MESSAGES AND prayers for missing flight MH370

‘We Will Find It’: The Expert Who Claims To Know Where Missing MH370 Plane Is

12 mins

On the 10th anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, avionic expert Richard Godfrey insists he has solved the world’s biggest mystery to pinpoint the location of the missing aircraft

Richard Godfrey is a man on a mission. He has spent years testing the theory that radio signals can reliably detect and track aircraft over long distances. He has pored over spreadsheets of data and if his calculations are correct, not only will he have solved the world’s biggest aviation mystery, but he’ll also lay to rest some of the most outlandish conspiracy theories ever to have clogged up the internet. 

Godfrey, a British avionics expert and physicist who lives in Frankfurt, believes he can identify the crash location of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, the Boeing 777 that disappeared 10 years ago on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. He has created a detailed map of the plane’s movements using a technique that relies on an archive of records of radio waves transmitted by ham operators called the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter net, or WSPRnet.  Every two minutes transmitters around the world send thousands of low-power radio pulses. Richard believes these signals can find MH370.

Earlier this month, at an event in Kuala Lumpur to mark the tenth anniversary of the disappearance, Anthony Loke, Malaysia’s transport minister, said that he will meet the American company Ocean Infinity to discuss a new search for the aircraft that went missing 40 minutes after taking off in Kuala Lumpur on route to Beijing. Richard’s data could help make their task much easier.

Most experts agree that MH370 crashed somewhere in the remote southern Indian Ocean, with a common theory being that it was flown there by the pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shad, 53, whose wife, a friend claimed, had decided to move out over his alleged affairs.

The MH370 Mystery

MH370 was a Malaysian Airline plane like this one
What happened to missing flight MH370? Conspiracy theories and accusations are swirling more than a decade after it vanished

Loke is one of a group of independent researchers, scientists, academics, and experts who continue to probe the mystery years after the official search was called off. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB), which coordinated the £120 million dollar (AED 440, 710,000) international efforts to find the plane, calls him ‘a credible expert on the subject’. Others involved in the MH370 mystery are less reliable. The mystery has spawned over 120 books, podcasts and documentaries –  and a web of disinformation. 

Conspiracy theories range from ‘a pilot ‘gone rogue’ to sabotage and claims that a nefarious government agency shot down or made the plane disappear and land at a dark site, either because of sensitive cargo or a politically significant passenger

Up until now, the Government of Malaysia, which owned the airline, appeared reluctant to authorise a new search, possibly some speculate because the wreckage will provide the evidence needed to confirm once and for all what happened, and any evidence that confirms the theory that the senior pilot deliberately downed the plane will lead to substantial compensation claims. One such legal claim has already been launched in China. 

‘There has been deathly silence from Malaysia and people are starting to pick up on that,’ says Godfrey. ‘I don’t like the term “cover up” as it implies something sinister, but the Malaysian government is clearly failing in its duty as a signatory of the International Civil Aviation Organization to do all it can to solve this mystery.’

Conspiracy Theories

MH370 left Kuala Lumpur airport at 00.42 on a clear night bound for Beijing. As it approached Vietnamese airspace, Malaysian air traffic control had a brief exchange with the pilot Shah. ‘Good night. Malaysian three seven zero,’ he said. His routine sign off, 37 minutes into the journey, was the last contact ever made from the aircraft. Shortly after, it disappeared from radar screens. Since then conspiracies and accusations have been swirling.

They range, as The Guardian says, from ‘a pilot “gone rogue” to sabotage and conspiracies that the flight was shot down or “disappeared” by a nefarious government agency and landed at a dark site, either because of sensitive cargo or a politically significant passenger.

‘For months, the missing passengers were under scrutiny, with allegations one or a group had commandeered the plane in an elaborate murder-suicide. Less dramatic, non-human factors have been looked at too, including electrical failure, fire or sudden depressurisation of the cockpit.’

The rogue pilot theory, the newspaper claims, ‘gained further airtime when data recovered from a home-built flight simulator owned by Zaharie showed someone had plotted a course to the southern Indian Ocean.’

