Captain Zaharie Shah’s Recovered Flight Simulator Information: Preliminary Assessment from the MH370 Independent Group

Captain Zaharie Shah’s Recovered Flight Simulator Information: Preliminary Assessment from the MH370 Independent Group 

Victor Iannello, Don Thompson, Michael Exner,
Richard Godfrey, Brian Anderson, Yap Fooh Fah,
Barry Carlson, Thomas Kenyon, Henrik Rydberg,
Sid Bennett, Geoff Hyman and Duncan Steel
15th August 2016 


Information related to the disappearance of MH370 was recently shared with the Independent Group (IG) by an individual who is not affiliated with any government entity in any country. The information appears to be part of a report compiled for and by the Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) and includes contributions from other Malaysian agencies. In this report, it is stated that data related to a flight simulator game were found on Captain Zaharie Shah’s home computer. The IG makes the following preliminary assessment, which is based on the content of the RMP report:

  1. Simulator data from the Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) game were found on a solid state drive that was not electrically connected to the computer motherboard at the time it was recovered. The FSX game was uninstalled from that drive on 20th February 2014. The report did not provide any information on why the computer was in this state.
  2. The data of interest are fragments of *.FLT files, this being the format used by FSX to store parameters, including position coordinates at arbitrary points during a run of the simulator. The data were saved in a Shadow Copy Set, and were last modified on 3rd February 2014.
  3. The coordinates, if all from one simulation run, suggest the departure of a B777-200LR aircraft from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), a flight up the Malacca Strait, a turn to the south, and a termination in the Southern Indian Ocean near 45S 104E. This path is shown as a black line in Figure 1.
  4. A path connecting the turn and the final coordinates, when extrapolated further as a great circle, aligns with airfields servicing the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, which may have been chosen as the destination in the simulation. This extrapolation is also indicated in Figure 1.
  5. Within the Shadow Copy Set, there were two additional coordinates that were recovered for an aircraft parked at KLIA. No other coordinates recovered from the Shadow Copy Set, if there were any, were included in the RMP report.
  6. Although we cannot determine that the six points (see Table 1) are all from a single flight simulation run, the alignments of the points and the progressive depletion in fuel level, leading to an unpowered descent from an altitude of 37,600 feet down to 4,000 feet over a short distance, suggest the coordinates may well be related to the same flight simulation.
  7. A preliminary analysis of the flight data, derived by the IG from the data found on the solid state drive, is summarized in Table 1.
  8. We have no comment on whether these data link Captain Zaharie Shah to a crime.
  9. Work continues within the IG to better understand and validate the data, and to determine whether the data can be used to refine the search area for the aircraft.


Table 1. Parameters Derived from the Raw Simulator Data




Figure 1: Flight paths into the southern Indian Ocean. In black: the simulated flight path obtained by connecting the coordinates found on Captain Zaharie Shah’s home computer. The grey line is an extrapolation of that path; point 5 in Table 1 is within a few kilometres of the great circle connecting point 4 and the airfield NZPG at McMurdo. In yellow, a representative flight path ending near the 7th arc and 37S from among those modelled by the Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) in Australia, and used by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) in defining the priority underwater search area (as shown by the green box).


Why the 60 Minutes TV programme was wrong

Why the 60 Minutes TV programme was wrong

Michael Exner
August 11, 2016


The 60 Minutes episode concerning the loss of MH370 as broadcast recently on Channel 9 in Australia contained numerous errors. In particular the logic behind Larry Vance’s theory (that the damage to the flaperon and flap from the aircraft demonstrates that a controlled ditch must have occurred) is fatally flawed.

Vance looked at the flaperon photographs and within seconds, according to his own words, concluded that the leading and trailing edge damage patterns could only be explained by a water landing with the flaps deployed. Vance makes no attempt to consider all the other evidence that has been assembled. He then reasons that at least one engine must have been running at touchdown in order to provide the electrical and hydraulic power which he admits would be required for the flaps to have been be deployed for that touchdown.

