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MH370 – The Second Witness

February 28, 2015

OK.  In doing this, I feel like a Judas, but a recent article in the Daily Mail stated that “Ms Tee’s general description of the time and place was vague” [1]. It also says I discredited myself subsequently by publishing my own thoughts on what I thought happened after I saw it, but I’ll leave you to be the judge of that, since you have bothered to find my blog and actually read it.

Yes, my initial publication was vague.  I hadn’t really thought about it, and when I realised that what I had seen might indeed have been MH370 I just blurted it out.  I had no idea about how big this thing was, and if that sounds geopolitically naive, I agree fully. After all, my husband and I moved onto a boat and started cruising to try and escape from the political bullshit that surrounds most peoples lives. Remember, after arriving in Phuket, I had been living alone on a yacht at anchor with no A/C power whilst my husband was away for five weeks at a conference in America and his own work in Kuwait.  Any limited internet access I had was used to communicate with him, as we were trying to fix our marriage after what had been a very stressful passage, resulting in me packing my bags.

Although I had thought about this plane I saw every day, I refused to acknowledge its significance, choosing to believe what I had initially been told about it heading off to Vietnam.  After that I heard very little about the matter since I was burying my head and refusing to show an interest, although it did bother me whenever I heard people speak of it.  Which wasn’t that often, since I also avoided people on the whole.

After the twenty minute phone call from the ATSB on June 3rd, I started to reflect on points which had arisen.  At that stage I could not be certain of the day or the time, except that it was the middle of the night.  However, after the phone call I did recall that the crew who was asleep on deck had woken up due to the sails flapping after I went into an accidental gybe, and it was at his suggestion that I turned the engine on. Despite the dying winds, I had resisted until that point since I didn’t want to wake anyone, having deprived them of sleep over the previous week due to my bad behaviour.

I went below to turn the engine on, and as I came back up, I asked him about the plane, which had borne away by that stage.  I plainly asked him why it was glowing like that.  His response was that he didn’t know, he had never seen anything like it before.  He had previously been an aeronautical engineer, and before becoming a teacher he had worked as an air crash investigator for Saudia Airlines, so I assumed that if it was a plane in distress he would recognise it as such.  So I put down to a magnificent airshow – after all, there were no fighter planes in pursuit, a thought which I processed at that time.  So I wasn’t concerned.  Not then.  His comment laid my fears to rest.

On June 12th I notified the ATSB via email that this crew member had also seen it:

This email which I sent to ATSB on 12th June 2014 was not acknowledged.  Neither did they try to contact the crew to verify he had also seen it.

This email which I sent to ATSB on 12th June 2014 was not acknowledged. Neither did they try to contact the crew to verify he had also seen it.

I received no acknowledgement of this email from ATSB, not even to ask for the identity of our crew member.  They did not approach him independently either.  I did try, several times, over the next few months to contact him and his wife to ask him to come forward.  My emails and Facebook messages on the matter were all ignored.

In December my husband and I booked a flight to visit him and his wife for the day.  We were invited for lunch, and at this stage the crew member told us that although he didn’t recall seeing the plane himself, he did recall me talking about a strange military plane (he was specific about that) whilst on passage.  He also told us the reason he refused to answer my request for support was a conflict of interest.  His daughter was completing an intern-ship as an aviation lawyer at the time, and had been selected to serve on the compensation panel for MH370.  Since intern-ships are hard to come by, he simply didn’t want to jeopardise her job.

I would have preferred to publish this sooner, but refrained from a misplaced respect for his privacy.  I thought that notifying the authorities was enough (I also told most independent investigators who contacted me privately via email).  But even if you are not sure about my timings, I am.  And now you know why.



[1] Read more:

MH370 – Searching The Bay of Bengal was NOT a mistake.

October 31, 2014

I wanted to post this as a reply to my previous Blog Post:  MH370 – What I Think Happened After I Saw It (Do check the replies here, this is where I am adding in links which support my sighting, as I come across them).  I can’t attach images in a reply though, and I do want to show you this one:

From The Wall Street Journal, March 20th 2104

From The Wall Street Journal, March 20th 2104


It’s from an article in the Wall Street Journal back in March, just a few weeks after the aircraft disappeared:  Critical Data Was Delayed in Search for Missing Malaysia Airlines Flight

Now, I never really thought about why they were searching the Bay of Bengal – I just assumed it was just a random miscommunication, which so often seems to happen in Asia.  But back then, as far as we knew, the aircraft hooked around Bandeh Aceh then headed South, and this fitted perfectly with Flight Engineer Stewart Stoddart’s report suggesting the plane was suffering an engine fire, and went down further North up that arc than the ‘experts’ thought, but still on that same arc, which is all they know about where the plane ended it’s flight.

