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New Information May Narrow Down Malaysian Jet's Path 227

Posted by timothy
from the not-that-hard-to-lose-a-plane dept.
mdsolar (1045926) writes with this excerpt from Slate on the still-missing Malaysian Airline flight "In a case that is swirling with uncertainties, a few pieces of evidence have stood apart for seeming reliability. Among them was the revelation last Saturday by Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak that his country's investigators, in collaboration with U.S. authorities, had analyzed an electronic ping that MH370 had broadcast to the Inmarsat satellite at 8:11 a.m. on the morning of the disappearance. Based on this data, the investigators had determined that at that moment MH370 must have been somewhere along one of two broad arcs: one which passed through Central Asia, and the other of which covered a swath of largely empty Indian Ocean, far to the south. The revelation left a burning question unresolved: what about the six earlier pings, which had been exchanged between the aircraft and the satellite about once per hour? Could any position data be deduced from them? Today, Inmarsat revealed some crucial information. 'The ping timings got longer,' Inmarsat spokesman Chris McLaughlin stated via email. That is to say, at each stage of its journey, the aircraft got progressively farther away from the geostationary satellite's position, located over a spot on the equator south of Pakistan, and never changed its heading in a direction that took it closer—at least for very long."
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New Information May Narrow Down Malaysian Jet's Path

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  • by dbIII (701233) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:06AM (#46549437)
    Even if they are competent they do not have complete coverage, don't give a shit about obvious non-military aircraft at high altitude, and even it they are logging stuff why would they log stuff of that sort that's just passing over?
    Having different goals does not mean stupid or incompetent. They do not have some huge chain of radar stations designed to identify incoming ICBMs - they never had a need for such a thing.
  • by kenwd0elq (985465) <kenwd0elq@gmail.com> on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:23AM (#46549493)

    Ummmm....... Not necessarily so. Sound under water can be ducted through sound channels and convergence zones. Depending on the depth/pressure, the salinity, and the temperature, faint noises can by heard by a hydrophone hundreds of miles away - but NOT detectable on a hydrophone a half-mile away that isn't at the sound channel depth. (Source: I was an airborne acoustic sensor operator for several years in P-3 Orion ASW aircraft, long long ago). I'm guessing that every US submarine that transits the IO for the next ten years will have secondary tasking to search for MH370.

    Of course, if the airplane is on the bottom, in the mud, or in an abyssal trench, the sound could be muffled and not audible even a dozen yards away. Since we have essentially no clue where the airplane is (except that we can be pretty sure it isn't in the "black hole" between Don Lemon's ears) the whole search effort is, essentially, a crap shoot.

    We actually had better data on the Air France jet that went down in the Atlantic a few years ago. They eventually recovered the flight data recorders, although it took almost 2 years. But we had a pretty good idea of the track of the aircraft, even though we didn't know WHEN it had gone down.

    Here, we can't even be certain that it went down. There are only three good chances for what happened to it. 1) It went down at sea. 2) It crashed into the jungle. Or 3), it landed someplace and is being hidden. The only thing we can be certain of is that it's not flying any longer.

  • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:58AM (#46549595) Homepage Journal

    Primary radars are short range devices. Its pretty easy to evade them, by design or by accident. Having said that the aircraft would have to have been steered south after it crossed the Malay peninsula to the west, and there is no explanation for that at the moment. My hope is that the southern ocean search is being run to give the illusion of action while the US and China prepare to extract hostages from one of the [a-z]stans.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @07:04AM (#46550223)

    I think that we are going to be in for a very, very long wait before we find out what happened— we're not talking about weeks or months, but many years. When Air France 447 went down, debris and an oil slick was spotted within 24 hours of the plane's loss. Even with that lead, it took almost two years, including the use of towed sonar arrays, nuclear and robotic submarines, and autonomous robotic underwater vehicles, to finally located the wreckage and salvage the plane and black boxes.