This leads him to the further conclusion that all the well-documented evidence showing that fuel exhaustion occurred at high altitude circa 00:17:30 (UTC) must be wrong. In essence, Vance argues that his visual inspection of a few flaperon photos is all he needs to impeach the extensive body of evidence and analysis supporting the belief that fuel exhaustion occurred at about 00:17:30, followed by an APU power-up at about 00:18:30, this being followed by the AES/SDU logon at 00:19:29 and subsequent high speed crash circa 00:21 UTC.

Vance obviously has no understanding of satellite communications systems and the burst frequency offset (BFO) data analysis. He has not even tried to learn what those data can tell us from the SATCOM experts who have studied the information in considerable detail. He simply dismisses everything he does not have the background and experience to understand, and jumps to an alternative conclusion. This is very unprofessional.

The ATSB, Inmarsat, and Boeing have acknowledged from the beginning that the 00:19:29 BFO value indicates a descent rate of about 5,000 ft/min, and in recent interviews and statements, the ATSB has finally gone further and definitively stated that the 00:19:37 BFO value indicates the plane was descending at that time at a speed of 12,000 to 20,000 ft/min, exactly what the Independent Group has consistently argued for the last two years and more.

If one puts all the available evidence on the table, instead of only a few flaperon photos, a very different interpretation of the flaperon damage pattern comes to light. We know with high confidence from the Inmarsat data and fuel consumption analysis that MH370 was at high altitude and flying at over 400 knots when fuel exhaustion occurred circa 00:17:30. The flaps could not have been extended at 400 knots before fuel exhaustion, and following fuel exhaustion, they could not have been extended at any altitude or airspeed. These are facts that Vance ignores. Thus, the trailing edge damage to the flaperon could not possibly have been caused by a flaps-down water landing.

After the final ping at 00:19:37, the fact that there was no signal indicating an IFE logon at  about 00:21:07 is consistent with impact at very high speed sometime between those two times. The debris found recently by Blaine Gibson and several other private citizens is clearly consistent with the above information that indicates a high speed impact.

Given the information cited above, it is much more likely that the flaperon separated in-flight circa 00:20 due to aeroelastic flutter as the aircraft was rapidly descending. The part-flap discovered in Tanzania may also have separated prior to impact due to such flutter. These large pieces of debris were apparently not attached to the plane at the time of the main impact because in that circumstance they would have suffered far more extensive damage. Indeed, from the evidence of the much smaller pieces of debris so far recovered from both the interior and exterior of the plane, it is difficult to imagine how the flaperon and flap segment could have survived the main impact without completely disintegrating (i.e. being shattered into rather smaller pieces).

The evidence that Vance ignores, when combined with the flaperon photos, demonstrate that his statement that the aircraft undoubtedly came down in a controlled ditch is simply wrong. Vance’s statements on 60 Minutes have caused great harm to the search for the truth about what happened to MH370. His continued attempts to justify his definitive statements only exacerbate the situation.


Lying in Plain Sight

Lying in Plain Sight

Duncan Steel
9th August 2016


This has been a peculiar week or so for MH370-watchers in Australia and New Zealand. Amongst other items about MH370 appearing in the mass media was a segment of Channel 9’s 60 Minutes current affairs programme which could best be described as utter buffoonery.

The story – and it was a story, in that it was mostly fictional – told on that programme has been carried by many media outlets around the world. There are too many webpages for me to list on which lazy journalists simply copied text from that program segment.