But a few months ago, the Inmarsat data was recalculated, and gave new positions for the arcs which the aircraft supposedly crossed. And that threw his careful research out.  His simulated flights, which had matched ALL the data perfectly, were redundant.  But he kept going and made a new flight profile.  It had changed the profile so drastically that he could only fit the timings of those arcs if he threw in an approach to Car Nicobar (and remember, my sighting is consistent with an abandoned approach to Bandeh Aceh).

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of simulated MH370 Flight Path.

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of simulated MH370 Flight Path.

I saw it, accepted it, and moved on.  But having seen this article in The WSJ today, it makes me wonder if they DID have good reason for searching up there. They somehow tracked MH370 up that airway, N571 (commonly used for passages to Tehran, coincidentally), before they lost it, and THAT’S why they were searching up there.

This wasn’t a random miscommunication.  This was an informed search based on their last known data, before they started to hide things and introduce red herrings to distract us all from the truth.



Edit:  More graphic images of the projected flight paths from Stewart AND Richard Godfrey (which both fit with my sighting, radar data AND Inmarsat data) can be downloaded in pdf from here: Stoddart Dropbox

Back to Reality.

October 28, 2014

A few days ago Marc got back from his monthly commute to  Kuwait with a new mobile. His second one in as many months. He bought a new one last month when he was looking for a decent camera to take boat pics with, and it was almost as cheap to get one one a phone and they’re much more slimline than cameras. But his new camera only had one sim card slot. So I get his month old cast off. It’s got a kinda rough feel to it… but I realised today that’s just spray paint from the boat. A but of spit and rub and I’m sure I can sort that! Anyway, what I’m trying to say in 800 words or less is that I now have a decent camera again and will hopefully remember to start taking photos of moments I want to remember. Like this one :


Sundays we go exploring. This Sunday’s walk made us both pine to be back on the sea.

Or this one:


The photo of Mama Pig sans piglets was taken last week (not sure what happened to the colours, but it wasn’t blue when I was there!) just behind our house. There’s a little hill there, and I sometimes walk up it, check out the sea view from the top, then stroll back down again.  The first time I went there a litter of pigs was playing in the road.  The dogs just ignored them.  Then Mama Pig came out of the bushes, and the dogs ran! Thanks, Marc. I love my new toy and I promise I’ll try to keep that boat blog.  You are doing an awesome job. Photos of you laying teak coming up! Hopefully!

MH370 – What I Think Happened After I Saw It.

October 19, 2014

There are not really many realistic theories gallivanting around about MH370.  Only a few of those fit what I saw.  I have referred to a few of them in previous posts.  Of primary importance is Flight Test Engineer Stewart Stoddart’s theory, that what I witnessed was an engine fire which caused MH370 to be flying much more slowly than the ATSB and IG seem to be considering.  His theory, supported over several test flights on a simulator, fitted all the known data, including that from Inmarsat and radar, and put the plane on that 7th arc somewhere near Christmas Island, on a course of waypoints heading to a large empty airport in the NW corner of Australia. The pdf report can be downloaded here:  A SIMULATED FLIGHT OF MH-370 #2

Glowing orange pane in dark

A graphic representation by E Fortuin of the plane I saw that night, best downloaded and viewed on a tablet in the dark, held up a little bit. A few imperfections I’d like to note: firstly I recall the plane being a uniform orange [1] and secondly I don’t recall seeing smoke in front of the plane, only behind it. Otherwise, it’s absolutely perfect.

Stewart worked with a small team, including a graphic artist who illustrated my sighting, after strings of emails discussing everything from the shade and brightness to the stars.  Although I don’t remember which stars I could see at the time, I do remember their intensity.  It was humid, and probably hazy, which would explain the lack of intensity of the stars, and also the ‘halo’ which I saw around the plane.  Also, it is worth noting that the plane was moving, and therefore so was the source of the orange light, which could well have been the reflection of an engine fire.  I’m thinking of the effect sparklers used to give at Guy Fawkes, when we’d all write our names in thin air.  That would also explain why it resembled a missile when approaching from afar – I was seeing a fire from in front.

I want to share Stewart’s most refined observation window, since that illustrates what I saw and when I saw it:

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of MH370 Passing

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of MH370 Passing

Also, I will share the smaller scale graphic, which shows a continuation of where I saw that plane go (I find this quite spooky since it fits with two locations where people have found debris on Tomnod, discussed below):

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of simulated MH370 Flight Path.

Stew Stoddart: Graphic Representation of simulated MH370 Flight Path, two independant analyses, red track by Stewart and green track by Richard Godfrey.  Note Stewart allows line up for an attempted landing on Andamans, and Richard allows a circle in ’empty airspace’.

