MH370: A sophisticated stealth path, well executed?

It is Day 10 and the lack of any information is dropping the story to the bottom of the front pages. But the fate of 239 passengers and crew is still not known. It is becoming a mystery much more perplexing than the Mary Celeste.

The last military radar observation put the MH370 Boeing 777 on its way to (or close to) the Igrex navigational waypoint, south of the Andaman Islands. This was about 4 1½ hours into the flight. Then comes the final “ping”, 7½ hours into the flight, picked up by a satellite over the Indian Ocean. At that point the aircraft would have had 30 – 60 minutes of fuel left (30 minutes if flying fast and perhaps 60 minutes if flying close to its minimum speed). The ping places the aircraft – presumably with engines still running – somewhere along the Northern or the Southern corridors. The ping is silent on whether the plane was in flight or on the ground – but I think it does indicate the engines were still running.

twists and turns mh370 (malaysian insider)

twists and turns mh370 (malaysian insider)

The question becomes how did the aircraft get to the “ping” arcs from its last known position without being picked up by civilian or military radar. What “stealth path” did it follow?

Stealth paths MH370 (based on Mirror graphic)

Stealth paths MH370 (based on Mirror graphic)

It is becoming clear that not all military radar in the region is in continuous operation (because it is too expensive) or manned 24×7 unless it is a sensitive military area. For example, Indian military radar at the Naval base at Port Blair is not in continuous operation or the most advanced, because it is considered a “peaceful zone”. Military radar – even when active – tends to ignore signals from presumed commercial aircraft on well-travelled paths especially when they show up at the expected times.

NSTInvestigators are poring over the Boeing 777-200ER’s flight profile to determine if it had flown low and used “terrain masking” during most of the eight hours it was missing from the radar coverage of possibly at least three countries. ……. 

By sticking to commercial routes, the flight may not have raised the suspicion of those manning primary (military) radars of the nations it overflew. To them, MH370 would appear to be just another commercial aircraft on its way to its destination.

What is known is that

  1. the aircraft at times flew as high as 41,000 feet, sometimes at 23,000 feet and at times as low as 5,000 feet with cruising altitude being 31,000 -35,000 feet.
  2. at 5,000 feet – in the right terrain – the aircraft would even be invisible to military radar
  3. at 23,000 feet (or thereabouts) and if it was flying some 10,000 feet under and along the same track as some other regular commercial aircraft, it could have been hidden under the “shadow” of the other aircraft and would not immediately have been picked up. Especially if the other flight was a regular and expected flight.
  4. until its last known position, the aircraft was flown very deliberately and very skillfully along a track which minimised its chances of being picked up.
  5. Even the initial change of direction westwards was cleverly made just at the point where Malaysian Air Traffic Control was to hand over to Vietnamese Control.

The lenth of the “ping” arcs depend upon the plane’s speed. If the plane had been at normal cruising speeds it could have reached the vicinity of Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan. The route across China and Kazakhstan is a regular commercial route and dozens of flights followed that corridor on the night MH370 vanished. To be “concealed” from radar by the shadow of other commercial flights, MH370 would have been constrained to maintain a “normal” cruising speed. So it is not impossible for the aircraft to have followed a well-planned track, executed very well, hopping between different altitudes and hopping between different tracks of regular commercial flights, to get from its last known position to one of the “ping” tracks.  But it would have required considerable and detailed planning and some skill to implement. It is probably no coincidence that all this happened during the “dead” time of night in that part of the world (starting at 0100 Malaysian time and at the time of the last ping around 0800 in Malysia – 0530 in India or 0500 in Kyrgyzstan).

(Once upon a time when I worked on the night shift of research projects, the “dead” time when things got missed was always between 0200 and 0400).

There are only 3 possibilities remaining:

  1. the aircraft has crashed or been crashed into the Indian Ocean and all aboard have perished, or
  2. the aircraft has landed at a secret location and some or all of the crew and passengers are alive and being held, or
  3. the aircraft has crashed on land at an unknown location with little chance of any survivors.

I am inclined to believe it must be one of the first two. For want of any other explanation I am staying with a path over Myanmar, NE India and over Tibetan China to a barren area with a makeshift landing strip at the Chinese -Kyrgyzstan border.

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One Response to “MH370: A sophisticated stealth path, well executed?”

  1. Stefan Says:

    There have been 200+ GSM passenger cell phones on board. If 10% of them had not been switched off, there had been ~20 phones operative. If MH370 had approched land, some of these 20 GSM phones had registered with land networks and would have shown up in the location registers of the cell phone operators (mainly China mobile). (GSM maximum distance is 35,4 km)

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