There were also too many mistakes made in the program for me to describe and contradict them. Just a few, then: (a) No parts of the aircraft interior have been found, we were told, implying that the fuselage remained intact. Wrong. At least three parts of the interior have already been found, and more will surely be, mostly on the coasts of the western Indian Ocean. (b) There should have been at least two million fragments produced, if it were a high-speed impact, and only a few have been found. Nonsense. If there were two million equal-mass fragments, then each would be under 100 grams (based on the 175 tonne aircraft mass after fuel exhaustion). You can’t recognise parts that small as being definitely from a B777. What has been recognised has been about 20 pieces that floated (a sharp selection effect there) with masses of a few kilograms upwards. The drift analysis is consistent with there having been about 10,000 such items starting their slow voyages across the Indian Ocean from wherever MH370 crashed. 10,000 at a few kilograms each indicates 20, 30, 40 tonnes. Of course the larger flaperon and flap parts that have been found would pull the overall mass of floating debris upwards. (c) The damage to the trailing edges of the flaperon and part-flap could only be caused by a controlled ditching. Again, nonsense. As the IG pointed out very soon after the flaperon was found, the trailing edge damage and the damage to its connection or hinges to the wing appear to be consistent with high-speed fluttering: once the fuel is exhausted, the hydraulic power that would damp the flaperon’s motion is lost, and it would be expected to flutter at a high rate (perhaps 10-20 hertz) until failure. Look up the Boeing manuals, folks. It may well be that these two large items remained intact because they detached from the aircraft some time before hitting the ocean, and so actually dropped at a lower speed due to their size and shape compared to the overall aircraft.

Now an article has appeared today in The Australian newspaper that is almost the definition of ‘old news’. The article begins:

Exhaustive analysis by Defence scientists of automated signals ­received from Flight MH370 in its final moments has revealed that the Malaysia Airlines jet fell very fast — up to 20,000 feet a minute — as it crashed into the Indian Ocean off Western Australia.

The scientists have found that happened at 8.19am (WA time) on March 9, 2014, after the aircraft ran out of fuel…

If you had been following the various posts/papers that have appeared on this website (this is the 97th, I think) you would know that the Independent Group (IG) has been saying this for a long, long time.

Here I wrote the following:

A rapid dive/descent is evidenced by various pieces of information, including: (a) The two final BFO values, spaced by eight seconds, which are indicative of a downward acceleration of about 0.7g, if they are interpreted as being valid indicators of the aircraft speed; (b) The fact that the final SATCOM logon was not completed, which should have occurred within about 90 seconds of the process that prompted the above two BFO values; (c) Simulator runs that show a spiral dive commencing once all power is lost; (d) Fragments of the aircraft now being found, which might be interpreted as implying a very violent crash in which the aircraft disintegrated. These matters have largely been discussed in previous posts here. This dive scenario is consistent with there being no conscious/able person left at the controls of the aircraft in this very final phase of the flight. 

That was only five months ago, on 7th March 2016. However, I was merely repeating what the IG had been saying for a long time. For example, on 26th September 2014 an IG statement was published on this website, saying the following (amongst other matters):

Although questions may remain as to the interpretation of the BFO values at 00:19:29 and 00:19:37 (182 Hz and then –2 Hz, compared to the steady, linear increase to 252 Hz at 00:11:00), there is no reason to reject the recorded values outright. The BFO values cannot be explained by an onboard AES-compensated horizontal speed in any direction. The fact that there were no more records logged after 00:19:37 we interpret as being due to the aircraft having crashed very soon thereafter, consistent with the final two BFO values representing a rapid downward trajectory.

The rate-of-descent we calculate from the final BFO value is approximately 15,700 feet per minute. This is an almost vertical dive at 287 km per hour (155 knots). The descent rate was very likely increasing rapidly (i.e. accelerating under gravity, only limited by the aircraft drag). 

If the article in The Australian is correct in what it says as quoted above, so that the official investigators have only just come to the stated conclusion, then there are various Australian Government employees who should be ashamed of themselves; there would be many Australian taxpayers who will be furious; and there should be some Australian politicians tearing into the Government in Canberra. This is a national disgrace.

The article in The Australian continues:

The Australian has been told in a series of briefings that simulations by Boeing, the aircraft’s manufacturer, indicate that once engine power was lost, MH370 would have slowed and lost lift. Its nose would have dropped and it would have descended in what the scientists call a fugoid motion in a series of downward swoops.

It happens that IG member Mike Exner took it upon himself to make use of his aviation industry contacts and conduct just such a set of simulated flights in an industry-standard B777 simulator. This was in early November 2014. When I watched the movie of the simulated plunge from the skies, the experience made me feel green with motion sickness. (Memo to The Australian  journalists and sub-editors: it’s normally spelled phugoid because it’s derived from ancient Greek.)