After Stewart published, though, the Inmarsat data calculations were adjusted and the data then didn’t quite fit his theory AFTER the flight passed me. The data still all fits until it passed by me.  What I know is that I saw what I saw, and the data fits what I saw.  After my sighting, nobody yet knows. Stewart is still reviewing the data, and stated on his own website a few days ago: “Recent simulation flights have clearly indicated that the single-engine portion of the flight as described in the initial thread above must be adjusted. This adjustment is needed because the single-engine configuration maximum true airspeed of 390 knots at 13,000 feet and maximum continuous thrust, can not meet the time and distance requirements of the BTO ping rings. A new route south with new waypoints is being evaluated.” I look forward with eager interest to hear his progress, because it is the ONLY  two theory I have seen  which fit what I saw AND the Inmarsat data, and therefore is the ONLY two theory which would vindicate the world governments or whoever has the capability of faking satellite data.

There, I’ve said it again.  I think the Inmarsat data is, if not fake, at least so redacted and incomplete as to be useless.  I have approached many scientists, including Duncan Steel, Bobby Ulich and others, but NONE of them can give me any proof as to why the data is to be believed. I have heard answers ranging from “I trust my Government” to “They are simply too complicated to be made up”, but nothing solid can be found to prove this data is real.  Not anywhere.

So without SOLID proof of the satellite data, that leaves me to believe that what I saw was indeed what I had been worried I had seen.  That plane was flying at low altitude towards the military convoy we had passed two and three nights previously to this sighting.  Marc drew a chart of where we saw those lights (and subsequently what we believe to be an acoustic target buoy), and emailed it to ATSB in early June:

Marc Horn: Reconstruction of sighting of military vessel.  The yellow diamonds indicate the approximate location in which the vessel was travelling.

Marc Horn: Reconstruction of sighting of military vessel. The yellow diamonds indicate the approximate location in which the vessel was travelling.

Compare the location of that convoy to the direction in which I saw that glowing orange plane flying off to.  On top of that, internet research showed a Chinese flotilla was in the area at the time.  A contributor (Lucy Barnes) on Duncan’s Blog sent me this linkto Hafiz Sulaiman’s article on Malaysia Flying Herald. Interestingly, this post was also pulled after the discussions started about it, apparently since the author is a Malaysian aviation enthusiast with a strong loyalty to his government.  He published a chart which showed the Chinese Flotilla slap bang in the middle of this area.

So, when I put all the bits I saw together, and add in what I have learnt subsequently, I believe my initial belief was probably the correct one.  I believed that this plane was a kamikaze plane, aiming at that military flotilla, and they shot it down.  My belief has changed little.

But, I hear you say, there would have been debris if that had been the case. Perhaps.  It could have made a controlled landing on the ocean and suck intact, leaving minimal trace.  But there IS evidence of debris out there. Several volunteers  who have been crowd sourcing over at Tomnod have found images of debris which have been ignored (or at least met by silence) despite constant notification, in public, to the authorities.

Ana Lucia (@lucia_brazil) was the first to contact me with a theory that it went down West of Bandeh Aceh.  She contacted me via Twitter to show me an image where she had found debris on Tomnod (the debris images have also been published by her on Twitter):



She also sent me copies of eye witness reports from a Malaysian shopkeeper who saw a plane glowing over the sea in that area (Bandeh Aceh Post) West of Bandeh Aceh. And yes, I know, this report seems to have been pulled as well, now.

But, more recently, Michael Blades (@dewrat81) posted this image to Twitter:

Michael Blades: Location of wreckage West of Bandeh Aceh.

Michael Blades: Location of wreckage West of Bandeh Aceh.

So.  In summary.  I believe that MH370 was a brilliantly planned and executed attack either on the Chinese or by the Chinese.  It fits.  After cutting communications on MH370 and evading radar over the Malay Peninsular and up the Malacca Straights, they activated an incendiary device of Lithium Batteries (they also would fit with the colour and glow I saw) then aimed straight at that flotilla.  If it was an attack on the Chinese, then to hijack a plane with twenty odd Chinese intelligence workers who were top level communications researchers and aim it at a Chinese flotilla is MASSIVE.

If that is what happened, then of course the world powers want to hide what happened.  It would be worth faking satellite data and creating false evidence to cover up that sort of horror, if only to prevent WW3.  Don’t forget,  ping rings have before been used to successfully locate a missing plane in the case of AF447, so it is an obvious (if genius) technique to use to fake a trail using this principle. And if the West has helped to cover up this mess, then no doubt China owes them a big one, and will start falling into line and playing the Western Game.  We’ll see.

Perhaps it wasn’t intended as an attack.  Before it’s turn South, MH370 was on an air route usually used for air travel to Iran. Perhaps it was intended as a simple hijack, but something went terribly wrong, like that engine fire, and it turned back to try and make a landing.  Having failed, maybe it flew out to sea for safety (whose safety, I can’t imagine, if it was intended as a terrorist attack anyway), and the guys on that flotilla thought it was a missile aiming at them, since all communications had been cut.  Either way, we’ll never know.

I do find it intriguing that debris resembling a helicopter has been identified in the area of Mike McKay’s sighting, though, over in the Gulf of Thailand. It makes me wonder if perhaps MH370 was simply an innocent victim of military exercises over on that side of the sea… and its subsequent maneuvering was indeed a heroic attempt by the crew to land the plane safely in Penang, Langkawi, car Nicobar, then Bandeh before aborting and setting a safe flight course over open water before losing consciousness. But that wouldn’t explain the lack of communications.

Even if they find a shard of that plane down in those oil/gas fields off Western Australia, the majority of the world will never believe it was a genuine find.  I certainly won’t.  It’s East of Bandeh Aceh.

Edit, 20 Oct:

Duncan Steel closed his blog to comments about a month ago, in order to focus on other things in life.  Since then, discussion (at least by many of the contributors to the DS blog) has moved to here:

For an almost complete compilation of published reports on the matter, this is a reliable source:

Edit, 21 Oct:

I need to offer an apology to Victor Iannello. There is a second theory which I forgot to include, which also fits both my sighting and the satellite data.  Victor speculates that MH370 landed in Bandeh Aceh, offloaded whatever cargo was of value, and then took off again, fly South to ditch the plane.  I initially felt this theory was too far fetched, since it implies that what I saw was a second plane (glowing orange?  Why?), but I actually know nothing that would suggest that his theory could not have happened:  Scenario with a Landing at Bandeh Aceh.

MH370 – The Engine Fire Theory

July 27, 2014

To follow up on previous postings about my sighting of a glowing orange plane on the night MH370 disappeared,  hardly anything is known about what happened to that flight after it disappeared from radar – and it seems that even that data is under review.  That is a good thing in my opinion, since the independent scientists who are looking into my sighting seem to be having issues fitting it with what they already believe happened.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I know what I saw.  And contrary to what some critics might be saying out there on the world wide web, I have not been changing “what I saw” to fit what the experts believe.  On the contrary, I have refused to change my testimony, even though it doesn’t fit (yet).  I have been clarifying it to make it more intelligible, though; first with the help of Cruisers Forum members, who asked question after question to tease out the details (and that was much appreciated, since there are things I wouldn’t have thought of mentioning otherwise), and now with the help of the scientists on Duncan Steel’s independent team.  Various independent investigators have approached me, and worked hard to present theories which fit with my sightings.  I hope to publish the work of those investigators who give me permission to do so, since each theory is deserving of thanks.  The scientific analysis, of course, gets done over at Duncan’s place!

Stewart Stoddart, a flight test engineer kindly contacted me a while ago, with the intention of taking what I had seen, working off the assumption that it was MH370, and putting it into a viable flight plan.  He has done so, and very patiently, given the apparent confusion over timings and positions of the craft.  He has questioned me over and over about timings.  He has teased out further thoughts and common sense applications of those thoughts, and despite great difficulty to make my timings fit with the published timings that are known from earlier in the flight, he has worked with them to create a flight plan that seems to work for both sets of timings, even though mine seemed to go against almost everything the investigators previously believed.

Observation Graphic of MH370’s passing of SY Aaza Dana: Stewart Stoddart

The first image he is sharing reflects the timing of when the aircraft passed me.  I believe I have been able to narrow down the time of the sighting to the time at which I preformed an accidental gybe.

The image reflects the elevation angles I witnessed the craft at, and the Azimuths (position relative to boat) I witnessed.  From that he has been able to calculate things such as altitude, and airspeed. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Stewart for his patient work, and look forward to seeing his full work published.

An interactive version of our track can be downloaded here: Kate’s GPS Track in .kml format, which automatically opens in Google Earth.  It’s quite a big file, so don’t do this on your mobile phone’s data connection unless you have a mega package!

If you are interested in how I established the timings, I have posted the process of elimination over at Duncan’s Blog.  Duncan Steel, I believe is listed amongst the top four scientists in this world (see his info page!) and it is an honour to have been in communication with him.  He’s a fantastic teacher, who very patiently puts things into perspective for me in words I can understand.   I can’t thank his dedicated team enough.  They have all shown a professional interest. I’d particularly like to thank Dr Bobby Ulich and Henrik Rydberg; but everyone has shown admirable dedication to the cause.

overview 1

A potential Northern route which MH370 could have flown, which fits the published data plus my sighting: Stewart Stoddart

This second image is an overview of what he currently believes the Northern part of MH370s course could have been.  I can’t say too much about it, since I don’t understand it fully, but I do know that it is one possible scenario which so far fits with both my data and the technical data which has been made available to the public.

