Did they find the lost plane?

April 5, 2014 • 4:54 am

I just got this on my emailed CNN News bulletin, but can’t find confirmation anywhere else:

Chinese ship discovers pulse signal with frequency of 37.5 kHz in southern Indian Ocean, state news agency Xinhua says.

According to Hydro International, that’s the right frequency for a “black box” (my emphasis):

All commercial air transport (CAT) aircraft are fitted with underwater locator beacons to assist in the relocation of black box flight data recorders (FDRs) and cockpit voice recorders (CVRs). These beacons are free-running pingers transmitting at an acoustic frequency of 37.5kHz with a claimed battery life of at least 30 days.

I hope this doesn’t prove to be one of the many false alarms, for the relatives and friends of those aboard the Malaysia Air flight have had a horribly emotional roller-coaster ride. I suspect, however, that this is indeed the plane.


UPDATE: As one reader noted below, the ABC News said this:

The signal was detected by the Haixun 01 vessel around 25 degrees south latitude and 101 degrees east longitude, the Xinhua agency reports.

However there is no evidence so far that the signal is linked to MH370.

I’d say, however, that since the signals last only 30 days, and there’s no evidence of other planes having gone down in the area in the last year, this is evidence linking the signal to the Malaysia Air flight.


39 thoughts on “Did they find the lost plane?

  1. The BBC has this:

    “Plane search ship ‘picks up signal’

    Chinese ship searching for missing Malaysian plane picks up pulse signal – no indication it is from flight #MH370

    More to follow.”

  2. Wow, I was beginning to think we were never going to know what happened to that plane. I hope it’s not a mistake.

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  4. Don’t get too excited – yet.

    According to the Professional Pilot’s Rumour Network (Pprune.org), who normally are extremely well informed, this is what happened: “Chinese search patrol vessel picks up (hears) a ”ping” pulse signal (reportedly the same 37.5Khz frequency as used by a FDR black box) sadly NOT recorded by them as it took them by surprise – using underwater sonar in the South Indian Ocean some 2/3 degrees south of the Australian search area they made yesterday”.

    Now there are some VERY interesting search assets in the area ( for example the UK nuclear sub HMS Tireless plus the survey ship HMS Echo) which might be able to verify the brief ping.


    1. Being jaded hyper-skeptic, I speculate that some military freak on a submarine faked a ping to test Chinese detection technology.
      Sorry, I’m a jaded hyper-skeptic.

      1. I doubt anybody faked anything. But I also doubt it’s a signal from the flight 370 pinger. I hope it’s real, for the sake of all, but odds have to be it’s just a false alarm. It would be an astonishing coincidence for the ship to be listening in just the right place. They can only drag the microphone at about 5 kt, and it only has a range of a few miles, and the area where the plane only just might have gone down is vast. They chose the frequency carefully to try to minimize the background noise, but I would guess it’s no panacea. There might be no natural sources at that frequency, but here we have other ships and a submarine in the area.

        I’m hoping for the best, but bracing for disappointment.

  5. I tuned in to CNN because the BBC is preoccupied with sports on Saturday and can report that the tone was one of blame. Instead of being grateful and hopeful, CNN commentators are finding fault with the Chinese for not following the “chain of command”. In the eyes of CNN the Australians are in charge of the investigation. So CNN is disturbed that Australian authorities have not yet made a statement 11 hours after the first reports from China.

    1. Just my take. When the Malaysians withhold information, the tone is the same. CNN commentators don’t miss a lick in attributing anything that could possibly be questioned to Asian authoritarianism, incompetence, trickery, or national rivalries. The eventuality of defective or unreliable American or British technology is never brought up. Not even, and especially, Boeing’s unforgivable building of a jumbo that can’t be tracked. The entire task force is off Australia on the force of six alleged Doppler-shifted pings (the info has never been divulged) supposed to be from MH370. To my ears the CNN “Us smart, you dumb!” discourse sounds racist.

    1. Too complicated. Too Risky. No motive. How do you keep 225 passengers in line? How do you hide, fuel and fly a used 777 without maintenance? Shelf-life wouldn’t be very long.

      1. This has been my problem with the hijacking hypotheses. What happened to the 230 people on the plane, were they all just ushered down into a bunker and shot in the head? With none of their mobile phones finding a cell and pinging at all? And WHY on earth would anyone do this? Unless there was something on that plane to make this enormous effort worthwhile (which they aren’t telling us about)it’s just pointless. No one would go to all that trouble for a Boeing. It would be easier to just buy one.

        1. If it was the pilots themselves who were the “hijackers,” the passengers would have been easy to “deal with.” Pull the fuse on the emergency oxygen system, grab their own personal O2 bottles, gradually lower cabin pressure, wait half an hour, and, even if there’re any survivors, they’ll all be permanently brain damaged.

