Sunday, July 6, 2014

New Theory for MH370: Oxygen fire, west toward the Maldives.

A new theory on the fate of Malaysia Airlines flight 370 has been proposed by Stuart Yeh, an associate professor at the University of Minnesota. As you can see from his profile, he is no stranger to analyzing complex problems

Like all good theories, this one incorporates previously known, but incongruent observations left out of most previous theories.

The synopsis is that the airplane suffered an electrical malfunction and fire in its crew oxygen system. This ruptured the fuselage, resulting in a decompression. Because the crew oxygen system was affected, the crew's estimated time of useful consciousness was only about 20-30 seconds at 35,000 feet. 

A similar fire had occurred in an Egypt Air B-777 in July 2011—its serial number was only 3 numbers different than the B-777 flown by MH370. That fire occurred on the ground, was quickly attended to by the crew,  yet burned a significant hole in the right side fuselage, and completely damaged the cockpit.
The theory supposes that the crew, in an attempt to fight the fire by removing electrical power to the highest degree possible, shut down the aircraft's generators (two overhead switches) which resulted in the apparent failure of the transponder. 

In the Egypt Air case, the accident report states that "the fire was easily seen from the outside."  In the MH370 case, Mike McKay, a New Zealander working on the Songa Mercur oil drilling platform in the South China Sea observed an aircraft at high altitude burning in one piece about 50-70 km from his location, shortly after MH370's first officer radioed his last message.  His letter is here

There were very few radar hits on MH 370 after ATC radar  contact was lost with the loss of the transponder. The theorized flight path from the few contacts it had with military radar indicate the airplane was heading westbound until it intercepted an arc constructed by analysis of data from an INMARSAT satellite that had brief hourly contact with the aircraft. That turn of over 90° is perplexing and generally unexplained, but probably would have had to have some type of crew action to make it happen.

In Mr Yeh's theory, that unexplained turn didn't occur at all and the airplane continued on its westerly heading.  
The satellite contact data has never been used to locate an aircraft before, and an analysis of that communication record yielded patterns of doppler shifts and latencies that were used to plot a line of positions for those hourly transmissions. Some assumptions had to be made in those calculations. One of them assumed that the time it took to process the signal was the same throughout the flight. 

Mr Yeh, finds that those same signal processing delays can occur by flying closer to the satellite's position over the earth—which a westbound flight would have done. He states:
 The theory that MH370 crashed off the coast of western Australia rests entirely on a single premise: that the Inmarsat analysts correctly accounted for signal processing delays that would normally contribute to the total ping delay of any signal received from MH370. However, as I explained in my article, the procedure used by the Inmarsat analysts is unable to account for the increase in signal processing delay that would be expected if indeed MH370 traveled west toward the Maldives and toward a position 'under' the Inmarsat-3 F1 satellite. The Inmarsat analysts measured the signal processing delay prior to MH370's departure from Kuala Lumpur; this procedure is inherently unable to account for any increase in the signal processing delay after takeoff.

Also, at about the estimated time of fuel exhaustion, residents of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu atoll in the Maldives reportedly saw a low-flying white aircraft with red stripes flying north to south-east around 6:15 am local time on the morning of March 8, flying so low that the aircraft doors were clearly visible. No regular flights fly over the atoll at that hour. Dhaalu atoll is 1900 miles due west of Malaysia, on the last known flight path of MH370. The markings on the unknown aircraft are consistent with the markings on MH370.

Finally, the acoustic signal detected by two sets of underwater listening devices off of the coast of western Australia matches the hypothesis that MH370 crashed near Dhaalu Atoll, but is inconsistent with the hypothesis that the aircraft crashed off the western coast of Australia. Researchers used the information from the two devices to "triangulate" the distance to the source of the signal and eliminated the possibility that the source was located off of the coast of western Australia.

The sea west of the Maldives is extremely deep, like the Austrailian search areas, often 12,000 feet or more. The area is remote. Black box locator beacons (pingers) are long expired, any floating debris will be far from a crash site with the prevailing current flowing west toward Africa.

So, what's to be done? 
Mr Yeh states:
The analysis that I offer suggests that search efforts should be redirected to the area southeast of Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives. I suggest that the towed underwater sonar device be used to sweep this area in an effort to locate debris that presumably sank to the ocean floor. While some debris may have remained afloat and may eventually wash ashore on the east coast of Africa, the aircraft is a metal structure and, therefore, most of it would have sunk to the bottom of the ocean in the vicinity of the crash location, just as much of the debris from Air France 447 and the debris from TWA 800 was eventually located on the ocean floor.

How can we know that this is the correct location? I cannot offer a guarantee that this is the correct location. However, there is an array of seemingly odd information that appears to only make sense if my hypotheses are correct. I believe that I have assembled the known facts into a coherent explanation of those facts. It is an educated guess, but I believe that it is a better guess than has previously been offered.

As the report is refined and updated, the current version of Read Stuart Yeh's report is always posted here:

All the documents cited in the article can also be found and downloaded from this site: