But the ATSBs analysis of debris that eventually came to be found on beaches in the Indian Ocean and on the east coast of Africa, starting with a flaperon on Runion Island in late July 2015, occurred at the same time of its search of the seventh arc.
They set out at the start what they were going to cover, and they kept to it, Godfrey said.
The next best guess
The ATSB expressed confidence right up until the searchs final stages. Before the second anniversary of the planes disappearance, Dolan
said it was very likely to be in the remaining 30,000 sq km area.
It only publicly expressed misgivings in December, after a three-day summit of experts in Canberra reviewed the findings so far. In its subsequent report,
it announced a high degree of confidence that the plane was north of the seventh arc, in a patch of ocean of approximately 25,000 sq km.
Even this new area, according to Godfrey, is still based on the same false assumptions. He would search even further north: If I had a million dollars to spend, thats where Id spend it.
But the decision to extend the search was not the ATSBs to make. In July 2016 the
three governments had reiterated their earlier resolution not to extend the search, unless credible new information led to the aircrafts specific location.
Those caveats were stressed by Chester, the Australian transport minister, and his Malaysian counterpart, Liow Tiong Lai, after the ATSBs First Principles Review report was published.
It did come as a surprise that Darren Chesters office rather quickly brushed aside any discussion on a possible extension of the search after the First Principles Review, said K S Narendran from Chennai, India, who lost his wife on MH370. He was present at that tripartite meeting in July.
I did carry the impression from that meeting that Malaysia was perhaps not too keen on continuation of the search, while the Australians were sympathetic to our situation and our entreaties for a continuation of the search effort, he said.
Malaysia has from very early on given the impression that either it was not up to the task, or was keen to fold up the search and investigation.
A spokesperson for the Malaysian government responded: We wish to note that every decision with regards to MH370 search efforts are made in the spirit of Tripartite.
Criticism of the Malaysian investigation for a perceived lack of urgency and transparency has been voiced by the IG, journalists and passengers next of kin. Communication and reporting has been haphazard and deficient in detail, with a thousand-page report kept confidential within Malaysian police (but leaked to the IG).
Australian authorities have not joined the criticism but they have been somewhat hamstrung in their role leading search and recovery when Malaysia, as the country in which MH370 was registered, holds responsibility for the investigation, as well as the analysis of debris.
When the US independent investigator Blaine Gibson delivered aircraft debris to the ATSB in Canberra in person last September partly out of frustration at
Malaysias months-long delay to collect it the ATSBs on-the-record response was that it was seeking advice from Malaysian authorities regarding how they would like to proceed.
Australian authorities have a difficult diplomatic issue, said Don Thompson, an IG member based in Belfast. One doesnt make overt criticisms of ones international partners.
He characterises the Malaysian authorities approach as incredibly callous even secretive.
On 21 March 2014 the countrys air force chief of air operations presented a graphic depicting a series of radar point to a delegation of next of kin in Beijing. The track extending over the Malacca Strait was assumed to show MH370 after it had deviated from its course, as recorded by military radar.
ATSB staff examine a piece of aircraft debris at their laboratory in Canberra. The flap was found in June 2016 on Pemba Island off the coast of Tanzania. Photograph: AP
Government investigators made no subsequent reference to the graphic, nor was it shared with the ATSB. A photograph taken by a member of the press is believed to be the only image of the data publicly available.
Thompson pointed to this as evidence of silence and stonewalling and questionable excuses. Its unconscionable that Malaysia refuses to be more open about this, he said.
The flight simulator mystery
Last July the journalist and commentator Jeff Wise
reported in New York Magazine that the home flight simulator of MH370s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah, had been used to plot a course to the southern Indian Ocean one month before the plane vanished along a similar route.
Liow, Malaysias transport minister, said Malaysian authorities were not aware of the simulated route, nor the FBI analysis of it outlined by Wise even after the ATSB confirmed both.
The significance of the simulation is another point of contention between the IG and the ATSB, with the latter stressing that it did not show intention to fly; it was not necessarily plotted by Zaharie; and there were only six points relevant to the course apparently taken by MH370.
MH370s captain, Zaharie Ahmad Shah
I personally dont think its the kind of simulation that people do every day on a flight simulator, Godfrey said. Taken as fact, he said, it gave tremendous clues to the whereabouts of MH370, narrowing it down to an area of below 10,000 sq km much further north of the search area that hasnt been searched at all.
His personal view, not unanimous within the IG, he said, was that Zaharie crashed MH370 in an act of murder-suicide a politically unsavoury opinion to hold. If found to be true, it has enormous implications for families ongoing battles for compensation from Malaysia Airlines, which was placed in government administration in May 2015 after the MH370 and
subsequent MH17 air disasters.
The two most advanced of these cases, lodged in the Kuala Lumpur high court and the Australian federal court,
have reached an impasse after the airline refused to hand over logbooks, flight crews medical records and other documentation.
You have to ask the question, when you know that someone has information they are keeping secret, is why why dont they want to divulge, Godfrey said. It is for me rather obvious that they are scared of compensation claims that will go into the billions, not into millions Its not just in [Malaysias] interest to admit that this was a result of a crime.
Sucked into the black hole
If Malaysia wants the mystery of MH370 to just go away, public opinion is on its side particularly in Australia, which is perceived to have gone above and beyond given that it had only six citizens on board.
Wise, the journalist who describes himself as abnormally obsessed with MH370, said the public had lost interest in the story his wife included.
For two years he has argued that MH370 is in Kazakhstan after having been hijacked on Vladimir Putins instruction. He was excommunicated by the IG in March 2015, he said for being so far out on a limb; the IG said for abusing members trust.
Wise, for his part, said the IG really bristle at the implication that the perpetrators could have been smarter than them. Because at face value his theory is disproved by the discovery of debris, he has also accused Blaine Gibson who he says has spent his career eyeball-deep in Russia of planting it; Gibson said he had received death threats as a result.
Wise said his questions over inconsistencies in Gibsons finds were legitimate but acknowledged the challenge of distinguishing them from what he termed the toxic fog surrounding MH370. Theres so much misinformation thats relentlessly put out there Its an almost impossible task for someone who isnt sucked into this black hole.
His conviction has been strengthened by the ATSBs failure in the Indian Ocean. I dont expect you to believe me, I dont believe everyone else. But I would point out that the plane isnt there.
Pointing to a new potential search area in the last stages of a failing mission allowed the ATSB to save face, said Wise: it defended its significant investment to date while presenting next steps that it would have known it would probably be prevented from taking.
Malaysia Airlines aircraft seen from a viewing gallery at Kuala Lumpur airport. Photograph: Fazry Ismail/EPA
Its frustrating to me that theyre taking this attitude of, We know where it is, were just not allowed to look
As the search winds up three years on, the ATSB is trying to say, We did our best, we were unlucky, end of story we never solved Amelia Earhart either, but life goes on. I think this is the one opportunity to say, Were you unlucky, or were you bamboozled?
But a failure can either be an ending or a new beginning. Long before the last ship departed the search area on Tuesday, there had been little incentive to ask Where next?
The real barrier to finding out what happened to MH370 is not a lack of evidence, capability or even a next best guess at the planes whereabouts. Its apathy.
Thompson, the IG member in Belfast, said after three years the mystery had receded from most peoples minds.
But there are about 1,000 or 1,500 people who wake every morning with the reality: My husband, my father, my daughter, my cousin, my sister, my brother still hasnt come home, and I dont know where they are.
Additional reporting by Oliver Holmes in Bangkok