MH370 disappeared on March 8, 2014, en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people on board. The official investigation into the case concluded that the aircraft must have crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, but this theory was entirely reliant on a set of satellite data. The data came from satellite 3F1, which belongs to British satellite telecommunications company Inmarsat.
In his 2015 book ‘The Plane That Wasn’t There’, Jeff Wise explained that as the narrative for the investigation’s theory hangs entirely on seven communications between MH370 and 3F1, called ‘handshakes’, these deserve close examination.
There are two main ways in which these data could have been tampered with.
Mr Wise said: “To begin with, there is the issue of providence.
“Do we know that the data that Malaysia released is the same as the data that Inmarsat recievd from MH370 via 3F1 on the night of March 7 and 8.
“Personally I believe we do. One can imagine officials conspiring to tamper with the data, but at least on my own interactions with the official investigation I believe in the integrity of Inmarsat and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB).
“What’s more, I don’t think they would have any motive for altering the data.”
However, he then goes on to question whether the data was altered before it was received by Inmarsat.
Mr Wise explained that the assumption so far had been that the data – Burst Timing Offset (BTO) and Burst Frequency Offset (BFO) – were generated as part of the normal function of the communication systems.
Whilst there are no known “natural process” that would change this data, this does not rule out human interference.
He said: “The question then is whether human being deliberately tweaked the electronics so that the handshake signals would generate deceptive BFO and/or BTO data when they were received on the ground.
“In other words, could the Inmarsat data have been spoofed to throw investigators off the trail?”
Mr Wise admitted that at first the idea seemed “ridiculous”, pointing out that any hijacker attempting this must posses “diabolical cleverness”.
This is because the mathematical technique used to track the plane using these data was only invented after MH370 disappeared.
Anyone working to combat this before March 8, 2014, would have had to figure out the technique themselves, implement it and then count on it being discovered by others later.
On the other hand, it wasn’t inconceivable and even Inmarsat’s own engineers were not sure their data was accurate.
Inmarsat engineer Alan Schuster Bruce told the BBC at the time: “One of the concerns we had was the fact that this could all be a big hoax that someone had played on Inmarsat.”