a precise time and that time defies the laws of physics. Ho Chi Minh contacted Lumpur control at 1:38am and said they lost MH370 off their radar at BITOD and this is in the official Preliminary Accident Report. MH370 also spoke to JAL750 which was over Vietnam after 1:30am by VHF. JAL750 could not communicate with MH370 by VHF if it was flying west from IGARI at 1:30am because of the earth's curvature. – user2357 Jun 19 '14 at 9:23
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    @user2357: I think you may misunderstand this website. It's where current and former private and commercial pilots and aviation enthusiasts ask and answer questions about aviation (not about the competence or veracity of government officials). It's not necessary to be a genius to participate here. Just to have a question about aviation or be able to answer questions about aviation. – RedGrittyBrick Jun 19 '14 at 11:08
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    How can you calculate the required TAS if you don't know the wind speed? How can you calculate the maximum TAS if don't know temperature? Where does your claim "38,000ft or above" come from? (hint, it's false) How do you know it would have been seen by half a dozen radar if you don't know what the atmospheric propagation was, nor whether those radars were operated at full power or at all at the time? One more observation: flying faster than Vmo is not busting a law of physics, merely busting a legal law. I doubt though whether the aircraft was in fact at 5000ft, likely much higher. – DeltaLima Jun 19 '14 at 12:40
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    @user2357 Regarding your speed calculations, remember that while waypoints are fixed by the earth's surface aircraft aren't: A 10 knot breeze & warm temperature on the ground means nothing to an aircraft up in the flight levels. For example: right now the surface winds at JFK are around 12 knots and it's 24 degrees C. At 35,000 feet above the same station the winds are forecast at 71 knots, and the temperature around -37 degrees C. Thus to calculate expected travel time between waypoints you need ground speed (derived from True Airspeed and Winds Aloft information from the incident date). – voretaq7 Jun 19 '14 at 22:19
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The essence of your question seems to be

Did Malaysian officials claim MH370 flew from BITOD to Palau Perak in 39 minutes?

Currently I don't see enough primary evidence to support that claim.


Use of waypoint names by officials

It is clear (to me at least) that when officials talk to the press, they use waypoint names rather than baffling the journalists by reading out lengthy sets of latitudes and longitudes. Waypoint names are less likely to be confused or mistranscribed than lengthy sets of digits. It is also likely that as the information passes from technical staff examining logs up to officials, that indigestible coordinates are simplified to waypoint names to help those officials quickly grasp the essentials. I believe it is a mistake to infer any specific accuracy such as *within 1 nm of the named waypoint", It is probably best to interpret any mention of a waypoint as meaning the aircraft was closer to this waypoint than to any other major waypoint.

When an official reports that MH370 flew on a route between IGARI and VAMPI, I believe it is a mistake to infer that they mean the aircraft flew from a position precisely at IGARI along a "straight line" to a position precisely over VAMPI. I would infer no more than the aircraft spent some time in a large area bounded on the east by IGARI and bounded on the west by VAMPI and that it was headed in a direction that took it more towards VAMPI than IGARI. It might have flown roughly SW or roughly W or any direction in between.

The evidence that MH370 was in the region of BITOD is in this document

enter image description here

Again, I would interpret that generously. It doesn't mean that MH370 was within some immeasurably tiny distance from BITOD.

There is of course also the possibility that the "radar blip" was a flock of birds.

Times

I note that there is no mention in the document above of HCM's record of the time the "radar blip" was somewhere closer to BITOD than to IGARI.

You say "at a time which is inferred as 1:24am MYT." but you don't say who made that inference and you don't provide any references to official information. The question would, in my view, be a lot better if it gave references (links) to official Malaysian documents for each claim made.

Since the question doesn't show that the Malaysian government stated that they believe MH370 was at BITOD at 1:24am MYT, it isn't possible to identify any inconsistency.

Palau Perak

On the very heavily annotated images you show, it looks like the label "Palau Perak" was added by some anonymous person and was not present on the original slide shown at the press conference.

To draw firm conclusions, I believe, you really need to make use of more direct and clear information.


Conclusion

At the moment, I don't think there's sufficient primary evidence to identify any incontrovertible inconsistency. I look forward to seeing some better references edited into the question.

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    Infact there is no primary evidence that it ever flew back from either IGARI or BITOD. If you insist on primary evidence then where is the radar evidence that it flew west at all? Indonesian military radar at Aceh saw no aircraft fly the route alleged by Malaysia. In fact two aircraft known to be in the same vicinity at the same time SIA68 and EK343 are not even present in the Butterworth radar imagery so Perhaps I should ask you for verification that there is any primary proof at all of any aircraft flying Penang-VAMPI-MEKAR? – user2357 Jun 19 '14 at 10:43
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    @user2357: My answer stands: No, Malaysion MOT didn't make the specific claim you ascribe to them. If you'd like to ask a separate question about aviation, please do - but it might be better in Skeptics if you can identify a specific claim clearly made by Malaysian MOT of which you are skeptical. – RedGrittyBrick Jun 19 '14 at 11:03

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