    Here, the situation is vastly more challenging. Locating the wreckage of Air France 447 quickly, before it had time to drift far, meant that it was possible to narrow down the search area considerably; the initial search area was around 2400 square miles- a 50 mile by 50 mile area. Here, the search area is almost a hundred times that- the area the Australians have been searching is something like 230,000 square miles. That's roughly the size of Texas. It's also in the middle of nowhere- between Australia and the Kerguelen islands, putting it about 1500 miles away from land. That's making it difficult to do aerial searches- the planes burn most of their fuel getting there and back, so there's little time for searches. It sounds like the weather isn't fantastic either, so visibility is limited, and satellite photos of the suspected wreckage show a lot of white, which I assume is whitecaps from heavy seas. That's going to make it difficult or impossible to spot wreckage on radar- the waves are going to be reflecting back a lot of signal, creating a lot of noise- or visually. The heavy wave action could also cause floating sections of wing or tail to fill up with water more quickly and sink. Finally, the plane went down two weeks ago, so if any wreckage is recovered, it could be hundreds of miles from the crash site.

    At this point, I'm going to guess that no wreckage will be found, or it will be found too late to provide any useful information about the location of the plane beyond confirming that it's in the southern Indian Ocean. Given that, we are talking about an underwater search using sonar that is going to cover hundreds of thousands of square miles, in waters up to 16,000 feet deep. That would require either years of effort, or a small fleet of underwater vehicles scanning the seafloor. This assumes that the deductions made from the satellite data are even correct. It's not impossible, but it is very, very difficult. My guess is that new technologies- making it possible for robotic vehicles to scan larger areas of seafloor, in higher resolution than ever before- may be necessary.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @07:34AM (#46550293)

    It would seem like there should be a number of options for tracking planes. For $150 and $100 annual service charge, you can buy a SPOT personal GPS tracking device that will broadcast your position every five minutes. It needs an unobstructed view of the sky to work. In other words, stick it up on the dash of the airplane.

    FLYHT Aerospace from Calgary sells a satellite tracking system that sends routine updates on position, heading, altitude, and airspeed via satellite. It is also designed to be able to function as a black box. It's too expensive to be continuously transmitting the data, but it's set up so that during certain circumstances the device will trigger, and then transmit flight data in real time. The system is already in use by a number of companies, including Netjets, but hasn't been widely adopted by larger aircraft. If the system had been installed on the Air France flight, they would not have had to wait two years for the black box data. If it had been installed here, it could have tracked the plane or, if the pilot turned it off, they would have immediately known that there was a problem. This is the one that costs $100,000 but you're talking about a plane that can cost $260,000,000; requiring that companies install satellite tracking is not going to radically change the price of the aircraft, and presumably as technology improves the price will come down.

    And of course what a lot of people in the media seem to be missing is that the plane in question already had satellite communications, it just wasn't using them. The engines were designed to talk to a satellite; it should have been possible to use that system to routinely send position data. Many planes have internet in flight. If the planes are already capable of using satellite internet, then it's just an issue of being able to send position/speed/heading data over the plane's wifi network. It just strikes me as amazing that after all the security theater following 9/11, we have a system that carefully controls how much shampoo you can bring in your carry-on luggage, yet is completely incapable of responding if someone steals an entire aircraft.

  • by flyingsquid (813711) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @02:12PM (#46552559)

    http://www.wired.com/autopia/2014/03/mh370-electrical-fire/

    I believe something like that happened. Occam's razor and so on...

    The fact that the pilot had built his own simulator also has a mundane reason that somebody on pprune had tracked down: He assisted with giving a real pilot's feedback to a third-party developer of aircraft for flight simulators (X-Plane IIRC).

    Occam's Razor isn't the simplest explanation, it's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts. And this is definitely not that. According to the fire scenario, there's a fire and so they shut down the electrical systems, set in a new course on autopilot, and after the crew succumbs, the plane keeps going in a straight line... the problem with this scenario is that the plane DOES NOT follow a straight line.

    According to the military radar the plane turns west, climbs to 45,000 feet, then descends to 23,000 feet, turns again, climbs, and flies towards the Indian Ocean- and then the satellite pings suggest it turns again, either north or more likely south, towards the Indian Ocean. All facts suggest that the plane is being actively piloted, and not towards safety but deliberately away from it, in such a way that finding the plane, let alone rescuing the victims, will be impossible.