I just did a search on my own website, and find that the first suggestion of phugoid motion appeared in a comment made on April 9th, 2014. That’s four weeks after MH370 was lost. On April 10th, Brian Anderson of the IG (which at that stage did not yet exist) wrote on my website:

I have a good description of a real B777 full motion Sim test, done to see what happens at fuel exhaustion. To paraphrase briefly, – – one engine fails, the aircraft maintains stable flight on track and altitude, but at reduced speed. At the point the second engine fails the autopilot drops out and a series of phugoids develops with an increasing descent rate on each cycle. Shortly into this the RAT [ram air turbine] is deployed automatically, and some electrical systems come alive. The APU tried an auto restart but failed [ – – no fuel]. The phugoids continue until the end.

In various reports, such as here (and dated 26th September 2014) the IG described the expected phugoid motion and overall rapid descent after the aircraft apparently ran out of fuel at altitude.

Now, more than 22 months after the IG published that report, and 29 months after MH370 was lost, The Australian newspaper is apparently saying that this phugoid motion is a new discovery on the part of Boeing, using their flight simulators. What is going on?

About all I can do is to appeal to the media in Australia to take seriously the idea of the Fourth Estate. The people at 60 Minutes may have thought that they were doing their bit, but they stuffed up, adding to the noise rather than improving the signal, by broadcasting things that are demonstrably false, and indeed even silly. The Australian has now published as ‘news’ things that should have been known to the official investigators more than two years ago.

Why does this matter, in terms of the underwater search that has cost so much of Australian taxpayers’ money? The answer is because the search has been conducted in the wrong place.

Early on the end points calculated by IG members were indeed further south than we have been advocating for a long time, because we had made various assumptions that we later recognised to be dubious or false (e.g. an early Final Major Turn southwards; ‘straight line’ paths rather than the possibility of a gradual trend eastwards because of the autopilot by default following a path defined by magnetic north rather than true north), but as we understood more that southerly end point suggestion was revised and in several posts we have pointed to likely crash locations further north. (“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?” – John Maynard Keynes.)

Whilst we have not been afraid to look at alternatives (for example here, and here), we have been saying for a long, long time that the final BFOs, and other information, point towards a spiral dive from altitude and therefore that MH370 must have crashed close to the 7th arc. For most of the past year the expensive underwater search has generally been covering areas spaced ever-further from the 7th arc, but at latitudes south of 35S. This is wrong: those areas would require a long glide, which is contraindicated by the information we have. A rapid descent would imply a crash close to the 7th arc. Again, the IG has been saying this for a long time:

The occurrence of a near-vertical spiral dive[*] has significant implications in reducing the width of the target search area, as mentioned previously. We argue that the aircraft could not have flown far beyond the 7th arc before crashing into the ocean, if it went beyond that arc at all: the BFO data at that time (00:19:29 and 00:19:37) indicate that MH370 was in a tight spiral dive (radius below 1 NM) over the 7th arc and therefore the crash may actually have been just inside that arc.

(IG progress report of 26th September 2014 again.)

[*Note dated 2016/08/09: This specific phrase “a near-vertical spiral dive” was perhaps too strong and/or misleading; in retrospect we would likely write “a rapid descent, perhaps with phugoids, evolving into a spiral dive“. At that stage we did not yet have Mike Exner’s experiences in a B777 simulator to work from, those simulator runs occurring about a month after the above statement was written.]

Regarding that “tight spiral dive”: take a look at the report published today in The Australian, and what is on the large piece of paper on the table in the photograph at the head of the article. Do those curly lines look like a couple of tight spiral dives to you? Such spiral dives ending with crashes near the 7th arc were not only discussed, but also graphically illustrated, in posts by IG members Brian Anderson and Richard Godfrey in April and May 2015 (see here and here).

The best place to search is near that 7th arc, but further north. If you look at various posts published on this website, you will see that several lines of evidence have been pulled together that are consistent with a crash near the 7th arc, but between latitudes of 28S and 35S. That’s where the underwater search should have been looking.


Space Scientist, Author & Broadcaster