Potential flight route for MH370s Southern leg, which fits the lower speed and altitude I witnessed, as well as the Inmarsat data.

Potential flight route for MH370s Southern leg, which fits the lower speed and altitude I witnessed, as well as the Inmarsat data: Stewart Stoddart

Finally, the last image shows a potential Southern route for MH370.  This is based on the assumption that MH370 was flying at a low altitude and at a reduced speed; in other words, as I saw it. It demonstrates that it is possible for MH370 to have met those Inmarsat timings even if it were flying disabled.

I am very grateful to Stewart for sending me these graphics with permission to share, since I understand that he is not yet ready to publish his full report.  Many investigators, including Stewart and his team, are dedicating a huge amount of time and expertise to trying to unravel this mystery, and so sharing what we can is what it’s all about.

I realise I haven’t expressed (here on my own blog anyway) my heartfelt sympathy for the families and friends of MH370. Rest assured, there truly are people who are working their fingers to the bone to find out what happened to your loved ones.


Edit:  The second (but not final report) of this tested flight profile.  A SIMULATED FLIGHT OF MH-370 #2

MH370 – The Cargo Plane Theory

July 24, 2014

Below I have copied some of a post made on Cruisers Forum (posts #622 & #634) by member Blackkettle. Ed signed up to post a theory into which he has clearly out a lot of effort and research into already, and I believe he intends to investigate further.  I hope he does, because his theory is a very plausible one.  In fact, it sort of illustrates what I had decided this sighting was in the first place.

In a nutshell, his theory is that what I witnessed was a DHL cargo plane, which was being illuminated somehow.  And that theory fits very snugly with my original thought, at the time, that it could be a cargo pane with a bad exhaust.  Especially since some of these planes are painted bright yellow.  In fact, it was one of the images of a DHL cargo plane which another member (Jess28) photo-shopped to best illustrate what I saw, and it was close, so I am open to believing this theory.  For full theory and illustrations, please see the CF thread.

What I am here to say, though, is that the follow up post by Blackkettle contained an image which contains three planes, with a sodium orange colouring this time.  And I feel it is a much better match to what I saw.  The colouring that is.  So I would like to share his image.  He has changed the colouring for this image a little, it is brighter than it was on the version he posted at CF.  And I suspect this is the closest colouring we’ll get in an image.

Now, he also asks if it was possible that what I saw was any of the others.  I don’t think so.  Until I couldn’t find the windows when looking for the source of the ight, I was 100% convinced that I was looking at a passenger plane.  But at the end of the day, I am not a plane spotter, and if asked in a court of law whether I could be certain if the nose was that of image 1 or 2, I couldn’t be certain.  I remember it looking like 1, but as people keep pointing out, my memory of this may have been corrupted by having seen so many images of B777s since I hit Google with a frenzy back in June.

The other details are easy.  The body was like 1, the wings were in the middle.  I know that because I was looking for landing lights and wheels.  But I don’t recall seeing a logo.  Either on the tail or on the body.

Below is the pertinent part of Blackkettle’s post, but I urge you to take a look and read his whole theory.  If you are interested, I also suggest you review Duncan Steel’s Blog (He’s the leader of the independent MH370 investigation team), which shows some very perceptive and intelligent theories and questions about what happened.  I am overawed by the amount of work this diverse team of people has put into finding MH370.

Here follows an extract from Blackkettle’s post:


Another long post but one I felt impelled to share.

A few things in your (very nicely done BTW) well summarized round up of your experience with the mystery plane in post #628 got me thinking again. So here’s a bit more food for thought.

It hit me that the impression you had that the aircraft appeared “to long and pointy to be a cargo plane…” and “The black trail seemed more obvious, and at this stage I wondered if it’s too much or too little oil in the mix that makes the exhaust black” may not be unrelated phenomena. Another minor AHA moment if you will…

The combination of those two observations tends to describe the now aging (and getting fairly rare to see in active duty) Boeing 727 (introduced in the 1960’s), and the later (1980) but beginning to get less common McDonnel Douglas MD-80 series. Both generally appear in profile as “long and pointy” because they have engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage, rather than wing mounted, have a generally narrower width to length ratio (and thus a “longer looking”) fuselage compared to most of the more recent wider bodied aircraft. The 727’s primarily differ from the MD-80 series in that have 3 engines at the rear (one center mounted at the base of the vertical stabilizer) while the MD-80 family (which includes the similar looking MD-81, MD-82, MD-83, MD-87, and MD-88) only have two engines. The later generation MD-90 (1995) and the MD-95/Boeing 717 families (1999) are also similar in appearance.