    The reason that the fire scenario is popular is not because of Occam's Razor, but because it appeals to what we want to believe about human nature, and about the people flying our planes. We'd like to believe that whatever happened, the pilots did their best until the very last, and were heroes trying to save everyone. The alternative is that the person piloting the plane- most likely the pilot or copilot- was a deeply disturbed human being, someone who not only decided to kill everyone on board, people who had entrusted their safety to him, but to do so in a way that would torment their relatives and capture international media attention. It's also unlikely that it would be possible to convince the other pilot to go along with this plan, so they would have to be killed or incapacitated before shutting down the transponders and changing course. Maybe that's not what happened, but that's the simplest explanation that fits all the facts... and it does not point to a hero.

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @03:06PM (#46552847)

    If the LiIon cargo caught fire and burned out the communications wiring

    Then the whole plane in out of the air in under an hour. You CANNOT have a fire bad enough to take out all kinds of wiring and have a craft that will still be flying for very long at all, much less seven hours.

  • by Aighearach (97333) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:41PM (#46553469) Homepage

    I agree totally, but I think it is dubious to put the families and public through this much disinformation.

    There is really no reason to think it crashed. That was a good first guess when it was just "missing," but since we know it was taken by the crew, that would seem to reset the whole idea. What new information is consistent with a crash? None.

    They just keep parading this absurd "2500 nautical mile" BS. That is the range if they had loaded fuel for a flight to Beijing. But the plane has a range of over 7000 miles fully loaded. Nobody has produced anything that even claims to verify or offer proof that the aircraft was fueled the way the paperwork says. And you would need an airport free of corruption to even have a chance of proving it; if lots of fuel is regularly being stolen or otherwise misappropriated, there is simply no possible way to verify the fuel that was loaded.

    And the whole idea, "well gee, they stole a vehicle, and it was supposed to only had a half tank of gas... it must have crashed because it didn't get to the destination!" That is a real Keystone Kops sort of scenario to be saying that. It is pretty obviously BS. The most likely reason to hijack it is to take hostages. The next most likely is to use the plane as a missile in the future. The next most likely is to sell it off. The whole "pilot suicide" thing seems pretty silly. You'd need a suicide pact between multiple crew members to pull that off, and the co-pilot was new. Much more likely is a religious, political, or criminal association between them. And in that scenario, a suicide pact would involve crashing into something, not just flying off over the ocean until the fuel runs out.

    The whole misinformation scheme is dangerous; if they rescue the passengers, fine. Then they'll be beyond most criticism. But that is a long-shot. If the terrorists suddenly show up on TV killing hostages, all the misinformation will look really bad, and they'll get a huge propaganda coup. In other words... they better know where the plane is and have special forces on the ground, or they're just being idiots.

  • by Dan East (318230) on Saturday March 22, 2014 @04:55PM (#46553573) Homepage Journal

    The fire theory is wrong, and it is not the simplest explanation in any shape or form. Not only was transponder switched off, but ACARS was too. Here's the thing - ACARS kept transmitting for 7 hours!! That system was fully functional - it had power, it was still transmitting to the stations. That is how we know the plane did not crash immediately. It was manually switched to a mode in which it no longer actively sent data.

    If there was a fire on board, then it magically: Took out all radios instantly, switched ACARS operating mode (plus ACARS can also be used to send messages, and the system was still working, yet it wasn't utilized to report an emergency either), killed the transponder, shut down the preprogrammed autopilot course, flew the plane for 7 hours with multiple heading changes and many "abnormal" altitude changes (flying above flight ceiling for the aircraft, flying lower than normal over Malaysia, etc), instantly killed every passenger (because no cell phones were switched on or even passively connected while flying lower than normal over Malaysia), allowed the pilot to manually fly the plane for hours (multiple altitude and course changes that were very strange) but without trying any other methods of communication (cell phones, ACARS messages, etc), and it all started IMMEDIATELY after Malaysia air traffic controllers turned over control of the aircraft as it was leaving their airspace. That is not the simplest explanation by any stretch of the imagination. The simplest explanation is: Someone with a technical knowledge of the aircraft decided to do whatever the hell they wanted with it at the very first opportunity when the plane was not longer being monitored by Malaysian flight controllers.

    Personally, I believe one of two things had to have happened immediately after the "event" began (when the plane was released by Malaysia air traffic control) - 1) the pilot managed to kill all the passengers extremely fast - for example by flying at a very high elevation (above the service ceiling even) and depressurizing the plane (at that elevation people lose consciousness in under 8 seconds), or 2) none of the passengers suspected anything was wrong until far out into the Indian ocean and out the range of all land-based cell towers.

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