Ocean drift and MH370

23 Mar 2019


This article takes a fresh look at where the MH370 flaperon and flaps and other discovered items may have originally entered the ocean.

Map 1 shows the the locations of some of the items discovered, which are either certainly or probably from MH370. The map is based on a BBC article. The three items identified with certainty are labelled:
1 = Right wing flaperon, Reunion, July 2015.
2 = Left wing outboard flap trailing edge, Mauritius, May 2016.
3 = Right wing outboard flap, Pemba Island, Tanzania, June 2016.

Map 1

Map 2 below shows four hypothetical locations of aircraft ocean entry.

Map 2

Now we are going to use the excellent Plastic Adrift (PA) website to track where floating debris is likely to go, if deposited into the ocean at each of those four locations. The drift of the floating debris is illustrated on the PA website by excellent animations (movies).

Location A is the ocean entry point predicted in a 2015 study. This is one of a number of locations in the Southern Indian Ocean (SIO) which have been predicted, based primarily on analysis of satellite communications data. The coordinates are 34.7 S, 93.0 N. Here are the drift results from location A.

Location B is a hypothetical ocean entry point at 9.4 S, 108.1 E. It's about 180 km off the southern coast of Java. I've chosen this location because just like location A, it is approximately on the theoretical final 7th arc, which was calculated from Burst Timing Offsets. Here are the drift results from location B.

Location C is a hypothetical ocean entry point at 4.7 S, 100.7 E, about 200 km off the coast of Bengkalu, which is on the island of Sumatra. Here are the drift results from location C.

Location D is a hypothetical ocean entry point at 2.7 N, 95.1 E, about 195 km off the coast of Meulaboh, Aceh, which is on the island of Sumatra. Here are the drift results from location D..

Maps 3 4 5 and 6 are screenshots, for debris entering the ocean at point D (off the west coast of Aceh), showing ocean drift estimates after various elapsed times. At 1 year 4 months the debris has already reached Reunion, Mauritius, and Madagascar. At 1 year 10 months the debris has also reached Mozambique, and Pemba Island in Tanzania.

Map 3

Map 4

Map 5

Map 6

This article has shown that aircraft ocean entry points A and B and C and D would all result in a large proportion of the floating debris drifting to the Reunion/Mauritius/Madagascar/Tanzania/Mozambique region.

Locations A and B are about 3200 km apart, but are both approximately on the theoretical arc predicted by the Burst Timing Offset calculations. Locations C and D however are many hundreds of kilometres inside that theoretical arc. Yet as you have seen. each of these four hypothetical aircraft entry points can explain equally well the observed distribution of discovered debris.

Thus from the perspective of ocean drift analysis alone, even at this simple level one can see that the entire SIO search area, including its ever-increasing expansions, contains only a tiny fraction of the many possible solutions for the origin of the discovered debris. There are other equally good solutions, as we have seen, off the coast of Sumatra. And in future it is hoped to extend this article by examining drift from a much more interesting ocean entry point, in the Malacca Strait (not covered by the PA website), about 85 km off the coast of Peureulak.

Image credits
Maps 3, 4, 5, 6 : http://plasticadrift.org (please see their Creative Commons license).
Background of maps 1, 2: Google Maps.

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