I have now been able to determine where each of seven pings were exchanged between MH370 and its 3-F1 satellite on March 8, 2014. This comes two years after publishing the math that places the plane itself in deep water on the southwest edge of a large Seamount known as Zenith Plateau. Zenith lies due west of Exmouth, Western Australia, and about 1,800 kilometers northwest of Perth, Australia.
The math used to determine the crash site is similar to the math used to pinpoint the location of each ping: a combination of geometry used for Sagitta and Annulus analyses. Some of it is already posted on this website.
The only remaining uncertainty in the plane’s track lies between Pings 1 and 3 where the pilot appears to have spent an hour or more circling above southern Bay of Bengal between Sri Lanka and the Nicobar Islands. Unless there is a record of that in the FDR, and unless it can be recovered and deciphered, we will never know for sure where the plane was prior to heading south to Zenith around 20:00 UTC.
The flightpath suggests that the pilot was in full control of the aircraft during its final 7-hour 36-minute flight. That is, it did not fly in a straight path and probably couldn’t have been programmed with Auto Pilot to take the route it flew. At no time did it fly a “straight” compass heading. There were many tweaks from the cockpit.
So, while it seems that the pilot had a specific destination in mind prior to the plane’s departure from Kuala Lumpur, the moment-to-moment track he took was somewhat fluid, depending on vessel traffic below, and perhaps other considerations. And while the rest of the world had no way of knowing what was happening aboard the plane, the pilot presumably had full access to normal broadcast flight chatter. The big picture appears to be: 1) the pilot preplanned the terminal location (Zenith), and he did not deviate from it; 2) the pilot gave wide berth to the Cocos and Keeling Islands. The pilot’s heading between pings #2 and #3 would have taken him directly over Cocos-Keeling; but he slowly altered the course to avoid the Islands, and then abruptly flew the plane between Cocos-Keeling and Christmas Island to the east. One oddity about this, as Aviation Author Mark D. Young has pointed out, is that the Cocos-Keeling Islands have no military resources, no chase planes, and not much radar. But it was enough to make Zaharie Shah cautious.
The illustration below shows the peculiar flight path from start to finish. The seafloor where the yellow track ends is about 6 kilometers below the surface.