Another fervent belief that took root early in the search for MH370 and was never corrected can now be dispelled. Namely the notion that it is impossible to know where the plane was located when it pinged its satellite seven times on its way to the bottom of the Indian Ocean. The explanation at the time was that since pings are 360 degree circles, with no beginning or end, and since the plane’s GPS is not included in simple “are you there?” pings, the plane could have been anywhere on the circumference of the radius each time it pinged.
Indeed, that is one reason the search focused on an area thousands of kilometers farther south than the plane could possibly have flown.
There may be instances in which a plane’s exact location cannot be determined. I’ve not investigated the issue thoroughly at this point. But certainly with MH370, it is not true. We have seven of those “no GPS” pings from the plane after it left Kuala Lumpur Airport, never to return. We can pinpoint the plane’s location for each of those pings.
The first ping was broadcast as the plane emerged from Malacca Strait at about 18:25 UTC. We know within a small margin of error where the plane was on that first ping because it was being tracked by Malaysia’s military radar installation minutes earlier.
The illustrations below show the plane’s location for each of seven pings. Pins 1 through 7 are where the plane was when it broadcast that ping. This updated view of it’s final flight is interesting for several reasons. For one thing, notice how intent the pilot was on avoiding the overflight of land areas that might harbor radar or interceptor aircraft. The plane’s track shows that he pulled the plane far to the east to fly directly between Cocos / Keeling and Christmas Island. His original track would have taken him directly over Cocos / Keeling, and that track was also headed toward his apparent destination at Zenith either way.
After passing between the islands, the aircraft was more nearly on a standard air route on a heading that might have taken him to Perth, had he not had other plans and more fuel. But it is unknown if the pilot was mimicking standard air routes that late in his cruel hoax.
A note of caution about the yellow flightpath: we only know where the plane was when it pinged (marked by pins 1 through 7). We can reconstruct those locations using the inverse of the arc for each ping. At all other times, the pilot could have been flying in circles to check for followers. If so, we have no way of knowing about those anomalies. Pin spacing is so consistent, it suggests the pilot was focused on getting it over with; not so much on evasion, except between pings 1 and 2. He may have used it to pull himself together after having murdered his passengers and crew, and may have taken time to check to make sure no one remained aboard who might overpower him.
Pin 7 is where the plane sent the final ping and, we presume, crashed almost immediately. The pilot probably would not have tried to glide to live two minutes longer. In fact, nearly all of the recovered debris was from the right side of the plane, and it suggests that the pilot did not attempt to level the plane’s wings after the RAT generator engaged and pulled the plane to the right.
Three pink pins on the lower right show the location of the only known vessels in the area when the plane crashed.