          But, as you mention: that still leaves the cellphones. And radar — the national defense kind, that doesn’t rely on transponders. And you’ve still got to land the plane, hide it once it’s on the ground, and at least re-fuel it. Where are you going to find thirty thousand gallons of Jet-A without raising suspicions? And so on.

          You’re right: any operation that could pull off something like that could just as easily buy its own airliner; a mere quarter million gets you your own 737-200. After all, this hypothetical terrorist cell already has its own jumbo jet airfield, allegedly abandoned. Hell, just spruce up the place, advertise it as open for operations, and steal one of the planes on the ground when the day comes to do the dastardly deed.


          1. When asked to choose between incompetence or conspiracy, always choose incompetence, or just dumb bad luck. Conspiracy is so hard.

            1. Though there are successful conspiracies. Hell, 9/11 is a perfect example: the 19 hijackers conspired to commandeer four planes and crashed them all, three into their intended targets. That was a pretty rousingly successful conspiracy.

              And there’s also opportunism. Never mind that the 9/11 attackers were Saudis led by a Saudi prince; Bush used the attack as an excuse to cozy up to Saudi Arabia and to attack Iraq and Afghanistan — two countries he had had a hard-on for invading ever since before his dad was voted out of office.

              (As well as incompetence: no matter what the truth, the “My Pet Goat” response was so profoundly, embarrassingly incompetent it’s excruciatingly painful. Bush probably should have been accidentally shot in the back of the head by his SS guard for cowardice in the face of enemy action.)


              1. Oh indeed they do, but from a statistical perspective they are rare compared with incompetence. Of course the opportunism of politicians is legendary. We had famous example here where the then Prime Minister announced that the people on a boat full of refugees that had shown up on the coast, had chucked the children overboard to force the navy to rescue them and bring them all into Australia. It’s known as “The children overboard scandal” since it was all a big fat lie. It worked though, the conservatives were re-elected for another term, even though it was discovered soon after the election was over to have been a fraud. They still won’t talk about it and insist it was a misunderstanding. It was was a conspiracy and opportunism at the same time.

      2. I think the rest of that particular conspiracy theory concludes with the jet being used as a (manned) guided missile at some point in the indefinite future. They would have killed the passengers long ago, perhaps even in-flight with anoxia. The plane then only has to make one more flight.

        I don’t buy this particular conspiracy theory any more than I buy any of the other reports of debris here or pings there or oil slicks over there. There aren’t many places you can land a 777 and take it off again from, and I’m sure they were all searched post haste. Those things are hard to hide, too. If it’s in an hangar or if it’s been camouflaged or the like…well, now we’re talking an expensive operation with lots of people. And none of them have bragged about it at a bar yet? Not to mention, there’s no advantage to be had in waiting this long before flying the thing into its target, unless there’s some particular even they’re waiting for — with no obvious candidates.


        1. Yeah the no one claiming they committed the act of terrorism or telling someone else is the main reason I don’t buy the hijacking scenario. I think really, it is just hard for people to accept that shit malfunctions sometimes.

          1. It’s hard to imagine a malfunction that would cause the alleged course deviation. That course deviation doesn’t seem very well established to me, but if it happened then it seems most likely a criminal act. Otherwise, I would suspect a malfunction, too, like a rapid cabin depressurization. There was a very disturbing one on a Greek 737 I think it was a few years back. The plane overflew it’s destination. Fighters were sent to meet it, but there was no sign of life. I’m remembering that one of the passengers who happened to be a general aviation pilot managed to get an oxygen bottle, got into the cockpit but couldn’t revive the crew and couldn’t figure out how to disengage the autopilot before his bottle ran out.

    2. I read the Ledgerwood theories you referred, seems very interesting – MH370 is hijacked by its own pilot and he flew the plane in the wake of another similar plane SQ68, that coincidentally had very smilar path at the precise time. It explained the puzzling zigzags, and sudden disapperance over Andaman (because it merged with SQ68)…

      Very interesting, it also lined up with the Inmarsat pings findings (the northern arc). And Ledgerwood is a pilot, seems quite rational, not sensational seeking, and he suggests more data to prove / disprove his theory (i.e. if he could get the Inmarsat pings comparison between the MH370 and SQ68).

      Of course it assumed the pilot is the bad guy, and it does not explain why so far no follow up, and definitely do not jibe well with current Inmarsat interpretation of the pings in southern route.

      But these are things that can be scientifically checked out, and will be confirmed later.

      Much more interesting than “I believe …” just-so-stories.

      Thanks for the link. May Science found the truth about MH370 ..

      1. You should also check the follow up by Ledgerwood in:


        where he tried to answer some questions.
        The main hypothese is that this following another plane (SQ68) is very do-able (by an rogue experienced pilot), and whether it correlated to the facts so far.

        I remember reading another theory by another pilot that said what happened is an accident. Fire in the cockpit that knocked up the pilot, but he managed to direct the autopilot to another airport. Here the pilot is a hero that failed.
        But this theory has too many holes, like the zigzags, the timing of offing the transponder and the plane turning is too convenient (which are the strong points in Ledgerwood’s).

