I’ve had questions about the authenticity of the “large debris field” reported by China’s Hai Xun 01 on April 2, 2014. Of course, I wasn’t there and don’t yet have independent confirmation of the size or nature of the debris field. But this is what I know or surmise.
Important to remember the sequence of events in that area. The plane disappeared early March 8, 2014 at about 00:19 UTC. We have to assume there was a debris field of some sort simply by the nature of the mostly fragmented debris we’ve found in the Mascarene and Madagascar areas. There have been suggestions the plane was deliberately “ditched” in a manner than would have minimized debris traces, but with debris 1 meter or less, that is not very plausible to me. And until proven otherwise, I’m inclined to think there was quite a large and visible debris field on or near the 7th Arc at a location we’re still trying to nail down.
Also important to remember nearly a month elapsed between loss of the plane and Hai Xun’s appearance in the area on April 2. And a critically important event occurred one week earlier on March 25, 26: Tropical Cyclone Gillian moved down into that area, and may have either brushed the debris field, or plowed right over it. We just can’t know yet, so I’ve requested image searches from that vicinity on and near the 7th Arc between Zenith Plateau and Batavia Seamount, a span of about 600 km linearly.
There is an added issue concerning “normal” drift rates in that area. I’m currently using 22 km per day. That value was derived from earlier work on NOAA drifters and it may be possible to refine it. I’ve not had time to do that yet. Whatever the drift rate out there prior to Gillian’s appearance, it would have been mostly northeast, northwest, and west. It would not have been quite the same as dropping a handful of wood shavings on the surface of a pond and watching it disperse somewhat evenly in all directions. That’s because there are very active currents out there and they tend to come from the Perth area. In Batavia, they tend to keep moving NE until they reach the north side of Zenith Plateau. There they are intercepted by winds and currents coming west out of Timor Sea and they are generally then pushed mostly west, but there is an unpredictable oscillation between SW, W, and NW with NW winning, on average.
Here are two of the most accurate schematics of currents west of Australia I’ve seen. Rick Lumpkin also has a couple, but he has a couple of different versions off Western Australia so you have to be careful which you consider.
Colder water from the Circumpolar Current moves northeast along the Western Australia coastline until it passes Geraldton and is in the Exmouth area. At that point, warm Pacific Ocean water passes through Timor Sea, mixes and dominates the flow of water. An enormous amount of water enters the South Indian Ocean through Timor and Banda Seas. And currents flow generally west from there, but also toward the northwest and southwest.
So now let’s look at the region when Cyclone Gillian blew through it in late March 2014. You can see that Zenith Plateau, which comes within about -1,600 meters of the surface of the ocean, acted like a stoplight as Gillian moved due south after reaching peak intensity on March 23 a bit north. Gillian reached Zenith on March 25, 26, and followed warmer waters flowing out of the South Pacific.
We do not yet know where the debris field Hai Xun reported was on March 8, but if a drift rate of 22 km per day is reasonable in that area, some of the debris would have been in the Zenith area, even if the plane came down farther to the southwest. (I still believe the 7th Arc is our best north-south corridor for the plane’s final moments.)
Not long ago I favored the plane’s terminal location pretty close to Zenith Plateau, give or take 100 km. But since then I have been able to pinpoint the locations of all commercial vessels within 300 km of either side of the 7th Arc, and there were four vessels on top of Zenith at 00:19 UTC March 8. So, and partly because I now give more credibility to the Hai Xun debris sighting, I believe someone would have seen and reported the plane if it had come down close to Zenith. Here is the schematic.
I also believe Chinese sailors know ocean debris when they see it and the area along the Arc there is 1,000 km west of all inhabited areas. It just does not make a lot of sense to me that whatever the nature of the debris Hai Xun reported occurs in that particular location with any regularity.
Having said that, Cyclone Gillian almost certainly complicates the analysis. If the debris field had been closer to Zenith on March 25th, one week earlier, when the storm moved through the area, it would have moved debris one way or another. It may even have “pooled” a larger debris field that had already begun to disperse.
Magenta shading is a 550 km radius around Hai Xun’s debris field at -25S, 101E. The way to use it (in reverse) is by using its outer extremes to approximate where the center of the debris field would have been on March 8 IF there had been no storm. Again, keep in mind that debris tends to move northeast, north, northwest, and west there.
Anyone wishing to revisit reports and videos of news reports from that time period can use this link. The webmaster at Book of Research has preserved a lot of material that is enormously helpful now. It allows each of us to come to our own conclusions about the nature of the debris, the size of the debris field, and where it might have originated. Look for this subheading scrolling down: Looking back into Area 25S 101E.
Looking ahead, I have requested satellite images of the area from March 8, 9, and April 2. I believe others are also looking into visual records of that time frame. If the debris reported by Hai Xun’s crew was related to the plane, it almost certainly will show up on images taken during that period. At least that is my hope.