One theory is that the pilot encountered an emergency such as a fire or depressurisation and turned back towards Malaysia but was overcome by fumes or lack of oxygen. In the confusion, someone might have accidentally turned off the communication equipment. MH370 then became a ‘ghost flight’ in which its occupants are dead but the aircraft continues on autopilot

In this scenario, Shah is supposed to have locked his co-pilot, first officer Fariq Hamid, 27, who was on his final training flight, out of the cockpit, switched off all communications equipment, put on an oxygen mask, depressurised the main cabin, causing the rapid incapacitation of everyone in the cabin within minutes, and continued flying either on autopilot or under his own control until the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the ocean.

Another theory is that Zaharie encountered an emergency such as a fire or depressurisation and turned back towards Malaysia but was overcome by fumes or lack of oxygen, known as hypoxia. In the confusion, Zaharie or Fariq might have accidentally turned off communication equipment. The plane would then have continued as a ‘ghost flight’, in which its occupants are dead but the aircraft continues on autopilot.

The immediate search concentrated in the South China Sea between Malaysia and Vietnam, but satellite data analysed over the following days suggested the plane took a drastic deviation from its programmed flightpath. It turned back on itself, tracked across the Malay Peninsula and then flew northwest up the Strait of Malacca and out across the Andaman Sea where it headed south into the Indian ocean. It seemed improbable that something so large, so tangible and so technically advanced could vanish. But it had.

UK communications company Inmarsat, which operates systems used by airlines, analysed hourly routine datalinks between its satellite and MH370. These ‘handshakes’ contained no information but confirmed that the aircraft had continued flying south for six hours after it went out of radar range. On March 24, Malaysia’s Prime Minister cited this analysis to conclude that MH370 had run out of fuel and ditched. There were no survivors, he said. 

The Inmarsat data, along with data about the plane’s fuel level and performance allowed analysts to identify a wide 100-kilometre arc in which the plane was likely to have crashed. From this target area, oceanographers predicted that any debris from the plane would float westward toward Africa. 

MH370 Flight path

In July 2015 a wing section from the plane was found on a beach on Réunion Island. In the following months other pieces were found along the east coast of Madagascar and the west coast of Africa. 

‘For months, the missing passengers were under scrutiny, with allegations one or a group had commandeered the plane. Less dramatic, non-human factors have been looked at too, including electrical failure, fire or sudden depressurisation of the cockpit’

Another independent investigator, US businessman and adventurer Blaine Gibson, went hunting for pieces of the plane, directed by Charitha Pattiaratchi, a professor of coastal oceanography at the University of Western Australia. Seven months after the first find, Gibson discovered a piece. He kept looking, found more, and encouraged locals to report any finds. To date, 39 pieces of debris have been collected which have been confirmed to be from the plane, or to be highly probable from the plane. So far around 20 people in six countries have found wreckage, mostly locals. Four more pieces have been notified to the Malaysian authorities and are still awaiting collection and analysis.

The subsequent undersea search covered 120,000 square kilometres and was suspended in January 2017 ‘until further credible evidence’ could pinpoint a more specific location. In January 2018, the Government of Malaysia accepted an offer by private search specialists Ocean Infinity to continue the search for 90 days on a no win, no fee basis. This also failed to locate the wreckage after searching 112,000 square kilometres.  

Information Vacuum


In the meantime, the vacuum of information about MH370 has been filled by conspiracy. Last year Netflix broadcast a three-part documentary series. Along with the pilot suicide theory, it promoted two other scenarios. In one, Russian agents hacked into the aircraft’s command systems and flew it north to Kazakhstan, then covered up the mission by doctoring satellite data and planting fake debris. In the other, the plane was shot down by the US because the hold contained sensitive hi-tech equipment that the CIA did not want China to obtain.

For a generation brought up with The X Files, these conspiracies have proved irresistible. Online, the MH370 debate is a rabbit hole filled with dubious ‘experts’, attention seekers and trolls. Godfrey and Gibson are frequent targets. Gibson claims to have had death threats and no longer tells interviewers where he is. He has variously been accused of being a CIA operative and a Russian agent. He says he is neither.

