Technology helps and hinders in search for missing plane

The disappearance of the Malaysian plane shows the two faces of modern technology. Satellites can help find the device in the Indian Ocean. But modern communications could not keep track of the aircraft was lost for nearly three weeks.

In this age of constant connection to the rest of the world, drew attention to radar systems and satellites do not see it all, you can not always trace cell phones and key flight information is not stored but not transmitted at the time. Tracking systems that are in the same plane, on the other hand, can be disabled manually, fueling the theory that someone intentionally diverted the plane without anyone noticing.

“Technology can track a flight, but I guess someone did something and could not prevent the disaster,” said Richard Aboulafia, aviation consultant issues the Teal Group.” Solo top intelligence and surveillance can help”.

Anyway, the mystery surrounding Flight 370 would have been even greater in the absence of high technology. The little information that is available about where the device comes from satellites may have fallen.

“If it were not for technology, one would have no idea where to look”, said Scott Hamilton, CEO of the airline queries Leeham Co.

Look at the ways in which new technologies helped or harmed search:


They are devices that send signals to the radar stations on the ground with details of the flight number, address, altitude and speed. Flight 370 departed from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 0040 to March 8 bound for Beijing. At 01.20 stopped broadcasting signals, despite continued flying several hours. It is very rare that a commercial pilot disconnects the transponder in flight and can not rule out a failure of the device.


They are devices that establish a communication between the aircraft and a terrestrial antenna, which emits electromagnetic waves that bounce off the device. As the waves travel at a certain speed – the speed of light – you can calculate the distance to the plane is.

The radar, however, have a range of between 320 and 400 kilometers (200-250 miles) and we lost track of the tickets early.


Some jets constantly broadcast information via satellites. The Malaysian Airline was not subscribed to this service to Boeing. These transmissions are not cheap. They cost seven dollars and 13 minutes. Other satellite transmissions from the aircraft, however, helped to more accurately determine the remote Indian Ocean sector where the device would have fallen.

The plane automatically sends a brief signal – a “ping” -. Every hour to an Inmarsat satellite, a British company, even after the other communication systems stopped working The” pings” revealed that the device continued flying for seven hours after the last radar contact.

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Inmarsat could calculate two large arches indicating where the plane could have flown. I further refined the analysis taking into account the speed of the aircraft relative to the satellite. He calculated the frequency receiving and transmitting information. Something similar to the sound of a car as it approaches is put at par and passes a certain point.

It is a method known as Burst Frequency Offset which had never been used in the past. Its validity was confirmed by performing the same analysis with six flights of a Boeing 777 on the same day, in different directions.

The new information was what made the Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Monday night that the aircraft had stopped flying on a remote section of the Indian Ocean.


Both private and government satellites detected what could be thought wreckage 2,500 kilometers (1550 miles) southwest of Perth, Australia. But the search moved to an area 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) northeast Friday in the Australian officials said new information indicated that the aircraft had flown faster than previously thought.


Many people, including relatives of the travelers, they asked whether they could not use the global positioning system (GPS) cell phones to locate the plane. However, this system only works if you are near a tower that transmits information from the cell. It does not work on an aircraft in flight.


Several aircraft are searching for the device. But it is a very remote area, eight hour flight to Australia and back, leaving them only two hours to scan tasks.

The devices use radar systems, infrared, high resolution cameras and long distance … and the human eye. They film everything you see, for review back to your base. Strong winds and high waves have hampered the task.


A military aircraft has been dropping buoys, one meter (three feet) with GPS to better understand ocean currents in the area where the plane is searched. Not a perfect system, but it can give an idea of ​​where they may have floated the debris.


There are two. A record conversations and sounds in the cockpit. The other is flight information such as speed and altitude. They can withstand high impact and fire. And emit pings that can help find the plane underwater. The deeper they are, however, the weaker the signal.

The information stored can be detected by years.

In the case of flight 370 there is a problem: recording systems retains only the last two hours of conversation. The aircraft continued to fly seven hours after the transponder stopped working, so that no traces remain of the conversations that were before the apparatus is diverted, which are those that could give clues to what happened.

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