We can now say with a very high degree of certainty that MH370’s final resting place is a bit southwest of Zenith Plateau, on or near what is known as the Seventh Arc. Those who have been following this will recall that both China and Australia believed they detected ULB pings in the general area in early June 2014. Then something unfortunate happened: “experts” took control, dismissed the pings, and moved the search thousands of kilometers south and west of Perth Australia.
It has taken two and a half years to determine exactly why the search was in the right place in June 2014. Unraveling this mystery, and make no mistake, this IS where the plane is resting, has required examination of a lot of ancillary data that have largely been ignored by those conducting the search in an official capacity.
Here is a simple overview of the dynamics in the Zenith Plateau area on March 8, 2014 when MH370 crashed into the South Indian Ocean between Batavia Seamount and Zenith Plateau.
In total, it was Tropical Cyclone Gillian’s march south of Java, and then west of Exmouth, Australia that helps us determine where MH370 is resting. But we can also be grateful to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that happened to have two critically important “drifters”1 near the spot where MH370 crashed a few minutes past midnight UTC, March 8, 2014. In terms of local time, it was 20 minutes past 6 AM, and light enough to be seen clearly if anyone had been there to watch it unfold.
But then, like a giant fan, Gillian blew across that exact spot on March 25th and made it almost impossible to find or reconstruct.
Of course, it isn’t possible to simply look at the charts above and come to such sweeping conclusions. Fortunately, there is a great deal of additional information that helps us reconstruct the scene with enough confidence to know it is the only way it could have happened. For example. the two drifters that were chased out of comfy environs by Gillian, had actually been languishing in the nearby Leeuwin Currents for months. But when Gillian entered the picture, they moved quickly to the west: #101655 moved northish; #101703 also drifted to the northwest, but somewhat south of the other. And that is precisely what happened to some of the plane’s debris, too.
It is only when we combine the totality of those two drifter paths with TC Gillian and subsequent debris finds in the same areas those drifters were dispatched to, that we begin to see something other than a mash of jumbled paths.
Numerous other models of drifter behavior north and west of the Australian mainland have also been conducted by the author. While they are more general in nature, they point to the same overall drift tendencies. NOAA drifters that crossed the 7th Arc between about -15° South latitude and -20° South latitude had by far the greatest chance of not only ending up in the Mascarene area, but doing it within the 450-day limit it took for the flaperon to end up on Reunion Island and BE NOTICED. Here are a few graphic summaries.
Here is a Google Earth closeup of the area in which the plane is resting, on or near the 7th Arc. That is part of the good news: the 7th Arc appears to be substantially correct.
March 8, 2014: MH370 crashed into the South Indian Ocean close to Inmarsat’s mathematical depiction of the 7th Arc between Batavia Seamount and Zenith Plateau at about 00:20 UTC March 8, 2014. The seafloor in that area is rugged and challenging. While the exact coordinates remain unknown, they are likely to be approximately -24 S, 102.5 E. The ULB may have been dislodged and been swept up in local currents, curling around the east side of Zenith Plateau and from there toward the Mascarene Islands.
March 8, 2014 to March 25, 2014: Limited surface searches of the area were conducted and debris was spotted, but nothing was positively identified as belonging to the aircraft. Invariably, satellite and aircraft surveillance images could not be replicated by surface craft and personnel. That was a common problem in all surface search efforts associated with this tragedy. Reason unknown.
March 25, 2014: Tropical Cyclone Gillian moved directly across the crash site, dispersing what little debris there had been, and sending most of it toward the Mascarene Islands, the Comoros Islands and into the Mozambique Channel. Two NOAA drifters that happened to be near the crash site were whisked away as well in the same westerly direction. Those two drifters now point us to the location in which the aircraft came to rest.
While Gillian had diminished from peak intensity of about 125 mph on March 23, 2014, she remained formidable and sent drifters and debris in her path off to the west.
Drifter Summary: Drifter #101655 continued to function until July 26, 2014. It had traveled 4,047 kilometers since its encounter with Gillian on March 25, 2014, an average of 33 km per day for 123 days. NOAA classified its death as “ran aground”.
Drifter #101703 remained in service until July 23, 2015, a full year longer than its traveling companion. It traveled 4,391 km after its encounter with Gillian on March 25, 2014 at a more leisurely pace than its mate. It averaged 9 km per day, perhaps partly because it took more of a glancing blow from the storm. NOAA classified this death as “stop transmitting”, which is certainly possible, but it was also washed up on St. Brandon Island when they found it. The tiny island group is not a tourist destination; it is sparsely populated, and seldom sees beachcombers.
In the end, Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s proclamation that the plane had been found was neither premature nor incorrect, as widely claimed by almost everyone, at the Prime Minister’s expense. He was correct. His detractors were not.
Whomever made the decision to move the search thousands of kilometers to the south made a horrific blunder that prevented families from closing the human part of the tragedy quickly and privately. Anyone who spends a little focused time working with Southern Indian Ocean drift patterns, NOAA drifter patterns and also spends some time tracking physical objects from one side of the ocean to the other, and back, is capable of seeing how badly mistaken this search effort has been for more than two years. We can assume everyone acted in an effort to find the plane; but clearly, not all who were entrusted to make decisions had any idea what they were doing.
1 About the NOAA Drifter Program (Links open a new browser tab)
Drifter locations are estimated from 16-20 satellite fixes per day, per drifter. The Drifter Data Assembly Center (DAC) at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) assembles these raw data, applies quality control procedures, and interpolates them via kriging to regular six-hour intervals. The raw observations and processed data are archived at AOML and at the Marine Environmental Data Services (MEDS) in Canada.
Two types of data are available: “metadata” contains deployment location and time, time of drogue (sea anchor) loss, date of final transmission, etc. for each drifter. “Interpolated data” contains the quality-controlled, interpolated drifter observations.
NOAA Drifter Data Availability
Observation Dates: 1979/02/15 to 2016/06/30
Geographical Coordinates: latitude [90,-78] and longitude [-180,180]