All these aircraft, by virtue of their rear mounted engines and more aft set wings, are vastly different in profile than the 777 family of which MH370 belongs to. The MD-80’s have a particularly long looking forward fuselage and more pointed nose that the 727’s:

Alternative Illustration, with much better colour suggestion: Ed Truthan

Alternative Illustration, with much better colour suggestion: Ed Truthan

Are the two lower profiles more like what you saw than the 777-200 (MH370) one?








[Edit: don’t get hung up with the amateur images, we have more professional one now which is discussed in later posts:]

EFortuin Mar2015

Comprehensive Eye Witness Sighting of MH370

July 16, 2014

Update 1, 21st July: I have updated my report to include some relevant observations, which I initially forgot to include, about the plane’s track, and what I believe is the time window of my observation.  I have included my updates in red.

Below is a more comprehensive account of what I saw the night a glowing orange plane flew past the back of our boat.  It is perhaps the sort of thing I should have thought about carefully, and written and submitted before going public, but then again ‘going public’ wasn’t on my mind at the time, and neither was the scale of the incident..  I was just responding naturally to what was an overwhelming reaction to a simple post I made asking for advice:

Anyway, here is the more considered version (which I wrote without referencing or reviewing any of my previous statements, although I have added in footnotes to address some issues which I forgot to include in my first draft, but which were pertinent)

Aaza Dana Eye Witness Sighting of MH370

Although supposed to be a report, this is more of an account, which contains a lot of my thoughts which I kept out of the twenty minute phone conversation I had with ATSB, since I was trying to keep to facts only.  However, I now realise that the thoughts I was having do explain some things which I couldn’t pinpoint logically at the time, so I am including them.  And I had a lot of thoughts, since thinking is really all there is to do on a night watch alone.

On 20th February 2014, Sailing Yacht Aaza Dana left the port of Cochin in India, bound for Phuket with three people onboard; Marc Horn, his wife Katherine Tee (myself) and one other British crew member. It was a 19 day passage, passing through heavy weather when we rounded Sri Lanka, during which the boat got soaked, important things kept breaking (including rigging), we had no working life raft, my suggestions were being dismissed instantly by the Captain, and tempers soared; resulting in Marc and I not communicating from about a week into the passage, and that lasted until we dropped the anchor at Phuket.  Two weeks is a lot of time to be at daggers with your partner under any circumstances.  On passage, when there is nowhere to escape to calm down and reflect, two weeks can be excruciating.  And Marc and I were truly at each other’s throats. By the time this happened, my rucksack was packed, and I intended to leave as soon as we cleared immigration.  I was in a low state of depression and furious with the world.

At some stage towards the end of our long passage across the Indian Ocean (which we have subsequently narrowed down to the night of 7th March, details in Note #1), I was on watch alone, and we were on a Port tack, heading approximately West to East.  Since I had decided to do what I wanted when I wanted, I hadn’t been standing regular watches until this point, merely going on deck when I felt like it, and the Captain and Crew were both exhausted.  The Captain was below at this time, getting his first decent sleep in over a week.  The crew was on deck sleeping – he wasn’t a good sleeper, and was in the habit of grabbing a few hours when he felt weary. I was enjoying the first alone time I’d had for weeks and wasn’t about to give it up.

This in way of explanation as to why I didn’t wake anyone – we were in no danger, they needed to catch up on their sleep, and I decided I was witnessing an experimental air show for an audience of one, and I was fascinated (Note #2 explains why I didn’t report it when we arrived and I heard the news).

What I first saw... just an orange glow, like a bright star.

What I first saw… just an orange glow, like a bright star.

After a few hours on watch, I noticed a bright orange glow above the horizon, about 8 o’clock relative to the boat’s heading.  My first thought was to wonder if it was Mars rising, but Mars wasn’t supposed to be there, and besides it was in the North. I then wondered if it was a meteor, as it quickly got bigger and brighter. I thought it was heading towards us (ie, moving from North to South). I considered the possibility of it wiping us out.  Then I thought it’d just be more likely to land near enough to cause a massive tidal wave and wipe us out, which I thought was typical, since we’d just got the boat dried out. Then I decided I’d rather it hit us, since that would be an easier escape from the marriage than a painful divorce.  That was when I realised that my thinking was insane. From that point on, my thoughts were all about rationalising what I was seeing, and trying to explain it logically (much as forum members did).