        Definitely, this MH370 incident will be the hottest story / movie plots of 2015.
        The pilot could be hero / villain / victim. The plot could be terrorism, nefarious government scheming, mad-millionaire-bondian-villain scheme, or UFOs / jinns / gods.

        The genre could be action, thriller, disaster, horror, and later drama, and much later comedy / spoofs ..

        May Science explains the mystery of MH370 ..

    3. If we’re talking conspiracy theories, how about this one?

      The first thing I noticed about the news on MH370 was how it pushed the CIA’s little problems off the front pages, for a few weeks…

  6. There’ve been to many leads and breakthroughs and discoveries and what=not for me to believe anybody about this case until they’ve got actual pieces of the aircraft in hand, ideally stamped with the serial number.


  7. It’s all over the TV news today here.

    CBC reports this:

    There was an aviation expert interviewed who explained that the searchers need several recordings of a ping, in order to pinpoint the location of the blackbox. They use the first ping, record the GPS coordinates, then motor out at 90 degrees from where their current location till the ping disappears. Then they go in towards the ping till they get the strongest signal, record that on GPS, repeat the process at the next 90 degrees angle, until they get a fairly precise location. He said that this can be done in short order once the coordinates of the first ping have been recorded. And he also said that the battery could last past 30 days, though diminishing in strength.

    To me, the latest sounds like a credible clue.

  8. I’m surprised to learn that the underwater locator beacon of the black box propagates a sound (37.5kHz) well above what humans can hear and almost above the range of what dogs can hear.

    1. Lower frequency bands are populated with engine noise, whale song, wave noise, volcanic bubbling (this is in the approximate area of the spreading ridge between Australia and Antarctica) …
      Sticking humans heads into the water for hours at a stretch has had some ineffectual experimentation by the CIA, but not for it’s efficacy at finding lost planes. The use of dogs was objected to by the RSPCA and their Australian associates.

    2. Well, I think gravel inspector made a good point humourously well but, yes, why would you want humans and dogs to hear the sound when you have a much more reliable technically advanced method of doing so.

  9. We’ll see. At the moment it’s not even evident that the report can be believed. If they caught 3 chirps then why didn’t they scan around some more or slow down to see if they can catch more?

    1. Why if they caught three pings was that all they caught? Doesn’t it ping continuously? That would be a very faint signal. The microphone is not moving very fast so it’s not obvious anything is changing rapidly that’d affect the signal strength.

      I read that the thermocline (if I have it right, i.e., there is a rapid change to lower temperature at a certain deep depth) can cause the pings to be reflected away from the surface. Maybe a current could make this vary with time and allow a fortuitous occasional detection.

  10. Here’s a follow up:


    “This morning we were contacted by the Chinese authorities and advised that Haixun 01 had late yesterday afternoon redetected the signals for 90 seconds within just two kilometres of the original detection…This is an important and encouraging lead, but one which I urge you to continue to treat carefully”

    (A quote from Retired Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, who is leading the international search effort)

  11. I had noticed that the BBC reported that the Chinese ship was not equipped with a purpose built receiving system so they have adapted some other hydrophone equipment. They have now twice reported briefly hearing something, yet they have not yet managed to record the output. Also they are not reporting having detected a chain of pulses at the right repetition rate.

    If you listen long enough to white noise, trying to discern a signal, you will soon begin to hear bits and scraps of whatever you are waiting to hear. I’ve done it myself.

    Given the extremely small area they have been able to cover with a 1 to 5 knot speed requirement and the improbability that they would start so close to just the right place, I’m concerned that these are a couple of false positives.

    When they have detected multiple consecutive pings on a pass and then again on subsequent passes, then they can report success.

  12. This morning CNN is claiming that MH370 intentionally “evaded” Indonesian military radar! It seems more likely that this narrative represents an Indonesian ploy to disarm suspicions that they may be unable to detect 777s flying overhead. My alternative take is that if the pilots of the partially disabled 777 were flying low (say 2000 m) in search of a place to land, they may have skirted Sumatra (and its military radars) to avoid mountains with >3000 m peaks that form the spine of the island.
    The ‘incident’ took place at 1:30 am after the moon had already set. However, the Southern Cross was high in the sky and would have permitted a fix on true south that a good pilot (superior in almost all respects to most television commentators) could use to aim towards home.
    My suggestion, posted elsewhere, is that MH370 met its fate when it wandered over or cut back across sparsely inhabited northern Sumatra towards Kuala Lumpur. I suggest that Inmarsat’s Doppler effect may have been transmitter drift (perhaps surviving the crash) or some other type of technical error. I am of course willing to eat my words.
    The point is that, with so many unknowns, exploring successive ‘best’ possibilities is not efficient. Searchers need to delimit a set of alternative scenarios (even at the cost of questioning some widely accepted assumptions) that can be explored simultaneously. What is happening now seems like a parody of the Keystone Kops.

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