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.