And then I saw what looked like black smoke behind the orange glow, which resembled a contrail, but black (see note #3)  The sky was very dark, so I suspect it may have been illuminated by the glow.  It was difficult to see, and I wasn’t sure about it at this stage, although I did become sure later.  ‘Missile’ crossed my mind for a second, but at that stage the orange glow started to look like a plane. I momentarily panicked, thinking it was a plane on fire.

But I couldn’t see any fire or flames, or anything like that, it was just a plane glowing orange and surrounded by an orange glow like a halo.  As though it were being lit up by sodium lights, but I couldn’t see sodium lights. As it came a little closer, I could clearly see the hull was glowing orange. I considered the lights might be orange landing lights, but couldn’t see any lights under the hull, and there were no wheels down.  I could see the hull of the plane very clearly from this point onwards. The ‘halo’ was fuzzy though.

I tried to pinpoint the source of the light. By this time I doubted it was a fire, because I could not see any source of the lights.  The black trail was still present, and was present throughout.  It simply looked like a black contrail.

A few times I checked behind it, waiting for the fighter planes and fire engines (not so rational!!) which I assumed would be chasing it if it was indeed a passenger plane on fire.  There were none, so I relaxed.  There were two planes higher than it, and they appeared to be regular airliners cruising at high altitude (one was at a lower I altitude than the other).  They were travelling from South to North (the opposite way from the glowing plane) and appeared to have regular nav lights. I wondered where they were going and considered Bengal or Russia.  I assumed that if the plane was in distress, the pilots would report it.  It never occurred to me that it was not visible to the higher aircraft and they would not be able to see it either on their instruments or visually.

The glowing plane did not have nav lights, which made me wonder if it was a military plane, conducting some experiment.  It was low and I even wondered if it was high enough to do a hop and pop, and I had the impression it was coming in to land, but logically couldn’t understand where, as there was nothing in the direction it was heading except the white glow (which we had assumed was a maintenance vessel which by now I suspected might be a research vessel connected with this experiment, although the glow was no longer in sight) and I didn’t note a change it altitude.  I felt it was travelling slowly.

A rough illustration a friend kindly made.  This is very close to what I saw, although the wings weren't in shadow, and I could see the cockpit windows.

A rough illustration a friend kindly made. This is very close to what I saw, although, it wasn’t this bright, the wings weren’t in shadow, and I could see the cockpit windows.  It was level, not ascending: Jess Jessop

As it moved behind us, I could see the shape very clearly, and it was that of a passenger plane.  However, my impression of the hull was that it was monocolour, I assumed light matt grey, although it appeared orange and had an orange ‘halo’ around it.  I do not recall any markings of any kind.

I looked for the windows, to see if it was maybe emergency lighting from inside, but I couldn’t see any.  I could see where the windows were supposed to be, but the whole hull was glowing uniformly and I could not see windows.  I decided it had formerly been a passenger plane, but had its windows blocked out to act as a cargo plane, since it appeared too long and pointy to be a cargo plane.  At this stage I decided it must be military.

[Edit – don’t get stuck on this image with amateur artwork, we have new ones published more recently, like this]:

EFortuin Mar2015

As it came behind us, I think the elevation angle was about 30° (Note #4 explains how I arrived at estimate for elevation angle).

There was a gap in my observation then, as I went below.  When I exited the cabin the plane had moved past and was at about half past 5, relative to the boat, and appeared to have borne away.  The black trail seemed more obvious, and at this stage I wondered if it’s too much or too little oil in the mix that makes the exhaust black, and even as I thought it I realised that applies only to boats.  I couldn’t understand why the smoke was black.  It was a concern, but I believed that everyone knows where all large planes are all the time, and if it were in trouble there would be more action around. I dismissed it with the final thought he should get his exhaust fixed.

From then on my observations were patchy, but I did observe it a few times briefly, and it appeared to be moving to the South, but getting further away from us; at about 5 o’clock relative.  (Update 1: Note 5 illustrates my observations and describes some thoughts which might be relevant to establishing our position at the time)

I have absolutely no idea of the time scale of this observation.

I have been asked about clouds at the time.  I can’t remember. They were not of particular interest to me. I do remember at that stage the weather had calmed down a lot. I know the skies were clear and stars visible between the orange plane and the two “airliners”.  For some reason I thought I had observed clouds behind it when I first saw it, but I suspect this was the smoke, before I identified it as such.

In response to questions about the moon, I don’t recall the moon at that time, but it wasn’t a point of interest. I do recall that the sky was very dark, that it was hard to make out the black smoke. Because I found it difficult to see, I spent a lot of time looking at it to see if it was indeed black smoke.  I think I first thought it was dark cloud, until it became a trail. The black trail was much clearer as the plane moved away at 5 oçlock relative.

