Monday, January 18, 2016

A Human Factors Aspect to MH370—It's Not Just Math

I've been musing for the past few weeks on my observation about the turn towards Mecca that may, or may not, have happened. I'm not someone inclined to work out the Inmarsat data and calculate all those scary formulas. I've gotten myself out there by posting what I thought really happened that night. What I failed to convey, I think, is that what happened to MH370 is a very human one.

My turn-towards-Mecca theory has been decried as not meeting the "ping ring" critera—mostly, I think—because I don't accept a straight path scenario. I've been quite clear that what I believe is just that: what I believe. I don't put it out there as the correct one, or even the only one. It's just one of many scenarios

I accept that the arcs do indeed represent a "somewhere along this line" location for MH370. So regardless of my personal hunch, the reality is that the arcs must be considered in any scenario one can concoct.

So in that vein, I want to share that my initial thought, looking at the arcs, was that there must have been some kind of turn towards the east in order to widen the gaps between the 21:40, 22:40, and the final ping (missing, of course, the 23:40 ping). It seemed visually evident that something changed in the direction of MH370 sometime after 21:40.

I say "visually" because I am disinclined to do all that heavy math. Besides, frankly, although I get the concept, I do not possess the skill set to crunch those kinds of numbers. I'll just let the creative side of my brain sort it out.

So when I worked out what may have happened, and really guessed about how far MH370 travelled in between pings, I came up with my estimate of when that turn towards the Mecca may have occurred (if indeed it happened at all). The next thing was all about trying to hit that arc around 0010z. To do that required pointing my vector towards the sun and see if the time/distance would work out roughly close.

It did. But this was simple circle drawing. No math involved.

Last week I wondered about the cloud cover. Just what did the pilot see as fuel was running lower than he'd ever seen it before? I found some archived satellite IR/visual satellite images that I overlaid in GoogleEarth, and roughly put them in place using the Australian and Sumatra coastlines to fix the images.

Another insightful moment.

With less than an hour's worth of fuel, there appears to be a solid undercast that was along the route if a southerly route was to be re-established. From experience, I know that this would have appeared to be a solid (or nearly solid) undercast all the way to the horizon for the pilot. Simply as a human factors thing, I tried to imagine the choice to be made: continue on and run out of fuel over an undercast, descend below the undercast while fuel remained, or try to find a path that offered clearer skies.

Not that he needed visual conditions of course. As an experienced aviator, flying through clouds was a routine experience. He was looking to set up the final plunge, and needed to ensure there were no ships around to witness it.

So he continued to fly along the dividing line between the undercast clouds, and the relatively clear area north of it.

As fuel began to dwindle to a precious few minutes, he would have started a descent below the clouds, sometime about 30 minutes before fuel exhaustion. Managing the fuel to ensure the tanks were nearly empty, his final plunge would have occurred on the clear area, north of the extensive cloud cover he was seeing to the south.

The images I include in this entry reflect an overview of the southerly path, and the diversion towards the NW, followed by a turn towards the sun. The zoomed in image shows a closer view of the last two hours.

Yes. Pure speculation with not one fact to back any of this up. Well, there are a few facts. The ping rings, the cloud cover, and the best estimate of time of fuel exhaustion.

Put this all together, and it ends at a location that is really close to the sonar pings heard on April 6th. Really close.

If MH370 is not found by June 2016 in the current search area, it will reaffirm in my mind that they've been looking in the wrong spot—guided there by math, having not considered the human factor.

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