Bayesian methods and the search for MH370

Neil Gordon
University of Queensland
Friday, April 28
4:15 – 6:15 pm
SEH Lehman Auditorium, B1270


On 7th March 2014 Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing lost contact with Air Traffic Control and was subsequently reported missing. An extensive air and sea search was made around the last reported location of the aircraft in the Gulf of Thailand without success. Signals transmitted by the aircraft’s satellite communications terminal to Inmarsat’s 3F1 Indian Ocean Region satellite indicated that the aircraftcontinued to fly for several hours after loss of contact. In this talk I will describe how nonlinear/non-Gaussian Bayesian time series estimation methods have been used to process the Inmarsat data and produce a probability distribution of MH370 flight paths that defined the search zone in the southern Indian Ocean. I will describe how probabilistic models of aircraft flight dynamics, satellite communication system measurements, environmental effects and radar data were constructed and calibrated. A particle filter based numerical calculation of the aircraft flight path probability distribution will be outlined and the method is demonstrated and validated using data from several previous flights of the accident aircraft. From mid-2015 onwards many items of debris have been discovered. I will also show how CSIRO debris drift experiments have been used to update the search zone probability distribution resulting in the December 2016 public report outlining a recommended search zone (


Dr. Neil Gordon received a PhD in Statistics from Imperial College London in 1993. He was with the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency in the UK from 1988-2002 working on missile guidance and statistical data processing. He is best known for initiating the particle filter approach to nonlinear, non-Gaussian dynamic estimation which is now in widespread use throughout the world in many diverse disciplines. He is the co-author/co-editor of two books on particle filtering. In 2002 he moved to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Adelaide, Australia where he is currently head of the Data and Information Fusion group. In 2014 he became an honorary Professor with the School of Information Technology and Electrical Engineering at the University of Queensland.