I believe I think caught some sleep. When I awoke, there was an orange glow (like a dome) over the horizon, in the approximate direction I felt the plane had flown.  My first thought was “Shit, it has crashed after all”, but the orange glow was not flickering in any way.  It was very similar to the white glow we had seen two and three nights previously.  I noted it over several observations, and the intensity remained constant.  I stopped worrying again.

 Note #1, Narrowing down time of sighting:

  • I narrowed down the day using Marc’s observations of the bright white light, which we all observed over the nights commencing on the 4th and 5th.  The night of the 6th we did not see them, and the night of the 7th I believe I saw the same lights, but glowing orange rather than white, after the plane had passed (heading that way).  I know we had already passed those lights, as one of my thoughts was that the plane was involved (I suspected experimental research) with those lights, since it was headed back towards the area we had observed them after it passed us.
  • On the morning of the 8th, Marc and the crew observed what appeared to be a search vessel zigzagging around on our Starboard side (south of us). I do recall this was after I had seen the orange plane.
  • I narrowed down the time of the observation because it was the only time during the two possible nights that we were on a Port tack heading Easterly, that I was on watch.  We did head Easterly for a short time during the night of the 6th, but it was not that night.  On the night of the sixth, I had seen a ship when we were on the Port tack, which required us to throw in the tack.  However, I was making a point, and refusing to make decisions, so I pointed it out to the crew, and threw the responsibility on him.  He also refused to make the decision, and woke the skipper, so I went back to bed, smug in the knowledge that I had even further disrupted Marc’s sleep, and made it clear that I wasn’t going to be his (First) Mate only when he wanted one, if he wasn’t willing to accept my decisions all the time.  It certainly wasn’t that night – nobody was sleeping then except me.

Note #2, why I took so long to report the sighting:

Because I couldn’t believe what I think I saw. I mean, I saw it, but it was just so unlikely. Plus I was stressed by the time we hit shore. Very stessed. And although I didn’t report it, I did say what I’d seen to cruisers at the Yacht Club, and to other people of two later occasions, all of whom dismissed it, and pointed out that it was over the South China Sea, not the Andaman Sea.

And I wasn’t absolutely sure of what I had seen, and can’t even be positive it was that night. I don’t follow the news, not even when ashore (I barely have time to do my job, it’s lucky I have an understanding boss), and for the two months after we arrived in Phuket I was living on the yacht at anchor, with limited internet access, no A/C electricity onboard to charge devices, and zero interest in the news.

The reason it started bothering me when I did report it was because of a news item I heard on Thai Radio saying the survey boat was heading back in due to technical difficulties, and it peaked my interest.

 Note #3, Possible tyre fire:

I was asked if the smoke resembled a tyre fire.  Yes it did, although I’m not sure if it was as dense as tyre fires I have seen.  Also, the wheels were not down, I ascertained that when looking to see if the glow could be coming from landing lights.

 Note #4, Elevation Angles:

My initial estimate of 30° to 45° was based on a piece of paper I had folded into a triangle. When asked if it could have been lower, I procured a protractor, and checked my angles more carefully, at which stage I realised it could well have been even lower than 30°.  Since that time I have observed planes on take-off, and have realised that not only was the angle 30° or lower, the plane itself had to be at quite a fairly low altitude and close in order for me to see the hull so clearly.)

Note #5, Possible Position:

Illustration of my limited observation of the plane moving away

Illustration of my limited observation of the plane moving away

Attached is an illustration of my limited observation of the plane’s track as it approached and as it moved away.  I first emailed this to ATSB on June 6th.  There are a few points I’d like to clarify.  In an email to a contributor to Duncan’s Blog on June 23rd I explained:

i) The boat’s position on the track is irrelevant, so ignore the chart data.  The green arrow is simply where a forum member suggested I was at the time the plane passed, so I drew it there.  The plane’s track is relative to the boat only.

ii) I drew two lines for the plane’s track as it moved away.  The light blue track is the line I first drew, but the dark green track is the strongest image I had, based on when I first saw the plane after it’s turn as I was returning to the cockpit from the cabin.

In a subsequent email to ATSB on 12th June, I stated:

“Looking at our track, seems likely that we hit a lull [at approx 1920] and went into an accidental gybe (not unusual in itself) then I decided to stay on the new tack. It would have been at this time my scan picked up the orange glow coming towards us from 8 o’clock relative. I held that tack for 5 minutes, which would have been the time in which I watched the glow turn into a plane.

At that stage I would have gone below to turn on the engine battery (there is no question about the engine having gone on at this stage, since that’s the only thing which would have allowed us to head up as we did)” That would explain why I went below.

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