Data from a flight simulator program found on a computer drive owned by Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah may indicate the pilot was simulating a flight to the US-run McMurdo Station in Antarctica, according to independent experts following the crash.
Twelve members of the MH370 Independent Group of scientists were given a report by an individual “not affiliated with any government entity in any country” which they said appeared to have been compiled “for and by” the Royal Malaysia Police.
Reports in 2014 suggested the drives, or data from them, had been sent to the FBI for forensic analysis.
Proponents of the so-called “rogue pilot” theory seized on a recent report of flight simulator data points in the report as proof that Zaharie glided the aircraft into the ocean in March, 2014, to minimise the force of the impact.
But The Australian Transport Safety Bureau says the evidence continues to point to an uncontrolled ditching involving a series of wave-like oscillations called phugoids ending with the plane smashing into the sea while falling at up to 20,000 ft per minute.
The Independent Group was unable to comment on whether the co-ordinates linked Zaharie to a crime but their analysis clarifies some of the details of the data left on the pilot’s home computer by a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator X.
It said data were on a solid state drive not connected to the computer’s motherboard at the time it was recovered and that the program had been uninstalled from the drive on February 20, 2014.
The data were fragments of files being used by the simulator program and included position coordinates of arbitrary points from a simulator run and saved in a “shadow copy set” on February 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,’’ it said in the analysis.
“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. ‘’
Two additional coordinates recovered from the drive were for an aircraft parked at KLIA but the group was unable to determine whether the six points were from a single flight simulation run.
However, they said their alignment 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” suggested this might be the case.
The ATSB is examining a flap that investigators have already said is “highly likely” to have come from the missing aircraft and which is tipped to provide new insight into whether the aircraft was in a controlled descent.
Meanwhile, one of three ships that had been sweeping the 120,000 sq. km search area left last week.