MH370's lost flaperon: Forensic analysis based on oceanographic expertise

SANDER + PARTNER supports the search for the missing aircraft MH370 of the Malaysian Airlines.

Munich, 2 September 2015

Oceanographic and meteorological expertise adds valuable assistance to limit the search area of MH370. MH370 had lost a part of its wing, called a flaperon. This flaperon traversed the Indian Ocean and was recently found on the isle of La Réunion. SANDER + PARTNER performed computer simulations in order to re-construct the path of the flaperon through the ocean. Oceanographic models are able to reproduce the path of a single part inside the turbulent current of the ocean only in parts. Instead our simulation tracks thousands of "virtual" particles.

In a first simulation we followed the path of thousands of particles back in time, starting with the date when the flaperon was found on La Réunion.

The movie shows the tracks of "virtual" particles which have been released on 29 July 2015, the date when the part of MH370's wing was found at La Réunion. The simulation shows the paths through the ocean back in time until the date when MH370 disappeared.

Click here to show the movie in a new window.

The dark-blue area shows the current search area where survey vessels are searching for the missing aircraft. The light-blue area indicates the regions where the flaperon may have been submerged into the water one, two, three ... weeks before it reached La Réunion on 29 July 2015. The green lines show the path through the ocean for some randomly selected "virtual" particles.

Oceanographic simulations support the search for MH370

  1. The simulation indicate with high degree of certainty, that the flaperon found at La Réunion had submerged into the northern part of the Indian Ocean, north of 20° south.
  2. The simulation indicate that the flaperon could -in principle- impinge into the ocean anywhere between Africa and the Malaysian archipelago to reach La Réunion at 29 July 2015.
  3. With high certainty, the flaperon did not touch waters south of the Australian Coast.

MH370 did not loose the flaperon in the current search area south of the Australian coast.

Latest oceanographic modelling shows that MH370 did not loose the flaperon south of Australia.

A last ping from MH370 was received from satellite somewhere on an arc crossing the whole Indian Ocean. Currently vessels are searching for MH370 along a tiny fraction along this arc at the Australian coast.

Additional simulations have been prepared, but now thousands of "virtual" particles have been released into the Indian Ocean currents inside the search area.

The movie shows the latest simulation: "virtual" particles follow the oceanographic drift starting with the date of disappearing MH370 and within the current search corridor (shown as blue line). The simulation follow the path of the particles until the date when the flaperon has been found on La Réunion. The path of the drifting particles is shown as red lines.

Click here to show the movie in a new window.

Key findings:

  1. Oceanographic simulations of SANDER + PARTNER indicate that the flaperon of MH370 found at La Réunion did not drift through the Indian Ocean starting from the current search area.
  2. With high degree of certainty, the flaperon submerged into the Indian Ocean north of 20° south.
  3. One might speculate whether MH370 lost the flaperon at an early stage of its flight and the damaged aircraft continued traveling further south into the current search area until MH370 run out of fuel.
  4. Whenever the flaperon was released into the ocean at the same time when the aircraft submerged, the search corridor for MH370 should be moved further north.


SANDER + PARTNER provides services at the cutting edge between science and industrial needs. We provide consultancy services with focus on renewable energies, climate change and other topics related to met-ocean applications. Our services are asked by clients in the financing industries, banks, devloppers of re-newable energies and ministries around the World.

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