‘Netflix presented three explanations, one was theory, two were fantasy,’ he says. ‘The problem is, how much influence does that have on the public and does the public then influence the politicians who decide whether to agree a contract with a new search operator?’ he asks. ‘It’s sad because conspiracy theories do a disservice to the efforts of the families and the scientists who have worked on this.”

Geoffrey Thomas is one of the independent participants keeping the pressure on the authorities to restart the search, primarily by dispelling disinformation and covering developments in the website he runs,

‘Social media has allowed a lot of theories to propagate, most of which have no evidence to back them up. But they are covered in the mainstream media, nonetheless,’ he says. ‘We strive to be one of the only consistent and factual portals for MH370 coverage in the world, steadfastly refusing to get involved with all the conspiracies, even though that would have done wonders for our web traffic.

messages at Kuala Lumpar airport for missing flight MH370
The families and the whole world wants to find out what happened to missing flight MH370

‘At the end of the day the poor relatives are on this hideous roller coaster with one story after another, one accusation after another, while all the disinformation and confusion detract from valid new evidence.’

Thomas believes the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency, should take over responsibility for any renewed search, which Godfrey is confident will happen later this year.

‘I think it will only take one more search and I think we will find it,’ Godfrey says. ‘On one hand we have a more precise location and on the other the technology for searching underwater has improved enormously.’

He is in discussions with several other undersea search specialists interested in taking up the challenge, some of whom have indicated a willingness to do so without an agreement from Malaysia. 

‘At the end of the day the poor relatives are on this hideous roller coaster with one story after another, one accusation after another, while all the disinformation and confusion detract from valid new evidence’

‘If independent people hadn’t got involved, it would have ended with the official search and the agreement between Australia, China and Malaysia that in the absence of any credible evidence no further searching would happen,’ he says. ‘The issue would have faded away over time. The number of people pushing for a new search and writing papers and putting analysis forward has kept the subject alive.’

Simon Maskell, Professor of Autonomous Systems Electrical Engineering and Electronics at Liverpool University and another independent expert involved in the case, cautions that Godfrey’s WSPR map needs further testing and refinement before any searches are launched. However, as a co-author of some of Godfrey’s papers, Prof Maskell, an advisor on Ocean Infinity’s search, says that its almost certain the central thesis of the technique, that aircraft change radio waves as they fly through them, is correct. 

New Evidence

‘My aim is to produce two peer-reviewed publications, one on the detection performance of the method and one on the search area results,’ he says. ‘I want to be able to definitely state whether or not WSPR has information in it pertinent to MH370 and if so, my intent then is to incorporate the WSPR data into the information used to assess the original search criteria.’

So far it looks promising and Maskell and his team are testing more data. 

In the interim, others dismiss the new developments. Jeff Wise is a journalist whose podcast, Deep Dive MH370, probes the mystery. He appeared on the Netflix documentary as a proponent of the Russian hacker theory.

‘No one thinks the WSPR stuff works,’ he says. ‘We are operating in a very challenging information environment. There are a lot of major holes in the pilot suicide theory and a lot of the holes line up.’ 

Aviation expert Richard Godfrey
Aviation expert Richard Godfrey claims he can find the missing MH370 plane 10 years after it vanished

He says that the tenth anniversary episode of his podcast will reveal shattering new evidence.

There are admittedly still a lot of questions, especially for the families of those onboard, and those fearful of flying who are scared that a plane could suddenly vanish, but there are also a lot of answers and Godfrey’s input, if correct, will help refine a much tighter search area.

‘It is more likely than not that WSPR data detected MH370,’ says Maskell, ‘I’m on Richard’s side of the fence. If I thought it was a dead duck I wouldn’t be wasting my time.’

The next window of opportunity for a search is November this year, spring in the southern hemisphere. Maskell and his team are confident that by then they will have completed their analysis. And at that point, if the data stacks up, we may finally find out the answers.

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