On March 24, 2014, the Malaysian Prime minister made a shocking announcement: using a new kind of mathematical analysis, scientists at the British satellite communications company Inmarsat had determined conclusively that MH370 had flown into a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean. Because there are no islands in the area, there was no possibility that anyone on the plane could have survived. Therefore, all 239 passengers and crew must be dead. It was a stunningly sweeping conclusion to reach based entirely on a kind of mathematics that no one in the outside world knew the details of. But was it correct?

Up until that time it had seemed to me that the plane more likely went north. It seemed implausible that someone sophisticated and motivated enough to steal a plane so aggressively would do it just to die a protracted death. In fact I’d written two articles for Slate making that case. At the time, most people already thought the plane probably went south, so my editor had only let me write the articles after I’d promised that I would write an apology article if I turned out to be wrong. I thought it was worth it, so I said yes.

After the Prime Minister made his announcement, it looked like I’d lost my bet. But I wasn’t 100 percent convinced yet. What was this math that he was talking about? Until I could see for myself what the basis for his claim was, I wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. But I had to wait, because the Malaysians remained secretive about the data and the process that Inmarsat had used to analyse it. Finally, they released the data, and the various independent investigators began working to figure out the mathematical process. It took some work, because the math was indeed a bit tricky, but before long they figured it out. It made sense. The Malaysian Prime Minister had been right — the Inmarsat data did indeed unequivocally indicate that MH370 flew into the remote southern Indian Ocean.

I wrote an article explaining how the math worked, and then another explicitly apologizing for being wrong. It wasn’t the outcome I’d wanted — for one thing, a flight to the south removed any hope that the passengers might still be alive — but part of science is a willingness to accept new evidence. And I was happy that the mystery of MH370 now seemed very close to being solved.

With the first set of metadata, investigators had been able to specficy that MH370 flew one of two quite narrow sets of possible routes, with a crash location very close to the end of them. With this second set of data, they now knew which route was correct. All they had to do was go to the end of the southern route, scan the seabed using sonar, locate the wreckage, retrieve the black box, and figure out what had happened. Voila. Case closed.

The probability map of where the plane probably ended up looked like this, with the most likely resting place in red:

But of course, when it comes to MH370, nothing is ever quite what it seems.