Reports/RMP/Flight Simulator Analysis/4 Interpretation
Royal Malaysia Police Forensic Investigation of Captain Shah's Flight Simulator
The discovery of data points in the Southern Indian Ocean in data recovered from Captain Shah's personal flight simulator was officially confirmed for the first time when the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) released the report The Operational Search for MH370 on 3 October 2017. The ATSB interpreted the simulator session as though such a flight had been planned only weeks before flight MH370 was diverted.
A second, more conservative, interpretation has since been provided by The Malaysian ICAO Annex 13 Safety Investigation Team for MH370, in the Safety Investigation Report MH370/01/2018 dated 2 July 2018.
Extracts from both Reports are provided below.
a) The Operational Search for MH370
Pilot in Command’s flight simulator
Data from the Pilot-in-Command’s (PIC) home flight simulator was recovered and analysed in March/April 2014. This information was provided to the ATSB on 19 April 2014, during the surface search and was subsequently also analysed for relevance to the underwater search.
The simulator data was a partial reconstruction of a flight simulator session from 2 February 2014. It comprised four complete and two partial data captures of various aircraft and simulator parameters at discrete points during the simulation. The aircraft simulated was a B777-200LR. Information on the data points is summarised below:
- The initial data point indicated an aircraft at Kuala Lumpur airport.
- No useful location or aircraft information apart from simulator time was able to be recovered for the second data point.
- The next two data points indicated an aircraft tracking to the northwest along the Strait of Malacca.
- The aircraft had climbed to an altitude of 40,000 ft by the fourth data point and was in a 20° left bank, 4° nose down, on a heading of 255°.
- The final two data points were close together in the southern Indian Ocean, 820 NM southwest of Cape Leeuwin. The data indicated that the simulated aircraft had exhausted its fuel. The fifth data point was at an altitude of 37,651 ft, the aircraft was in an 11° right bank and heading almost due south at 178°.
- The data for the sixth data point was incomplete. It was 2.5 NM from the previous data point and the aircraft right bank had reduced to 3°.The aircraft was pitched nose down 5° and was on a heading of 193°. At this time there was also a user input of an altitude of 4,000 ft.
The aircraft track from the simulator data points is shown in Figure 74. The track shows the aircraft flying up the Strait of Malacca before a left turn into the southern Indian Ocean. The aircraft then tracks southeast to the fifth data point (assuming that there is no intermediate data point not captured) to fuel exhaustion at the final point. By the last data point the aircraft had flown approximately 4,200 NM. This was further than was possible with the fuel loaded on board the aircraft for flight MH370. Similarly, the simulated aircraft track was not consistent with the aircraft tracks modelled using the MH370 satellite communications metadata.
Figure 74: Simulator data indicative track (and 7th arc)
Source: Google Earth, annotated by ATSB
On the day the simulation was conducted the PIC was on a rostered day of leave. The following day the PIC was rostered to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Denpasar, Bali and return the same day. On 4 February 2014 the PIC was rostered to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The first three data points recovered from the simulator were consistent with the route from Kuala Lumpur to Jeddah. In the weeks between the Jeddah flight and the accident flight the PIC was rostered to fly return flights from Kuala Lumpur to; Denpasar, Beijing, Melbourne and then Denpasar again.
Six weeks before the accident flight the PIC had used his simulator to fly a route, initially similar to part of the route flown by MH370 up the Strait of Malacca, with a left-hand turn and track into the southern Indian Ocean. There were enough similarities to the flight path of MH370 for the ATSB to carefully consider the possible implications for the underwater search area. These considerations included the impact on the search area if the aircraft had been either glided after fuel exhaustion or ditched under power prior to fuel exhaustion with active control of the aircraft from the cockpit.
Source: The operational Search for MH370 ATSB – AE-2014-054 section titled Other search area considerations published by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, 3 October 2017
Note: The MH370 PIC Microsoft flight simulator data analysis was obtained by the Australian Federal Police and provided to AMSA/ATSB (19 April 2014).
b) Safety Investigation Report MH370/01/2018
2) Royal Malaysia Police’s Report on Flight Simulator of PIC
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) seized the PIC’s home flight simulator from the residence of the PIC on 15 March 2014.
The RMP Forensic Report dated 19 May 2014 documented more than 2,700 coordinates retrieved from separate file fragments and most of them are default game coordinates.
It was also discovered that there were seven ‘manually programmed’ waypoint4 coordinates (Figure 1.5A below), that when connected together, will create a flight path from KLIA to an area south of the Indian Ocean through the Andaman Sea. These coordinates were stored in the Volume Shadow Information (VSI) file dated 03 February 2014. The function of this file was to save information when a computer is left idle for more than 15 minutes. Hence, the RMP Forensic Report could not determine if the waypoints came from one or more files.
The RMP Forensic Report on the simulator also did not find any data that showed the aircraft was performing climb, attitude or heading manoeuvres, nor did they find any data that showed a similar route flown by MH370.
The RMP Forensic Report concluded that there were no unusual activities other than game-related flight simulations.
4 ‘Manually programmed waypoints’ - Manually programmed waypoints are waypoints that are not published in Airway Charts
Figure 1.5A - Snapshot of Seven Manually Programmed ‘Waypoints’
Source: Royal Malaysia Police
Source: Safety Investigation Report MH370/01/2018 Section 1.5.3 Pilot-in-Command