Analysis of flight MH370 potential debris trajectories using ocean observations and numerical model results

Joaquin A. Trinanes, M. Josefina Olascoaga, Gustavo J. Goni, Nikolai A. Maximenko, David A. Griffin, Jan Hafner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 disappeared in March 2014. Potential sites of where the plane entered the water are considered within a vast region of the Indian Ocean. We present a methodology to assess the potential crash site based on where airplane debris was found, with an emphasis on the first debris discovery on Reunion Island. This methodology uses the historical dataset of surface drifters and numerical modeling results. Marine debris, depending on its buoyancy, is exposed to varying amounts of wind, and we conducted tests for a suite of different scenarios. The methodology proposed here enables us to generate fields of particle density probability to assess debris trajectories and, therefore, hypothesize on the potential crash site. We provide an estimate of the most likely windage affecting floating debris on its way to Reunion Island by assuming the plane entered the sea in the defined search area. Our results indicate that areas within the Indian Ocean subtropical gyre, including the search area, could be a source of the debris found on Reunion Island. We also identify zones that can be excluded as potential crash sites and provide estimated travel times and probable ashore positions of plane debris through an analysis of the historical surface drifter dataset. Recent discoveries of new debris linked to flight MH370 in Mozambique, South Africa, Mauritius, and Tanzania are consistent with our results and confirm the general westward drift and travel time of debris from the search area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-138
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Operational Oceanography
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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