MH370: The Most Notorious ‘Missing’ Plane That Isn’t

This post is reprinted from Medium at

After eight years, MH370 is still officially listed as “missing”. Why? It isn’t missing. It has never been missing, unless one counts the 24 hours it took the United States to move a satellite into position to confirm surface debris.

A child could confirm MH370’s terminal location. In March 2014, the task of locating surface debris from MH370 was a two-step process undertaken in a spirit of goodwill by the United States during the Obama Administration. Telemetry from Inmarsat’s 3F1 satellite was used to quickly determine the plane’s maximum flight range based on nothing more than the radius of the final ping. Fuel, ground speed, heading, and other factors played no role in that determination. The analysis narrowed the search to just two locations 5,300 km apart: one near Dali City in northwestern Yunnan Province, China in the Northern Hemisphere; and the other in the East Indian Ocean 1,700 km west of Exmouth, Western Australia in the Southern Hemisphere. The Yunnan Province location was ruled out almost immediately for multiple reasons.

Once the terminal location was determined to be in the Southern Hemisphere a cloud-penetrating US satellite was tasked to examine an area known as “Zenith Seamount” or “Zenith Plateau” at -22.167S, 104.667E. Surface debris from the plane was located quickly. Malaysia and Australia were informed.

Confirmation of wreckage by a US satellite was announced at a Press Conference in Canberra, Australia on March 28, 2014. An official 22-minute video of that presser is here:

Australia simultaneously directed international search assets it had previously deployed to the Southern Ocean to redeploy to the Zenith area. It was a futile exercise: the extreme abyssal depths at Zenith were well known; and neither Australia nor any other participating nation at the time had an AUV, ROV, or other asset capable of searching depths below -4,500 meters, let alone -7,000 meters where most of the fuselage remains to this day.

The plane’s terminal debris location was confirmed a second time in 2017 by Germany’s Geomar on an R/V Sonne voyage to the crash site that was nominally billed as a marine biology cruise: (See Geomar’s RV SONNE Cruise Report SO258/1). Multibeam echosounder data from the voyage was later incorporated into a Google Earth plugin by Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2019 and is freely available:

Figure 1
Figure 1: Kongsberg Maritime software rendering of 2017 R/V Sonne’s EM-122 Multibeam Echosounder data from MH-370 crash site at the bottom of Zenith Abyss.

The plane’s location was confirmed a third time, and extensively documented, in May 2021 by Caladan Oceanic under contract to an Australian nonprofit that appears to have been acting as a proxy for Australia and Malaysia. Caladan’s owner, Victor Vescovo, now states that he was not aboard his vessel on any portion of the Zenith voyage and was never consulted on or briefed about its objectives. However, Mr. Vescovo initially corresponded with the author as if he had firsthand knowledge of the voyage. It was only after Vescovo was asked why an AUV scan pattern appears in his vessel’s AIS tracking data all ten days that he acknowledged he did not participate in the voyage and had been coached to provide earlier responses.

Figure 2
Figure 2: Overview of extensive scanning by Caladan Oceanic in May 2021. The vessel was the DSSV Pressure Drop, which was either rented out to Australian and Malaysian interests, or loaned gratis by the owner, Victor Vescovo. Vescovo insists he was not aboard the vessel but had been told it was doing “scientific stuff”.

Tracking MH370 with telemetry published by Inmarsat in 2014 is straightforward. The 3-F1 tracking satellite, (now retired), was positioned at 0.5311N, 64.4643E when the plane broadcast its seventh and final ping. The radius of the final ping is 4,820 kilometers. Using a mirror-image of the 3-F1 satellite and of the final ping ring at the time of the crash, the two rings intersect in Northwestern Yunnan Province, China and again southwest of Zenith Plateau in the Indian Ocean. It is eighth-grade geometry, and was certainly familiar to those involved in directing the search. The implication is that the plane had to have issued its final ping at one or the other of those two intersections.

So why have there continued to be annual observances and calls for “a new search?” Is it possible families have not been told where the plane crashed? If so, it seems incredibly cruel. Footage and seafloor imagery from the May 2021 Caladan survey of the crash site has not been released to the public and requests for copies have been ignored or declined.

That particular crash site cannot be hidden. The radius of the final ping is known. It points to one and only one location. Too many people worldwide are on first-name terms with Pythagoras and his pals.

Figure 3
Figure 3: The big picture. The reconstructed flightpath is shown in yellow; intersecting final ping rings are in white; actual satellite on the left; mirror image of it on the right; numbered pins mark the plane’s location on each of seven pings. The pilot made no effort to cloak his destination. Canadian investigator Larry Vance speculated some years ago that the pilot almost certainly knew his real destination before takeoff. Mr. Vance further speculated that the plane’s right wing may have been severed on impact. He based that partly on the preponderance of right-side debris eventually recovered.